Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Merkel to cheer Germany
Lucky-charm leader could stir passions on Greek side also
GDANSK, Poland -- Germany's most prominent fan will be in the stands, and that could provide extra motivation for Greece in the European Championship quarter-finals.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is believed to bring luck to the German team, but she is not popular in Greece. So passions could be running high Friday when three-time champion Germany takes on the surprise 2004 titlists.
"We are playing for our shirt, our flag and for the people back home," Greece midfielder Costas Katsouranis said.
Greece has plenty of reason to be thankful to Germany -- the 2004 champion side was coached by a German, Otto Rehhagel. It's the political background that adds spice to the match, despite attempts of both German and Greek officials to play down that angle.
Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has been a major contributor to international economic bailouts for Greece and was instrumental in demanding structural reforms and hugely unpopular spending cuts in return.
Greek fans are unlikely to take Merkel's presence kindly and this could even drive their team to another overachieving level.
"I don't think anyone on the team believes this will be our last game at this tournament," Greece forward Dimitris Salpigidis said. "People have so many problems in their everyday lives. We're really hoping that we can put a smile on their face."
The match will be played at Arena Gdansk, near the scene of the first battle of the Second World War as Nazi Germany invaded Poland. A German football federation delegation laid a wreath Wednesday at a memorial for Polish defenders at the Westerplatte peninsula on the outskirts of the Baltic city.
Germany has two Poland-born players in its squad, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, and Polish fans could throw their support behind the Germans. By winning its group, Germany got to stay in Gdansk and will be spared the stress of travel.
Merkel attended Germany's 4-0 win over Argentina at the 2010 World Cup and saw Germany beat Turkey in Berlin in the most important Euro 2012 qualifier for her team. She's been to the dressing room and also briefly visited the team in Gdansk before the tournament kicked off.
"She seems to bring us luck," Germany midfielder Sami Khedira said.
Germany is the only team to have won all three group games and goes into the quarter-finals as the overwhelming favourite. But the Germans won't be complacent.
"They are a very good team, underestimated by many. They create few chances but score from them. Technically they are strong and play well one on one," Khedira said of Greece. "It will be tough to crack their defence, but we have the means. We have to be patient, but we also have to be constantly on the move. They will try to disrupt our game and beat us, but they will not succeed."
Defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos, one of the many Greece players with Bundesliga experience, says the team has nothing to lose.
"We are playing against one of the best teams here," Papadopoulos said. "All I can say is that we'll fight. If we get the win, that would be a huge result."
-- The Associated Press
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2012 C14
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