“Take that, Germany!” shouted one man.
“I want to see Merkel’s face now!” said another, referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
For 90 minutes on Friday, the European financial crisis played out on a 105-by-68-meter patch of grass in Gdansk, Poland.
The contest — a quarterfinal match in the European Championship viewed live by tens of millions soccer fans across the continent — pitted debt-
hobbled and twice-bailed-out Greece against Germany, the richest country in the euro zone. It was German leaders who have been most vocal in demanding that Greece slash spending in return for emergency aid. Germany has anted up $600 billion to help keep the currency union from falling apart. But for many Greeks, Germany is the author of their economic misery.
Although soccer matches have long been a venue for fans to vent national rivalries, Friday’s game was special. For many Europeans, the Greece-Germany soccer game was the physical representation of a problem — the debt crisis on their continent — that many people understand only in broad outlines but that is affecting their everyday lives, from their ability to get jobs to the taxes they pay.
The appeal of viewing the game from this perspective, fans explained, is its simplicity. Two teams. One ball. Fixed rules.
In Germany, an editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper on Friday explained that the recent twists in the debate over possible remedies to save the euro zone have become so incomprehensible to ordinary people that “many millions of Europeans prefer to reduce the complexity and let the ball decide.”
In the days before the game, media outlets in both countries sought to play up the rivalry. In Germany, Bild, the country’s largest-circulation paper, goaded Greek fans: “No bailout fund can save you.” The Frankfurter Rundschau called the match “a pressure cooker of national feelings.”
The Greek media seemed to be responding directly to the Germans with headlines such as “Bring it on.”
Other Europeans have been taking jabs at both teams — cartoonists depicted Greek players in shirts with logos of German companies — but Germany has taken the brunt of the jokes.
As recently as a few weeks ago, Greece was Europe’s problem child. It had mismanaged its finances, racking up debts so massive that they threaten to unravel the euro zone. But the narrative has been changing and alliances have been shifting as more and more countries have been pulled into the crisis.