Crisis-hit Greeks itch for Euro clash with creditor Germany
(ATHENS) - When Greece take on Germany at Friday's Euro 2012 quarter final, a nation itching for a showdown will be glued to their screens.
Europe's richest state and its most highly indebted will face off in a game that has lit a spark of national pride in a country humbled by economic crisis.
It is not just about the football for many people in Greece, which owes Germany billions of euros in bailout money and where Chancellor Angela Merkel is a popular hate figure seen as the chief enforcer of harsh austerity measures.
"This is how your debtors qualify, Angela get ready," Sport Day said after Greece's shock 1-0 win against Russia on the eve of an election that eased fears of a Greek euro exit for Greece but kept rivalry with Germany very much alive.
"Bring us Merkel," read a headline in Goal News, while the Prasini tabloid expressed the newfound defiance with an expletive: "This is Greece, bitches!"
"For many people, this is an unofficial way of getting their own back," said 30-year-old Marios Papageorgiou, one of millions of Greeks expected to tune in or turn out in public squares with giant screens to watch the Gdansk clash.
"In football, Greece and Germany are as far apart as in politics but in football everything is possible," he said.
Papageorgiou is praying for a victory for underdogs Greece. "Psychologically, it would help Greeks a lot," he said.
Both teams have been trying to play down the political context ahead of the match with forward Giorgos Samaras -- no relation to the winner of Sunday's election Antonis Samaras -- saying: "We cannot entangle football and politics."
"It is bad to do that. Football is a game and we will play to enjoy it because we like it," he told a news conference at the team's base near Warsaw.
But asked about election advice from Merkel for Greeks, team coach Fernando Santos -- from Portugal, another bailed-out economy -- had a stinging reply.
"The Greek people have great pride in their history and this deserves people's respect. Civilization, democracy and the sciences started in Greece. It is difficult for others to give us lessons," he said on Saturday.
German tabloids have also revved up ahead of the game with a headline in Bild saying: "Poor Greeks, we'll give you your next bankruptcy for free."
The Berliner Kurier carried a mocked-up picture of the Greek team with "Germany" emblazoned across their shirts. The caption read: "Grateful Greeks set to show their new sponsors in the quarter-final."
Greek fans have also sometimes taken their enthusiasm too far, like at a Champions League clash between Greece's Olympiakos and Germans Borussia Dortmund last year where there were chants of: "This is how those who owe you, screw you!"
Any anti-German sentiment in Greece has been against particular politicians and not Germany as a whole, with public comments about the crisis by Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble often seen as arrogant and meddlesome.
Greece's 2004 Euro victory was after all the work of a German coach, Otto Rehhagel, who has wished his old team the best.
"Greece has its chances and it will certainly fight with all its strength," he told the sports news site Sport Day.
"With all its passion and competitiveness, Greece is always capable of everything.
Nobody should underestimate Greece."
"We definitely have a chance to qualify. It's a match. Let's go get it. God its great," Greek football federation chief Sofoklis Pilavios said in Goal News.
The 1-0 win against Russia on Saturday brought thousands out in the streets waving flags and honking car horns -- in sharp contrast to to the electoral result which was celebrated by just 100 supporters from the winning party in Athens.
"We are very proud when a team from our country makes it and creates an atmosphere of optimism and an atmosphere of goodwill for all people," said Panagiotis Bitsaxis, general secretary for sports.
But he warned against any over-interpretation: "Football is not politics."
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