Friday sees the second quarter final of Euro 2012 and throws up a meeting between a European superpower and a whipping boy and we don’t just mean on the football pitch.
GERMANY v GREECE – 19.45 PGE Arena (Gdansk)
There may well be a charged atmosphere in Gdansk ahead of this game, with the timing of it coming amid the Eurozone economic crisis and talk of the Germans bailing out the suffering Greeks. German chancellor Angela Merkel is even alleged, by coincidence I imagine, to be attending the game. Let’s hope she’s ready for a barrage of Greek vitriol bearing in mind the austerity measures she’s imposed on the southern European country. It’s best to keep politics well clear of football discussion, but it seems quite unavoidable in this case when there’s an obvious parallel between the two spheres when it comes to the relative powers of the two nations. Put simply, the footballing gulf between the countries looks equally as wide as the economic one.
Based purely on results Germany are looking pretty formidable. They won all ten of their qualification games for the tournament and have followed that up with wins in each of their group matches. Impressive considering they were in, on paper, the toughest group.
In spite of all that, there’s a case for stating they haven’t really sparkled yet. They were uncertain of even going through in their last match against Denmark up until Lars Bender’s late winner. Holger Badstuber had moments earlier got away with a penalty box tug on Niklas Bendtner that, had it been punished, could’ve put Joachim Loew’s men in real peril.
That was a game most pundits, me included, had expected them to coast, following wins over the more formidable Portuguese and the Dutch. That so many of us were wrong was probably a combination of underestimating Denmark slightly and German complacency, being as they only required a draw to qualify.
Even in their two previous games however, Germany were for the most part perfunctory rather than dynamic, with traditional teutonic efficiency only occasionally interspersed with moments of genuine class. That those few moments were enough to win games against talented opposition is what’s most ominous for all of Germany’s potential opponents in the remainder of this tournament, never mind Greece. They’ve managed to get this far while holding something back and in Mario Gomez they have a striker in clinical form. Such is
their determination to end their 16-year trophy drought, allied to the quality they possess all over the pitch and on the bench, a defeat to Greece is almost unthinkable.
Another factor in Germany’s favour is their head-to-head record with Greece: they’ve never lost to them in eight matches, of which five were victories. Furthermore, the Germans have never lost a European Championship quarter final. All things considered I’d say a Greek win here would be as big an achievement as winning Euro 2004.
It’s hard to believe Greece are in the quarter finals and anyone who has seen their games in this tournament can testify that they do not seem a top international side. They don’t have great players in any position and barely seem able to keep possession long enough at this level to create chances. Having said that, there can be no doubt that they fully deserve to be here.
They’ve been arguably the most hard-done-by side in the competition. In particular, they’ve been on the wrong end of two ludicrous refereeing decisions that could have seriously hindered them.
Firstly, the sending off of Sokratis Papastathopoulos in their first match against Poland for two innocuous yellow card-inducing fouls and secondly, the booking of captain Giorgios Karagounis for diving in their last group game against Russia, which rules him out of this game despite replays showed he’d been tripped and should’ve had a penalty. Moreover, they even ended up having the better of both of those games despite playing a fair share of the first with ten men.
Their results prove that doggedness and desire can get a team a long way and 2004 should’ve taught us not to underestimate them.
Lightning doesn’t strike twice though and the task they are facing on Friday night is several steps up from anything they were confronted with in Group A. Germany are proven achievers and their best teams are rarely caught out against lesser opposition.
It’s almost impossible to see how the Greeks can hurt Germany, other than the occasional set-piece. It’s likewise difficult to
imagine them keeping Germany out, even allowing for them being as cynical and defensive-minded as they like. Their most likely road to success will be taking the lead somehow and then defending for their lives, basically the formula for their Euro 2004 triumph. Hardly pleasing on the eye but Fernando Santos won’t mind that if he can replicate what Otto Rehhagel managed eight years ago.
In fact, what we’ve seen from Greece so far in this tournament is that they become more attack-minded after they’ve scored. Against both Poland and Russia they scored goals completely out of the blue after a non-entity of a performance. In the second halves of those matches they were like a different team, spurred on by the goal in each game.
Statistics tell us though, that Greece rarely score more than one goal in a match. It’s often enough and it must surely be if they are to win against Germany. Taking the lead and then hunting the second will be a recipe for disaster against a team with Germany’s counter-attacking capabilities. The odds are certainly against Greece whichever way you look at it, but far from expecting another glorious Euro triumph they should applaud themselves for getting this far.
Prediction: Germany 3-0 Greece
Tags: Euro 2012, Germany, Greece, Mario Gomez