- Associated Press - Friday, June 22, 2012

GDANSK, POLAND (AP) - Greek soccer fans whistled and jeered at Angela Merkel, but the German chancellor had the last laugh, jumping to her feet in joy every time her team scored.

After a year in which the Greek economy imploded and Germany insisted on deep austerity measures in return for bailout funds, Greeks were yearning for a victory on the playing field. It would’ve restored some pride and allowed them to have the upper hand, even just for a day.

It wasn’t meant to be. In their European Championship quarterfinal match Friday, as in the crisis-hit eurozone economy, German influence proved tough for Greece to overcome and the final score was 4-2.

One sign in the crowd at Arena Gdansk stadium summed up Germany’s self-confidence on the soccer field: “You can have our billions _ but not the trophy,” with a picture of the European Championship cup.

Greeks watching the match on TV screens at a cafe in Athens had fleeting moments of jubilation, jumping out of their seats and knocking over glasses that smashed on the floor when their team scored to tie the match 1-1. Taxi drivers passing by honked their horns. The celebrations lasted only for a few more minutes, however, with Germany scoring three more goals. Images of Merkel celebrating Germany’s goals drew loud derision from spectators at the cafe. For Germany’s first, fans cursed at the screen when Merkel was shown cheering, while others made rude hand gestures.

In Berlin, soccer fans waving German flags flooded the area in front of the landmark Brandenburg Gate to watch the match. Organizers said about 400,000 people attended the public viewing event.

“The people were very nice here,” said Greece fan Odin Linardatou of Athens, who was vacationing in Berlin. “People congratulated us when we scored a goal, and we congratulated them (when Germany scored).”

In Gdansk, some Greece fans believed their team was playing for _ and won _ a bigger game for the nation.

“We need more respect from the rest of Europe,” said Dimitris Diavatis, a hotel owner on the Ionian island of Corfu, on leaving the stadium.

One week earlier, the embattled Greek people had less to hope for and, perhaps, a little more to fear.

Last Saturday, the Euro 2004 champions were expected to be eliminated from its group on the eve of a parliamentary election which threatened turmoil.

But Greece beat Russia 1-0 with a resolute defensive display. Then voters rejected candidates from the political extremes to elect others from the mainstream who, by midweek, formed a conservative-led coalition government prepared to accept the tough, German-backed conditions of staying in the eurozone.

Against this backdrop, sports and politics inevitably met on neutral Polish turf on Friday evening.

“Today we have no other choice,” said Michalis Kalotrapesis, wearing a white national team shirt and tracksuit top, before the game. “We are playing for our country and for our image in Europe and all over the world.”

Kalotrapesis, and three Greek friends who all now live in Germany, drove for nine hours through the night to support Greece, the spirited underdog.

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