Germany v Greece, June 22, 7.45pm
June 22 ~ When Germany play an important match against one of their numerous European neighbours, the historical and political implications are always brought up. Consequently, the DFB, Germany's football association, have developed a routine for dealing with the issue: they simply ignore suggestions that the match has any significance beyond football at all. In the build-up to Germany's quarter-final against Greece, coach Joachim Low and his players staged a new version of this old script and ostentatiously ignored the recent disharmonies between the governments of the two countries.
"Angela Merkel has no influence on our team's tactics, and I'm not giving any political statements," said Low during Tuesday's press conference. A day before, Leverkusen midfielder Lars Bender had declared that football generally had nothing to do with politics. "All the players and all the fans of both teams know that," he said. Dortmund's Mats Hummels was apparently the only one not to be prompted by the DFB press officers. In a newspaper interview he conceded that "the political situation will surely motivate the Greek players".
Most questions concerning the impact of the European currency crisis had been asked by foreign journalists anyway. The German media's pre-match reports concentrate on the mediocre performances by Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller during the group stage rather than Brussels' austerity targets or the "Bring on Merkel" headlines in some Greek tabloids.
Greece is seen as not much more than a stepping-stone on the way to a semi-final against England or Italy. As Mehmet Scholl, the former Bayern Munich midfielder who is now a pundit for public station ARD, put it: "Greece is a present wrapped up with a nice ribbon." Scholl estimates that Germany's chances of winning the match lie at "around 80 percent". Low seems to share this opinion. When asked how worried he was about the Greek team, he responded: "I am relaxed."
The German public is clearly too itchy to win a major title for the first time in 16 years to be distracted by politics or foreign press releases. Even on Facebook and Twitter, the "We'll kick Greece out of the Euro" jokes are rare. The coincidence of the two teams facing each other in times of diplomatic troubles merely raises a chuckle: "The football god definitely has a sense of humour," wrote one Twitter contributor.
The only element in the Greek game that seems to cause unease in the German camp is the efficiency of the 2004 champions. "In the course of the tournament, they scored three goals from a total of three opportunities," said Low. He urged his defenders to remain alert, finally producing a semi-political statement: "Our wall must not come down." Karsten Blaas