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Soccer gets political as Greece seeks revenge on paymaster Germany

A man takes a copy of the German
A man takes a copy of the German
Greek fans cheer for their team in downtown Gdansk, Poland, before their match against Germany on Friday.Bartlomiej Zborowski / EPA

Greeks were hoping against hope that their national soccer team would triumph over mighty Germany in the Euro 2012 championship, restoring lost pride to the debt-stricken country by getting one over its economic paymaster.

Friday night's quarterfinal fixture, in the Polish port of Gdansk, pits two nations against each other whose ties have rarely been so sour, so bristling.

Greece fans are seeking respect for their country after its humiliating economic collapse and Germany’s predominant role in lending bailout money – along with strict austerity measures. 

"It's not good that sports and politics are together, but today we have no other choice," said Greece fan Michalis Kalotrapesis, wearing a white national team shirt and training top. "We are playing for our country and for our image in Europe and all over the world." 

An artist, himself painted in German colors, paints the face of a soccer fan with the colors of the Greek national flag in Gdansk on Friday.Frank Augstein / AP

Germany will be cheered on at the game by Chancellor Angela Merkel, a hated figure in Greece, who for many personifies the painful bailout conditions and the euro zone's strict approach to the debt-strapped state.

Merkel loves football and loves the German team. Earlier in the tournament, she went to visit their training base. She attends high-profile matches and was once photographed with bare-chested midfielder Mesut Ozil in the changing room.

'Bye-bye Greeks'

A crunch meeting between Merkel and other European leaders in Rome on Friday was moved up to an earlier start time so that she could attend the game.

"Bye-bye Greeks, we can't rescue you today!" Germany's top-selling Bild proclaimed on its front page on Friday in the colors of the Greek flag.

A man takes a copy of the German

"Bankrupt THEM," blared leading Greek paper Sport Day.

Even the respected Greek daily Kathimerini drummed home to Greeks that this match is against a foe popularly blamed for saddling Greece with a punitive austerity program, chronic unemployment and years of deep economic recession.

"Whoever thinks today's match is just a game is wrong," the paper wrote, vowing it was "politics (maybe even war) by other means."

"To many Greeks, victory will represent the triumph of the weak against the wealth, might and arrogance of the powerful -- the victim would humble his executioner… If the Germans win, they'll see it as confirmation of their diligence, strategy, talent and thrift," it added.

Some German car manufacturers, like Volkswagen and Daimler, are making special arrangements that will allow their workforce on shift to watch the match.

Greece has never beaten Germany

Officials from Volkswagen told NBC News that employees will be able to leave early on Friday, but that workers will have to make up for the free time at a later point.

Greece have never beaten Germany but now would be the ideal time to do so in order to cheer up the public back home and give them hope that Greece can repeat their amazing run to the European Championship crown in 2004.

The chances are slim to say the least. The Germans, among the favorites to take the tournament title, go into the match on the back of 14 consecutive competitive victories stretching back to the 2010 World Cup.

For Germany, playing in Gdansk, which prior to World War Two was the German- and Polish-inhabited free city of Danzig, will feel like a home game.

Thirty thousand Germans are expected to travel to watch the game. Only 6,000 Greek supporters are expected. Most Poles say their hearts beat for the underdog.

Back in Athens, not everyone was drawn into the spirit.

"I couldn't care less," Said Panagiotis Pappas, 22, a chemistry student. "We're on the brink of disaster and all they care is about is football for Christ's sake." 

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