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

some good.

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

bank manager.

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

economy.

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

comment.

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

our country.”

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

Spain.

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