“They’ve made fun of us,” Kouris continued. “We are going to give it everything tomorrow. We don’t even need to go to the finals. Just beat Germany.”
Germany. The country that would not surrender its deutsche mark until the terms of the currency union were to its liking. The country that insisted on a “no bailout” clause in the euro zone’s founding treaty to try to make sure other countries would manage their finances prudently. The country that makes the European Central Bank — the currency union’s referee — quick to red cardpenalize inflation but less sensitive to other infractions, such as rising unemployment.
And yes, the country that has put perhaps $600 billion of its own treasure behind an assortment of schemes to fix the euro’s problems, a sum that includes bilateral loans to Greece.
Still, when the two nations meet at a stadium in Poland on Friday night, a different currency will be involved: pride.
The loans and other help from Germany have come with an extensive — and, to Greeks, humiliating — set of strings attached, including wage cuts and government budget cuts among them. Many here blame Germany and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, directly for Greece’s declining living standards.
Friday is the time for a bit of payback in an arena where Greeks feel they have a fighting chance. In 2004, Greece won the UEFA European Football Championship, a quadrennial tournament second only to the World Cup in soccer stature, but they are considered a long shot this time. The team is a 10 to 1 underdog against Germany, according to the bookies. Financial analysts offer better odds that Greece will eventually leave the euro zone. While the German team waltzed through the Euro 2012’s “Group of Death” bracket with three consecutive wins, Greece limped to the quarterfinals with a loss against the Czechs and a tie with the Poles, only to be redeemed with an unexpected victory against the Russians.
That set the stage for what everyone here wanted.
“Greeks do take responsibility for where the country has come to, but they feel a big part has been played by Germany,” said Tasos Kollintzas, a soccer analyst for the country’s ANT1 television station. He acknowledged that the Greek team faces an uphill battle — seeded low at the start of the tournament and now lacking its captain, George Karagounis, who was disqualified as a penalty for two