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Jun 22, 2012, 07.52 PM IST
SOCCER-GERMANY-GREECE:Eurozone battle moves to pitch as Germany plays Greece
By Alexandra Hudson
GDANSK (Reuters) - In Greece they are rubbing their hands with glee.
Ninety minutes to get even. Ninety minutes to restore lost pride. Ninety minutes for the weak to triumph over the mighty.
When Greece take the football field in the Polish coastal city of Gdansk on Friday night to battle Germany for a place in the Euro 2012 semi-final, the honour of the nation is at stake.
In Germany, they also rub their hands with glee.
Ninety minutes for the paymaster to give the profligate state a drubbing. Ninety minutes to show who is in control. Ninety minutes to get even for political headache after headache, crisis after crisis.
The match, played out in a city rebuilt in grand Hanseatic, gabled style from the ruins of World War Two, pits two nations against each other whose ties have rarely been so sour.
The elegant cobbled streets filled slowly with fans despite miserable, rainy weather. Large groups of Germans displaying the black-red-gold flag, t ucked into lunch-time beers while smaller groups of Greek fans clad in blu e-white national colours strolled alleyways.
"The fact we are playing Germany adds a big dash of spice. Of course it is a sacrifice to pay for this kind of trip, but this is a once in a life-time chance," said 36-year-old engineer Manolis Skafidas who flew in from Athens.
Diaspora Greeks , many living in Germany, also travelled to Gdansk to lend support.
"Greece needs fans, and we can afford to come," said 34-year-old Steve Skandalis from Toronto, whose parents come from Northern Greece and who arrived in Poland two weeks ago.
"The Greek fans have this great chant, 'this is how we are spending your money', I expect we will hear that tonight."
Germans meanwhile played down the politics.
"I'm looking for a great game, an early German goal and for politics to stay out of this," said 43-year-old Thomas Buchholz, who had driven 12 hours from Marburg in central Germany.
German and Greek newspapers took up the eurozone theme with gusto.
"Bye-bye Greeks, we can't rescue you today!" the top-selling Bild proclaimed on its front page in the colours of the Greek flag.
"Bankrupt THEM," blared leading Greek paper Sport Day.
Even the respected daily Kathimerini drummed home to Greeks that this match is against a foe popularly blamed for saddling Greece with a punitive austerity programme, chronic unemployment and years of deep economic recession.
"Whoever thinks today's match is just a game is wrong," the paper wrote, vowing it was "politics (maybe even war) by other means".
"To many Greeks, victory will represent the triumph of the weak against the wealth, might and arrogance of the powerful... If the Germans win, they'll see it as confirmation of their diligence, strategy, talent and thrift," it added.
Cheering on Germany in Gdansk will be Chancellor Angela Merkel, a hated figure in Greece, who for many personifies the painful bail-out conditions, and the euro zone's strict approach to the debt-strapped state.
Merkel loves football and loves the German team. She asked for her meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in Rome on Friday to be pushed forward so she could get to the game.
The team in turn, call her their lucky charm. Earlier in the tournament she came to visit their training base and during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa she leapt to her feet and cheered wildly in the tribune for German goals.
'BRINK OF DISASTER'
Greece have never beaten Germany but now would be the ideal time to do so in order to cheer up the public back home and give them hope that Greece can repeat their amazing run to the European Championship crown in 2004.
The chances are slim, to say the least. The Germans, among the favourites to take the tournament title, go into the match on the back of 14 consecutive competitive victories stretching back to the 2010 World Cup.
For Germany, playing in Gdansk, which prior to World War Two was the German- and Polish-inhabited free city of Danzig, will feel like a home game. Thirty thousand Germans are expected to travel to watch the game. Only six thousand Greek supporters are expected. Most Poles say their hearts beat for the underdog.
A s Argentina's Diego Maradona said of the match, if 300 Spartans could hold off 10,000 Persians at Thermopylae, than 11 Greeks will certainly have a chance against 11 Germans.
Back in Athens, some stay-at-homes vented spleen over hard times.
"I only wish someone would buy my plane ticket so I could go there and throw a yoghurt in her (Merkel's) face," said Theodosis Giannitsis, 65, who owns a small antique shop.
Germany's dapper coach Joachim Loew talks of a need to respect the defensively-minded Greeks, particularly after a shock 1-0 win over Russia.
"It is in their blood, a tight defence and strong counter-attacks... We keep writing them off but they are always there. They are survival artists," he said, of the soccer team.
Greek players are aware of the eyes upon them.
"The most important thing for us is to give some happiness to the Greek people, that's all," said midfielder Giannis Maniatis.
Back in Athens, not everyone was drawn into the spirit.
"I couldn't care less," Said Panagiotis Pappas, 22, a chemistry student. "We're on the brink of disaster and all they care is about is football, for Christ's sake."
(Additional reporting by Stephen Brown in Berlin, Harry Papachristou and Karolina Tagaris in Athens. editing by Ralph Boulton)
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