Greek hardship spurred victory at Euro 2012
With smiles on their football-loving faces, Greeks will cast
ballots Sunday in an election that could decide the crisis-hit
country’s fate in Europe.
At the European Championship, their fate could be a quarterfinal
match against Germany.
The Greeks beat heavily favored Russia 1-0 Saturday, defying the
odds – and, some say, the Gods – to cap a football revival in the
country that surprisingly won the Euro 2004 title.
It was an ideal distraction.
In their fifth year of recession, many Greeks hold Germany – the
EU’s leading economy – responsible for imposing harsh terms in
return for the country’s bailout. The terms have caused a rapid
rise in poverty, with an average of 900 people losing their job per
Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis, who scored the lone goal
against Russia just before the halftime whistle, said his country’s
troubles had acted as the ultimate motivator.
”When we left Greece, we all said really give it everything,”
Karagounis said. ”We would have anyway, but the (hardship) made us
If Germany wins Group B on Sunday, it will set up a quarterfinal
match between the recession-hammered Greeks and their lead bailout
”We put a smile on Greeks’ faces tonight. It’s not just that we
went through, but it’s the way we did it,” said the 35-year-old
Karagounis, who will miss the next match through suspension. ”I
can’t describe the feelings I have tonight. I can compare this win
to what we did in 2004.”
As the final whistle was blown, players hugged Karagounis and
danced in a circle as 1,500 traveling fans erupted in celebration.
Many of them came from Greek immigrant communities around Europe,
including Germany. Others managed to make the trip from Greece, but
they were far outnumbered by Russians on Saturday at the National
Greece struggled in its first two matches at Euro 2012, rallying
to draw with co-host Poland 1-1 and losing 2-1 to the Czech
Republic – conceding early goals, losing key players, and appearing
to lose concentration for long spells of those games.
On Saturday, everything clicked.
Karagounis equaled an all-time appearance record of 120 matches,
and players followed coach Fernando Santos’ mantra: Take every
challenge, defend hard, deny your opponents the chance to deploy,
and victory will come.
”We’ve worked so hard for this. It’s fantastic. It didn’t go
well in the last two games, but tonight everything went well,”
said defender Giorgos Tzavellas, who played his first match at the
tournament on Saturday, filling a weak spot on Greece’s left.
Santos, who came to the tournament with just one loss in 21
matches, said his players were ”tremendous.”
”They showed great tenacity and character,” the Portuguese
coach said. ”I had told them that they have my full trust. I told
them that now is when character matters, and their response was
In Athens, thousands flocked to the city center, waving Greek
flags, lighting flares and setting off firecrackers amid the din of
hundreds of honking cars.
At the same time, jokes spread across the Internet and mobile
phone messages poking jibes at German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
One message reads: ”Merkel get ready, it’s your turn now.”
Associated Press writer Menelaos Hadjicostis in Athens
contributed to this report.