Warsaw. Of all the quarter-final clashes at Euro 2012, Germany versus Greece will be the most closely watched, with the tie being seen through the prism of the sovereign debt crisis threatening the eurozone.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has provoked anger in Greece for leading the calls on Athens to impose tough austerity measures in return for financial assistance to bring down debt.
The irony of a potential last-eight meeting with Germany after Greece’s surprise win over Russia in Warsaw on Saturday was not been lost on the Greeks, with many sensing an opportunity for revenge.
“Bring us Merkel,” said Greek newspaper Goal News on Sunday. “You will never get Greece out of the Euro. Europe once again delirious about bankrupted Greece.”
Greece players, too, are aware that a good run in the competition in Poland and Ukraine will help alleviate some of their compatriots’ current woes.
In economic terms, Germany and Greece are poles apart. One is Europe’s leading economy with considerable global clout while the other is in its fifth year of recession and crippled by political and financial uncertainty.
In football, there are some parallels.
The celebrated Mannschaft have the European championships’ best record, having lifted the trophy and been runners-up three times each.
Greece, however, have only qualified for the finals four times, although they have won it once — in 2004 — eclipsing the record of countries like England, who have never won the competition.
Germany have won the World Cup no fewer than three times and been runners-up on four occasions, with four third-place finishes. Their 12 top-four finishes outshines even that of five-times winners Brazil.
Greece for its part only qualified for their first finals in 1994 and made their second appearance two years ago but on both occasions crashed out at the group stage.
German league clubs have won the old European Cup and now Champions League six times and been runners-up on nine occasions.
Bayern Munich have won the competition four times — a feat only bettered by Real Madrid (nine), AC Milan (seven) and Liverpool (five) — while Hamburg and Borussia Dortmund have each won it once.
To date, Panathinaikos are the only Greek team to have reached a final — in 1971. They lost 2-1 to Ajax.
Germany’s Bundesliga, meanwhile, is on an increasingly sound financial footing.
Revenue grew by five percent in the 2010-11 season to 1.7 billion euros (1.4 billion pounds, $2.1 billion) — second only to the English Premier League, which saw 12 percent growth to 2.5 billion in the same period, Deloitte Sports Business said.
The German league even outstripped the Premier League in terms of operating profits (171 million euros versus 75 million euros in 2010-11), the auditors said in their “Annual Review of Football Finance 2012”, published in May.
In addition, average attendances of 42,100 at German grounds in the season before last were the best in Europe, the report said.
Greek domestic football — effectively an annual three-way battle between Olympiakos, Panathinaikos and AEK Athens — has in contrast been hit in recent years by high-profile match-fixing claims, dwindling crowds as well as fan violence.
Sports business experts have pinpointed a number of reasons for Greek clubs’ failure to reach the revenue heights of their European counterparts — and they sound familiar.
Panagiotis Dimitropoulos, from the department of sport management at the University of Peloponnese, analysed Greek football club finances from 1993 to 2006.
He wrote in the Sport Management International Journal in 2010 that clubs, many locally-owned, were “highly leveraged, have intense liquidity and profitability problems and face increase danger of financial distress.”
The academic blamed “aggregate financial mismanagement and political inefficiencies” and noted clubs were blighted by “many cases of financial mismanagement” leading to “financial instability and… insolvency.”
Dimitropolous suggested a number of solutions to put Greek football on a better financial and competitive footing, including assistance for smaller and less profitable teams as well as salary caps, squad limits and revenue sharing.
Or you could say: bail-outs and austerity measures to stimulate growth.