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For once, the Germans and the Greeks seem determined to play nicely.
They have been at loggerheads for many months over the eurozone crisis. Insults have flown back and forth. But Friday, we're told — for a couple of glorious hours — all that will be forgotten. Or will it?
We love being the underdogs. If this game puts a smile on Greek faces for a while, that's a good thing.Neo, a Greek soccer fan attending the Greece-Germany soccer match
By a quirk of fate, Germany, the economic and political powerhouse of Europe, is playing against small, dependent, bankrupt, bailed-out Greece in the quarterfinals of the Euro 2012 soccer championship.
Both sides have pledged to set aside politics, forget about their mutual grudges, and enjoy the big match for its own sake.
But soccer in Europe arouses deep passions. Rivalries, ancient and modern, are never far beneath the surface.
So it is apt that today's great duel is happening in a land drenched in history, and well acquainted with this region's fault lines.
A Proper Setting For A Rivalry
In the 1,000 years that the rugged Polish port of Gdansk has been on the map, it has formed the backdrop of some of the defining conflicts in Europe's turbulent history.
Great powers liberated, annexed, partitioned and bombed it. It's been fought over by Germans, Poles and Russians.
The first shots of World War II were fired nearby, by a Nazi warship at a Polish fort, across the iron-gray waters of the Baltic Sea.
Hitler built his battleships here, until Soviet tanks rumbled in, in 1945, amid a firefight that left most of the city in ruins.
A labor movement fermented in the city's shipyards during the early 1980s unleashed forces that overthrew Poland's Soviet-backed Communist regime, and helped launch the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
Friday's game has drawn an army of Greeks and Germans to Poland, from far and wide, including the U.S. As kickoff approached, fans flooded the streets, bars and cafes of Gdansk, singing and waving their national flags beneath a damp, gray sky.
Celebrating National Pride
Europe's fumbling policymakers are trying to encourage the eurozone's 17 nations to solve their crisis by giving up some of their coveted national sovereignty and forging a fiscal union.
Yet this day in Gdansk, for these fans, is all about national pride and identity.
Greek supporters acknowledge their chances of victory are not great — though they have won this competition before, in 2004, when their team was coached by a German.
Yet, all the same, there are Greeks on the streets who actually look happy.
"We love being the underdogs," said Neo, 35, who flew in from London for the game. "If this game puts a smile on Greek faces for a while, that's a good thing."
German Leader Expected
Among those expected to attend the game, at Gdansk's big, new, amber-colored PGE stadium, is Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Some German fans believe, by turning up to watch, Merkel brings luck to their players, although their team accumulated a very impressive record long before she took office.
The Greeks view Merkel in a somewhat different light. Many see her as a ruthless leader, whose addiction to austerity has exacted far too severe a price for Greece's $164 billion in bailouts. They blame her for the fact that they are living through the worst recession in Greece's modern history.
So will these two nations really play nicely today? Will the Greeks jeer at Merkel — or the Germans, at the Greeks?
As the great game approached, fans were already exchanging topical jokes, with the quick wit for which soccer fans are famous.
The Greeks, who have long lived with the threat of expulsion from the eurozone, have reportedly printed T-shirts just for Friday's game.
These bear a slogan, aimed at the Germans, that says: "It's time we kicked YOU out of the Euro," meaning the tournament, not the currency.
The German tabloid Bild has counterattacked with a headline that speaks volumes about how Germans feel these days about repeatedly having to bail out their needy southern neighbors.
"Rejoice, dear Greeks," said the paper. "Defeat will be FREE on Friday!"
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