DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) – Since the footballing fates pitted Greece against Germany , there have been enough jibes about the state of the Euro to give your average stand up comedian enough material for a new routine.
Even the Greeks themselves are caught up in the act. "Germany, you will never get us out of the Euro" is a typical tongue-in-cheek message. The fact the word Euro refers to an ailing currency as well as an exciting football tournament is just too tempting for the jokers. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is heavily referenced as people wonder whether she will tell the Greek team how many goals they must concede in addition to her instructions about the Greek economy.
The humor is dark, though, about a topic that is having an awful effect on everyday lives. The financial crisis in Greece is desperate. To take on Germany, the biggest creditors for the most acute of the debt-ridden countries in what the money men refer to as the Euro zone, is poignant as well as anything else.
The players themselves have explained how the severe situation engulfing the country has beeen a motivating force for Greece, the surprise package in the quarter-finals. They pulled off the biggest shock in the opening stage of the competition by eliminating Group A favorite Russia.
Greece's inspirational captain, Georgios Karagounis, underlined how much they feel they have an extra cause to represent. "When we left Greece, we all said, 'Really give it everything.' We would have anyway, but the hardship made us fight more."
One of the most memorable images from this - or any - European Championship was the sight of Karagounis going perilously close to spontaneous combustion when he was denied a clear penalty and wrongly booked for diving against Russia - an injustice that luckily didn't affect the team, but does affect him personally as he will now be suspended for the quarter-final because of a refereeing mistake.
Greece's coach was worried enough about his state of mind that he felt it wise to substitute Karagounis against Russia, even though he is the team's talisman.
Greece hung on to create a momentous sporting upset, and launched into the kind of celebrations that come from something so deep that even folk who have no reason to care one way or the other were touched by what they saw. The players brought their children into the middle of their huddle and jumped with the purest joy.
It is the team's fighting spirit which will again be paramount as they take on mighty Germany. Even though Greece have won an international football tournament more recently than the Germans (their Euro 2004 triumph against all odds is an important reference point for the current team) this has the feel of a mismatch.
Germany are in imperious mood. They have won their last 14 competitive games - an all-time record in German football history. This was the first time they have ever won all three of their group games at a European Championship . They look fantastically strong and arguably the most balanced team in the whole tournament.
Kostas Katsouranis, who will be captain on the day in place of the suspended Giorgos Karagounis accepts everything appears to be stacked against them. "It will take a minor miracle on Friday," he said. "Germany are the favorites, we are the underdogs, but think about it: we will not play against the Germans ten times to see who wins the most. It's one match and we will fight to the end. Self-sacrifice - it's our main characteristic. We will give it all on the field."
Greece had a German coach, a wise and wily teacher in Otto Rehhagel, when they enjoyed their greatest ever footballing triumph. When they won the European Championship in 2004, via a series of unexpected victories, the foundations of a winning team came from the strategic organization and solid determination they learned from Rehhagel. When it comes to upsettling the form book, the Greeks know what they are doing. They are certainly not intimidated by this challenge, even though they will dearly miss the influence and experience of Karagounis.
As the Germans themselves say, "der ball is rund". The ball is round. It is a famous catchphrase which underlines how underdogs can always have their day.