More than a match of two teams on the pitch, the EURO 2012 quarter-final between Germany and Greece has been billed by many as a political battle of wills. Some see a win against Germany as a matter of national pride.
Greek sports papers are eager for the big clash. "Bring on Merkel" or even "We'll give everything for one night with Merkel."
"We're part of the G8 of European football," one paper writes with patriotic enthusiasm. "Kick the Germans out of the Euro," another daily has on its front page in response to Greece's economic troubles threatening its survival in the eurozone's single currency club.
There are 10 different sports papers in Greece and they're competing on a daily basis to come up with the best headlines. While some critics suspect that some of the papers are just a front for money laundering, others claim the abundance of sports papers is due to the ambition of journalists who are willing to work for free as sports journalism is seen as a possible entry into the media world.
But politics and sports should remain separate, according to Dimitris Kanellos, editor with the leading Athens daily Eleftheros Typos. Kanellos studied journalism in Austria and closely follows the German sports papers. He said both sides are responsible for the political overtones.
"After Greece beat Russia, we Greeks were the first to blow this all up with headlines like 'Bring on Merkel,'" he said. "But then the Germans over-reacted and attacked some of the Greek players personally. Captain Giorgos Karagounis was even ridiculed as an actor."
Kanellos dismissed the accusations as petty media wars. The two teams had nothing to do with it and regard the Friday match purely in terms of sports.
National pride at stake
The headline of the mass-market German daily Bild caused a stir in Greece when it quoted a source who snuck into the Greek team's hotel in Warsaw and reported the players spent their time smoking and swearing. Further reading, however, showed it was only national team coach Fernando Santos doing the smoking - and he's from Portugal. Writing in the soccer paper Sportday, commentator Antonis Panoutsos recommended everyone involved take a deep breath, "Dear countrymen, our national pride really should not depend on whether Karagounis does well with the ball."
Sports fan Konstantinos Pavlou agreed. A father of two, he said he's been following the tournament with a short glass of ouzo in his local bar in Athens. He said he has been affected by the economic crisis and has had difficulty getting by and financially supporting his two daughters in their studies, but he added that doesn't have anything to do with Friday's match.
"Greece or Merkel or Samaras, that is one thing, football is a whole different story," he said. "Football is joy and we won't let anyone ruin that."
David and Goliath
From a purely football point of view, the match's favorites and underdogs are clear: the Germans are Goliath while the Greeks are David. But the people of Athens are quick to point out that David made the most of his chances against the favorite.
"I want Greece to win, but logically, I know that Germany has the better team," Pavlou said, adding that Greece would have to defend well, not get shaken by the German team and do their best on counterattacks.
Maria Konstantinou, who runs a soccer betting shop in Athens, was more optimistic. She predicted a Greek win.
"Of course we are going to beat Germany and move into the semi-finals," she said. "Everyone coming here is betting on the Greek national team winning."
There will be few secrets and a common language among the players on the pitch. Many of the Greek national team players played - or still play - in Germany's Bundesliga.
"Both teams are playing with an open hand," said Kanellos. "The Greeks know that Germany is among the favorites to win the tournament and Germany knows to expect their opponents to stay back and defend. Germany will have to break through the Greek wall to get a win. And the Greeks have nothing to lose."
Author: Jannis Papadimitriou / ai, sms
Editor: Kristin Zeier