Magazine

Greece v Germany, the bailout game

  • 22 June 2012
  • From the section Magazine
Giorgios Samaras and Mario Gomez

When Germany was pitted against Greece in Friday's quarter-final of Euro 2012, the subtext was obvious. And as German journalist Paul Ronzheimer discovers, based in Athens for Bild newspaper, few people are talking about the football.

For almost three years, Greece has been going through one of the worst crises it has ever experienced. Since the 1-0 victory against Russia and the entry into the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, euphoria is in evidence again for the first time.

Of all the teams they could have faced, Greece plays Germany, in the most political match a European tournament has seen for a long time.

The Greeks are looking for payback against the Germans. They feel that a duel between Greece and Germany has been going on for much longer, an unequal duel.

Since the start of the crisis, they think they have been insulted and dictated to by German politicians, as the country has had to introduce sweeping austerity in return for bailout payments.

They criticise the fact that Chancellor Merkel is sticking to the austerity plan, even though the situation in Greece is worsening and homelessness is on the increase.

The arguments have already escalated to the extent that Ms Merkel has been depicted time and again in an SS uniform on the front page of Greek newspapers.

And over 70% of Greeks now believe that Germany wants to bring in a "Fourth Reich".

On the German side, incomprehension reigns at the Greek reaction to the policies introduced after the crisis, and they refuse to send further billions to a country which is clearly overburdened with the reforms.

Many Germans who in previous years spent their holidays on Greek islands have booked their holidays elsewhere this time.

And now, the football.

One of the few Germans still considered untouchable in Greece is Otto Rehhagel. As the manager of their football team, the German led the Greeks to victory in Euro 2004 and since then has been a hero.

In an interview with the Bild newspaper, Mr Rehhagel said: "Germany shouldn't underestimate Greece."

In fact, numerous players in the Greek squad have already announced that they will be especially motivated against Germany.

Image caption German Otto Rehhagel was revered after masterminding Euro 2004 success

Ahead of the duel, Greece's newspapers have been taking aim at Ms Merkel once again. Hardly anybody is talking about the German team and its footballing abilities.

The Live newspaper quipped: "The referee should give Merkel a fright and toss a drachma coin at the beginning of the match."

And Gata sports newspaper joked: "The first measure that our new government has to push through on the urging of Merkel: we have to lose against Germany on Friday."

The German press has also drawn humorously on the eurozone crisis. Bild newspaper said on Tuesday: "Be happy dear Greeks, the defeat on Friday is a gift. Against Jogi Loew, no rescue fund will help you."

And Berliner Kurier newspaper printed a cartoon depicting a government spokesman telling the German press "our stance on Greece remaining in the eurozone depends entirely upon how the quarterfinal goes".

People in the streets of Athens are also feverishly awaiting the game - and repeatedly drawing parallels with politics. So far, Greece's matches have hardly been accompanied by any big celebrations, but the bars are expected to be full on Friday.

Nikos Petsas, a 56-year-old salesman, says: "I'm worried that a lot of Greeks are confusing politics with sport with this match. I've put money on the Greek team, because we're in a better position psychologically. Our players have lots of fire in their bellies."

Postman Dimitris Tzikas, 46, says: "There are no problems between Germany and Greece. But with the crisis, Mrs Merkel has chosen to break us as a country.

"The Greek players must run and fight against Germany, so we can win the match. For our country it's much more than a football match."

The news that Merkel was going to be sitting in the stands caused much joy among Greek journalists.

They now hope that new Greek PM Antonis Samaras will also travel to Poland to be at the match.

But whatever the outcome, the politicians will still have a crisis to solve. And that's no laughing matter.