German Chancellor Merkel to attend Greece match

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BERLIN (AP) - Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend Germany’s European Championship quarterfinal match against Greece for a game that brings together nations at opposite ends of Europe’s debt crisis.

Merkel can go to Friday’s match in Gdansk, Poland, because the Italian government moved forward by several hours a meeting in Rome with the Italian, French and Spanish leaders that originally was supposed to end as the match started, government spokesman Georg Streiter said Wednesday.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has been a major contributor to international bailouts for Greece and was instrumental in demanding structural reforms and hugely unpopular spending cuts in return.

The presence of Merkel, who is not a popular figure in Greece, could add extra spice to Friday’s encounter _ though team officials on both sides have been at pains to stress that it is purely a sporting event.

“She hopes for an exciting and fair match,” Streiter told reporters in Berlin.

With Greece still in the process of forming a government after Sunday’s elections, it wasn’t clear whether Merkel will meet any Greek officials at the match. Merkel, who has frequently attended Germany matches over recent years, was invited to Gdansk by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

“This is a football match, and it is exclusively about sport,” Streiter said.

Merkel visited the Germany team at its hotel in Gdansk shortly before the tournament started.

Germany midfielder Sami Khedira told reporters in Gdansk on Wednesday that “she seems to bring us luck.” Coach Joachim Loew’s team beat Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark in the first round.

Germany, unlike neighboring France, has not said its officials would boycott matches in Ukraine to protest the treatment by authorities there of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. But Merkel didn’t go to any of Germany’s opening-round matches, which were played in Ukraine.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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