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Political background in Germany versus Greece match

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June 21, 2012, 8:18 a.m. | Sports — by Associated Press

In this July 3, 2010 file photo German Chancellor Angela Merkel celebrates next to South African President Jacob Zuma, left, after Germany's Thomas Mueller scored a goal during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Argentina and Germany at the Green Point stadium in Cape Town, South Africa. Merkel will travel to Germany's European Championship quarterfinal match against Greece for a game that brings together nations at opposite ends of Europe's debt crisis, the German government said on June 20, 2012.
© AP

Associated Press

Associated Press

GDANSK, Poland — Germany's most prominent fan will be in the stands, and that could provide extra motivation for Greece in the European Championship quarterfinals.

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 on june 22 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 World War II as Nazi Germany invaded Poland. A German football federation delegation laid a wreath on June 20 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 quarterfinals as the overwhelming favorite. 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 defense, 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."

Midfielder Thomas Mueller also expected Greece to seek its luck in a tight defense.

"They are not going to throw four strikers at us," Mueller said. "We know what we have to do, but it's not going to be a piece of cake."

Greece will be missing suspended playmaker and captain Giorgos Karagounis, but defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos, one of the many Greece players with Bundesliga experience, said the team had 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."

For the Germans, there is speculation that coach Joachim Loew may reshuffle his lineup and return Klose to the starting 11, although Mario Gomez scored three goals that won matches against Portugal and the Netherlands.

The 34-year-old Klose scored the last time the two sides faced each other, in a World Cup qualifying match in 2001. Overall, Germany has five wins and three draws in eight matches against Greece.

"We are not too bothered about statistics," Salpigidis said. "Whether it's the first ever win against Germany, that doesn't really matter."

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