June 21, 2012
Lenders vs. borrowers at Euro 2012
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
WARSAW - Politics and sport can create a volatile mixture.
There are those who are adamant politics and sport should never mix. The truth is, especially in soccer, the situation arises continually and the countries involved make a real meal of it.
It is never more evident than Friday's Euro 2012 quarterfinal in Gdansk, Poland between Greece and Germany.
It is being called the "Debt Derby" in reference to Greece's serious financial issues.
It also has been called a matchup of the "haves and have nots," and "lenders versus borrowers."
Greece is going to be a little angry going into this game.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel hasn't attended any Euro 2012 games yet because Germany played its group games in Ukraine. She and other western leaders are protesting the treatment of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Merkel is somewhat of a nemesis for Greece. The country is Germany's biggest debtor. The financial crisis in Greece threatens to cripple its economy and threatens Europe's solidarity with a single-currency euro. Germany also has been Greece's biggest critic, looking to force it into austerity measures. Some German government officials want to Greece excluded from the single-currency coalition.
The political and financial world have meshed into the sporting world to create an atmosphere of friction and dislike.
Germans are upset with Greece because they feel it is ripping them off. Greece feels it is being bullied in financial discussions.
Greece defeated Russia in the last game of their group stage at Euro, advancing to the second round. In a country ravaged by debt and political instability, it was one of the most positive developments in many months.
Greece is entering its fifth year of a recession. More than 20% of Greeks do not have a job.
It has been difficult for Greece to find a platform for national pride. It's tough, little national team provides it.
"Bring us Merkel," Goal News wrote when it learned that Greece would play Germany. "You will never get Greece out of the euro."
Germany's best-selling tabloid Bild Zeitung responded "Poor Greeks, we'll give you your next bankruptcy for free" -- in other words, an exit from the tournament.
This enmity has not been a recent development. When the debt crisis began two years ago, Bild Zeitung, wrote the "proud, cheating, profligate Greeks ... should be thrown out of the euro zone."
So the stage is set for a modern-day David versus Goliath.
Germany is one of the healthiest, wealthiest nations in Europe. It is a power in virtually every facet of society including soccer.
It is a nation that continues to develop high-priced soccer talent and is a favourite to win Euro 2012.
Greece is at the other end of the spectrum. It is financially crippled with no end in sight -- a nation that has had to go hat in hand for help. On the pitch, it lacks the superstar quality of its financial sugar-daddy.
A Greek victory over Germany Friday wouldn't do much for its economic crisis but would allow Greeks to forget momentarily they owe everyone money. They view this game as an escape from ugly reality.
Forward Georgios Samaras said the Greeks will play for "11 million people who are hoping for us to do something worthwhile, so that they can get out in the streets to celebrate."
The team could restore pride and joy to a nation. It also could exact a bit of revenge in the process.