This Friday in Gdansk, Poland three-time Euro winners Germany will take on Greece, the surprise winners of 2004, in what could turn out to be a feisty affair.
It is impossible to talk about this game without making references to politics, cash bailouts and the Eurozone. Germany have been a major contributor to the international bailouts of Greece, and their chancellor Angela Merkel has become a widely unpopular figure back in Greece for the tough austerity measures she has demanded in return for financial aid. But politics aside, this game should be an interesting tie.
Greece, the surprise winners back at Euro 2004, are once again the surprise package of the tournament, and arguably caused the biggest shock of the competition when they knocked out the much-fancied Russians in the group stage. Now playing under Portuguese coach Fernando Santos, the team still possesses the fighting spirit and work ethos instilled during previous coach Otto Rehhagel’s tenure.
Apart from the politics, there are many connections with Germany within Greek soccer; their previous who guided them to victory in 2004 was a German, and eight players from the current Greek squad have spent time playing in the German Bundesliga.
But against Germany, Greece will face their sternest test yet in the competition. Record winners Germany breezed through the group stages winning all three of their group games, and are viewed by many to be the only team capable of wrestling the trophy away from the clutches of the Spanish.
Germany’s squad is the youngest at this year’s Euros, and in Mesut Ozil they boast one of the stars of the tournament. Their Forward Mario Gomez was joint top scorer in the group stages of the competition with 3 goals, and the only player of the joint top scorers still capable of adding to his tally—Russia’s Alan Dzagoev and Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic have also scored 3 goals but will not be able to add to their tallies as their nations did not make it through to the quarter-finals.
The Greeks will most likely adopt the approach that lead them to victory in 2004 and which has allowed them to progress to the quarter-finals, namely, sitting deep, stifling their opponents and hoping to take their opportunities when they arise. Portugal adopted a similar approach against the Germans during the group stages, and the Germans found it difficult to create any chances, though they did eventually win the tie 1-0.
The first goal will very important in this tie. Germany have not been behind in any competitive game for two-years, but even they would not savor the task of coming from behind against this spirited Greece team. Although Greece rarely score more than one goal a game, when they do get their noses in front they are notoriously hard to peg back—in Euro 2004 Greece won every game in which they scored the first goal.
Greece will be without their captain Giorgios Karagounis, who serves a one-match ban after picking up his second yellow of the tournament in the win against Russia, and he will likely be replaced by either Grigoris Makos or Giorgos Fotakis.
Germany on the other hand should welcome back defender Jerome Boateng, who missed win over Denmark because of suspension.
This should be one game too far for the Greeks, but then again we all said that in 2004, right?
- Germany (including West Germany) are unbeaten in eight previous games against Greece, winning five. The only previous meeting at a European Championship was a group match back in 1980, which finished 0-0. That result took the Germans through to the final, where they beat Belgium.
- The most recent games between the two came in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. Germany won 2-0 in Hamburg in 2000 and 4-2 in Athens in March 2001; Miroslav Klose is the only survivor from the last meeting – he scored in that match.
- The Germans have taken the lead in all three matches at Euro 2012, plus each of their 10 qualifiers, going on to win all of those games. They have not fallen behind in a competitive game since the third-place play-off against Uruguay at the 2010 World Cup (which they eventually won 3-2 after trailing 2-1).
- Joachim Loew’s side has won their last 14 competitive games (including the third-place play-off against Uruguay).
- Germany boasts the youngest squad ever to participate at the Euros with an average age of just 24.52. The average age of the starting XI against Denmark was 25 years and 107 days.
- Germany (including West Germany) have never lost a European Championship quarter-final. They beat Portugal 3-2 at Euro 2008 and Croatia 2-1 at Euro 96. They also defeated England (1972) and Spain (1976) back in the days when quarterfinals were played over two legs prior to the finals.
- The Greeks have scored a single goal in each of their past eight matches.
- The Greeks too have never lost a quarterfinal—tough the only previous occasion they made it to the quarterfinals was in 2004, when they beat France 1-0, and went on to win the competition.
- In their last three European Championships tournaments, Greece have either finished bottom of their group or won the competition outright (as they did in 2004). Therefore they have won all three of their previous knockout games at the tournament.
- Greece have never contested a penalty shoot-out at a tournament. They have missed their last three penalties – Giorgios Karagounis failed to convert a spot-kick against Poland in their opening game, and Giorgos Samaras and Kostas Katsouranis did likewise against Armenia on 31 May.
- Against Russia, Greece equaled the tournament record for most shots blocked (12), matching England’s tally against Portugal in 2004 and against France in 2012.