International football can throw up all kinds of non-sporting narratives, from Jesse Owens winning gold at Hitler’s Olympics, Argentina winning the World Cup with the background of the Junta and it’s oppression of the people, USA vs Iran in France ’98, and of course the various rivalries formed off the back of armed conflict – the historical context surrounding England vs Germany or Argentina will be known by most, but this European Championship also brought Poland and Russia together in a tense battle. Germany vs Greece and the economic differences between the two countries is a more present source of friction that normally expected, and it adds an interesting subtext to the match.
Germany won all three group games and apart from a sluggish performance against Portugal in the opening match they have yet to break a sweat. From back to front they look strong, inhabiting typical German efficiency and technical excellence. Mats Hummels is leading the back line like Beckenbauer, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira marshal the midfield, and even the oft maligned Mario Gomez is scoring goals on the rare occasions that he touches the ball.
The Bayern Munich players appear motivated by their agonising loss to Chelsea in the Champions League final, and the quality on the bench, with the likes of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, and Miroslav Klose, rivals Spain as the very best. Coach Jogi Loew says Die Mannschaft will only get better, and that is a frightening thought.
Greece surprised everyone by making it through the group stage. They have followed the same game plan that led them to win the Euros in 2004, staying very defensive and looking for set piece and counter attack goals, and somehow squeaked past Poland and Russia to finish second, behind the Czech Republic.
Given the auspicious start Greece got off to, going a goal down inside fifteen minutes against the hosts Poland in the first match, then losing a defender to injury and another to a red card, followed by a missed penalty in the second half, their recovery means no one can doubt the character of Fernando Santos’ men.
To say it would be a surprise to see the Greeks in the semi final is an understatement. While Dimitris Salpigidis has shown great attacking threat the rest of the forward line, such as it is, can best be described as inconsistent. Georgios Samaras frustrated Manchester City and Celtic fans, on his day being a handful for the opposition, on others being anonymous and ponderous, and Ninis and Gekas only look like scoring when the opposition hand them an opportunity on a plate.
Defensively, however, they have looked sound, with the duo of Kyriakos Papadopoulos and the returned Sokratis Papastathopoulos shutting the impressive Russians out. The loss of Captain, joint record cap holder, and previous match winner Giorgos Karagounis, due to two yellow cards, will be massive.
Germany will welcome back Jerome Boateng from suspension, in place of Lars Bender, who scored the winner against Denmark, another sign of the strength of Germany’s bench. Apart from that Loew will stick with the side that has performed so well in the tournament so far. Anything other than a Germany win will be a shock.
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