Column: A very logical Greek tragedy at Euro 2012
DONETSK, Ukraine – A double bill of German strength and Greek
tragedy. Two for the price of one.
Soccer’s gods clearly speak German. Because if they had a heart,
Greece, not Germany, would have won the quarterfinal Friday at Euro
2012 – for sympathy reasons, alone.
The bottom has fallen out of the Greek economy. More than one in
five Greeks are out of work. They are miserable and surviving on
rescue loans from other European countries and the International
Monetary Fund. So a short-lived jolt of joy could have done Greece
Plus, the opponent, Germany, is the same country that has been
pushing for Greece to get its finances in order and severely
tighten its belt in return for bailouts. In short, this was a bit
like the Greeks going toe-to-toe with their strict, no-nonsense
In fact, she was there, in the stands, sitting next to the boss
of European soccer, Michel Platini.
Angela Merkel likes her soccer and comfortably juggles serious
business and serious pleasure. The German chancellor flew to the
game in Poland from yet another meeting – this one in Italy – about
what type of medicine should be administered to the European
Europe’s biggest economy playing against its sickest ensured
that the Internet was awash with jokes. ”Greece can’t afford to
concede tonight. Greece can’t afford anything” was one pre-game
But no, the Greek players didn’t have ”Sponsored by Germany”
on their sober blue shirts.
And no, Merkel didn’t phone Antonis Samaras, Greece’s new prime
minister, before the game to make an unspeakable offer: ”Hey,
about that money we lent you. … Could your team concede a couple
of goals in return?”
The brutal truth is that Merkel didn’t need to. This German
team, the youngest of the 16 competing at the European
Championship, manages just beautifully on its own.
Merkel clapped in delight when Sami Khedira volleyed in
Germany’s second goal, and looked pretty happy about the third,
just minutes later, from Miroslav Klose, too. In Athens, Greek fans
watching in cafes cursed at the TV screen and made rude hand
gestures when Merkel was shown celebrating.
But Germany’s fourth goal from Marco Reus, well, that just
seemed cruel. By then, you just wanted the pain to stop for Greece.
Enough is enough.
Greek sports journalist Vasilis Sambrakos wrote before the game
on www.footballspeak.com about his hopes that his team would ”send
a message to everybody, especially Germans, that we are not lazy,
we are not losers, we don’t feel like losers, we are not
bankrupted, and we don’t feel or think that we are forced to give
up our fight for a decent future, a decent life, a decent living in
Well, Sambrakos can consider his wish fulfilled. Greece didn’t
embarrass itself. It didn’t simply surrender after Philipp Lahm
opened the scoring for Germany. Georgios Samaras briefly pulled
Greece level before Germany pulled away again for good. The final
4-2 score was a fair and accurate depiction of how Greece was
comprehensively outplayed by a German team that should reach the
July 1 final, and even win it.
As much as a Greece victory would have warmed sad Greek hearts,
soccer is more logical than sentimental. Germany has 81 million
people and Europe’s biggest economy that comfortably sustains its
passion for soccer. Germany invested much money and effort over the
past decade on the youth game to end up with the devastatingly
quick and dynamic team it has today.
But there are just 11 million Greeks, their deep recession is in
its fifth year, and their soccer is not as financially healthy. The
Greek league’s last season began in disarray, with two teams
demoted because of their owners’ involvement in a match-fixing
scandal and another relegated because of unpaid debts. So, in that
respect, too, this outcome at the Arena Gdansk made sense.
If it reaches the final, Germany could end up meeting another
country with financial difficulties – either Portugal or perhaps
Soccer, of course, is just a game. But because of the financial
politics surrounding Euro 2012 match-ups, it’s starting to feel
much more important than that.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The
Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow
him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester