Win for Panagoulias, not politics

Posted by Chris Paraskevas

So I’m a little early in terms of the Greece-Germany match but given the various political and socio-economic layers that are being heaped upon this clash in the build-up, I’m assuming my loyal groupies and casual passers-by in ESPN Soccernet-land are curious to know what a Greek thinks of it all.

Not really? You’re saying I don’t have groupies? You don’t actually care what I think? Too bad, because I’m going to tell you anyway...

Well firstly, I’m not strictly speaking Greek, having been born and raised in Australia and spent my whole life in this country. So that sort of lessens my credentials when it comes to answering the “What are Greeks feeling about the upcoming game?” question. After all, it’s not as if I’m the one who’s starving and waiting in line at understaffed hospitals that are being forced to steal their equipment – that is a tragedy that only the people who live and breathe it can understand but I imagine it is a truly horrible experience.

If I had to provide an answer though, it would be along the lines of either two responses, the first being: Well, the citizens of Greece would obviously relish the opportunity to inflict misery on the austerity-imposing, hypocritical Germans (just to clarify, these aren’t my words but the words of a theoretical, completely imaginary Greek) in any arena, and football will most certainly do. The second response would be: They’ve probably been dealt more than their fair share of misery and pain and would really just like to celebrate it all by escaping the harsh reality of their daily life by celebrating the occasion – regardless of the outcome – for 90 minutes or so.

You’ll probably see plenty of sound and video-bites of Greek and German fans expressing all sorts of sentiments over the next couple of days, as the media feasts on what is a match that is fast transcending the boundaries of sport.

For my part, I’d like to add another lens through which to view this game, admittedly not as far-reaching or universal as politics or economics but nonetheless, this is football we’re talking about.

The death of Alketas Panagoulias would have been the focus of pre-match talk had it not been for the current crisis engulfing Greece and it’s a shame that news of his passing has largely been brushed aside. Even Greek media outlets seem to have been guilty of this to a degree but I’d like to pay a little tribute to the former Greece manager to go along with my piece for Football Hellas.

Panagoulias was the first man to get Greece to a major tournament, doing so when he guided his team to Euro 1980, where they put in three excellent performances (I urge you read’s archives about the matches). He then returned for a second spell in charge of the Ethniki and led them to their first ever World Cup in 1994, where they unfortunately put in three abysmal performances, something that has tainted his otherwise amazing legacy.

Tributes to Panagoulias from former players have painted the picture of a father figure who had incredible motivational qualities; a master of man-management who brought the best out of his players by inspiring belief and confidence in them. The Greek players will wear black armbands to honour the former Olympiacos and US national team manager in their quarter-final against Germany and UEFA should sensibly allow for a minute’s silence before the match, as has been requested by the Hellenic Football Federation.

Despite the prominence of political undertones around the game, I hope a few people spare a thought for this pioneer of Greek football.

Now, in terms of trash talking between the two squads, Joachim Low and his players have exercised an almost radioactive level of diplomacy as they seek to avoid providing further motivation for potentially fired-up Greek players.

So instead, German tabloid Bild has picked up the slack with one of its authors, Franz Josef Wagner, in fine form ahead of the game.

Initially Herr Wagner decided to limit his back-handed remarks to the national team, whom he labelled as “rubbish”. His latest piece of literary brilliance had him writing a letter to the Greek people explaining why his heart is beating for Greece, before describing them in the following terms:

“My heart beats... for the Greeks. For the Greeks with the empty wallets, who don’t have enough money to drink a glass of wine, who don’t have money for a packet of cigarettes, who don’t have money to go to the dentist or pay their rent. And the truth is that it’s difficult to beat those who have nothing to lose - because all they [the Greeks] have now are a few barren mountains, some old olive trees and stray cats.”

Oh, and did I mention Angela Merkel is attending the match?

What do I personally think about all of this?

I don’t put too much stock in it given the players probably don’t either (most of the Greek players have either played, are playing in, or were born in Germany, and certainly aren’t living in poverty themselves) and I’ve got plenty of German friends. But even I’ll admit that my interest has elevated beyond usual levels of obsession – I’ve been doing nothing but watching Helakis videos all week – thanks to the various other elements at play off the pitch.

But if I had to choose between winning to spite the Germans and winning to honour Mr. Panagoulias, I’d most certainly choose the latter...

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