Do not underestimate the potential impact of the ‘Debt Derby’ between Germany and Greece
Of all the world leaders, Angela Merkel stands out as the one whose affection for football is the most well documented. From her post-match chinwag with a half naked Mesut Özil in South Africa to the infamous image of her watching the Champions League Final with David Cameron, Merkel has often made a point of accentuating her love for the beautiful game.
Of all the Germany games she has seen though, none have been as significant as this Friday’s quarter-final against Greece will be. Commentators all over the world begin to compile a healthy list of Eurozone based puns, revelling in the political irony of a game which is already being named the “Debt Derby”.
Germany, incidentally, are no strangers to football matches with a political twist. Merkel was just twenty when her then home nation, the former German Democratic Republic, played its first and only official game against West Germany. The images of Jürgen Sparwasser dancing past Berti Vogts and slamming the ball past Sepp Maier to score the winner for the GDR have become some of the most iconic in the history of German football. The 1-0 victory meant that the communist nation retained, throughout its forty year history, a one hundred per cent record on the football field against its capitalist neighbours.
Rewind the clock even further, to 1954, and we find one of the most notable cultural events in post war Germany. The “Miracle of Bern”, when Sepp Herberger’s unfancied West Germany beat Hungary 3-2 to claim their first ever World Cup, was a game laced with politics. A defining moment in the cultural identity of the newly formed Bundesrepublik was all but ruined when sections of the crowd began to sing the forbidden first verse of the national anthem. Old habits, as they say, die hard.
In comparison to these era defining moments, the Greece game might even seem somewhat insignificant. Certainly the players on both sides are doing their utmost to play down the non-sporting undertones of the fixture. Lars Bender told the German press that “the political background shouldn’t play a major role”, while Greece’s Ioannis Maniatis declared “it is only sport – of course it is a difficult time but we will be playing to make the Greek fans happy”.
In all likelihood, the political significance of this game will depend on the result. A German victory is, in footballing terms, the expected result, and aside from the odd cheap joke on the pundits’ sofa, it would do little to accentuate any political tension which might have crept its way onto the football pitch. A Greek victory could plausibly be different. Though Maniatis is right to say that it is only a game, the likes of Messrs Sparwasser and Herberger would be quick to remind him just how much of an impact one football match can have.
Regardless of the outcome, this is a wonderful reminder of just how important the game of football is in the modern day. For the Greeks it is, in the words of Lars Bender “a chance to help the Greek people forget the difficult of recent times”, and for Germany it is another step on the way to asserting themselves as the best footballing nation on the continent. And no matter how fiercely the players distance themselves from the politics, for one Frau Merkel, it is a game which her country simply cannot lose.Tagged in: debt, euro 2012, football, germany, greece
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