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Politics meets soccer in Germany vs. Greece
GDANSK, POLAND (AP) - Germany's most prominent fan will be in the stands for the quarterfinal against Greece at the European Championship.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, wins no popularity contests among the Greek contingent. So the political dimension of Friday's game only heightens what is already an intriguing match in strictly soccer terms.
Germany is a three-time champion. Greece is the surprise winner of the 2004, and the Greeks are still standing again, with an unexpected place in the knockout stages.
"It was always our main aim to reach the quarterfinals. So now we have nothing to lose," said defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos, one of the many Greece players with Bundesliga experience. "We are playing against one of the best teams here. All I can say is that we'll fight. If we get the win, that would be a huge result."
Greece has plenty of reason to be thankful to Germany _ the 2004 championship team was coached by a German, Otto Rehhagel.
German and Greek officials are trying to play down the politics. 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. Greek fans are unlikely to take kindly to Merkel's presence at Gdansk Arena.
"We are playing for our shirt, our flag and for the people back home," midfielder Costas Katsouranis said.
Added Greek forward Dimitris Salpigidis: "I don't think anyone on the team believes this will be our last game at this tournament. People have so many problems in their everyday lives. We're really hoping that we can put a smile on their face."
Gdansk also was also the scene of the first battle of World War II, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. A German soccer federation delegation laid a wreath Wednesday at a memorial for Poles at the Westerplatte peninsula on the outskirts of the Baltic city.
Germany has two Poland-born players in its squad, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, and Polish fans could throw their support behind the Germans. By winning its group, Germany got to stay in Gdansk and was spared having to travel.
Merkel attended Germany's 4-0 rout of Argentina at the 2010 World Cup and saw Germany beat Turkey in Berlin in the most important Euro 2012 qualifier for her team. She has visited the German locker room and briefly spent time with the team in Gdansk before the tournament.
"She seems to bring us luck," midfielder Sami Khedira said.
Germany is the only team to have won all three group games and goes into the quarterfinal as the overwhelming favorite. But the Germans understand the ability of the Greeks.
"They are a very good team, underestimated by many. They create few chances but score from them. Technically, they are strong and play well one-on-one," Khedira said.
"It will be tough to crack their defense, but we have the means. We have to be patient, but we also have to be constantly on the move. They will try to disrupt our game and beat us, but they will not succeed."
Added midfielder Thomas Mueller: "We know what we have to do, but it's not going to be a piece of cake."
Greece will be missing playmaker and captain Giorgos Karagounis because of suspension.
There is speculation Germany coach Joachim Loew will return Klose to the starting lineup, although Mario Gomez scored three goals that won matches against Portugal and the Netherlands. Klose, a 34-year-old striker, scored the last time these teams played each other, a World Cup qualifier in 2001.
Six Greece players have either played or still play in the Bundesliga. Greece has five defeats and three draws in the eight games it has played Germany or the former West Germany.
"We are not too bothered about statistics. ... That doesn't really matter," Salpigidis said.
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