Match Report for Game at Centre of UEFA Debt CrisisThe German team’s line of defense against the Greeks. Photo by Benjamin Stephan, Flickr Creative Commons.
Ed. note: this piece was originally featured as an editor’s pick on Guardian.co.uk and is reprinted here with the permission of its authors.
It finally happened.
The soccer gods, the Greek gods, and the right foot of Giorgos Karagounis conspired to bring the two teams at the centre of the UEFA debt crisis face-to-face on the pitch. Five years ago it was discovered that the Greek team, having inflated its players’ salaries, was secretly deep in debt. Since then, tension has built between Greece and Germany. Germany, one of the most accomplished teams in UEFA, resents that it had to donate vast amounts of footballing provisions to Greece. Greece, meanwhile, resents that Germany resents Greece.
The 22 June match gave both countries a chance to settle their scores. Equally important, it gave pundits who like to explain the complex global economic system by way of over-wrought sporting analogies another chance to explain the complex global economic system by way of an over-wrought sporting analogy.
Gdansk Arena was packed. German supporters donned their traditional gold and black team colours while Greek fans followed the ancient tradition of wearing discarded wine barrels with leather straps at the shoulders.
German Manager Angela Merkel paced the touchline, waving a placard quoting Liverpool legend and economic genius Bill Shankly: “Football isn’t a matter of life or death — it’s much more a matter of convincing the opposing team to impose austerity measures on their players’ salaries in return for free shots at net.”
In response, Greek fans belted out that age-old slogan football fans have screamed ever since the first player insured his feet at Lloyd’s of London, threw thousands of dollars at police officers when they ticketed him for driving his Lamborghini too fast, and called his agent to discuss swapping clubs so that he could secure a pay raise from 140,000 pounds per week to 210,000 pounds per week. The Greeks shouted: “It takes balls to play football and to hide your team’s debt through derivatives designed by major banks!”
The game began on the whistle of Italian referee Mario Draghi, with the Germans kicking off. The team played in its traditional 4-3-2-1 formation, with Mario Gomez given license to roam across the front line and Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger parked deep in the midfield. The Greeks controversially employed a newly designed 10-0-0 formation, lining up all outfield players on the edge of the penalty area.
But by the 12th minute, it became clear that the Greek line was in fact a picket line.
Prior to kickoff, the Greek players had been informed that their salaries would be cut, though they argued their poor performance was proof that they needed pay raises.
Draghi, trying to bring the game back on track, issued yellow cards to Dimitris Salpingidis for organizing a labour movement in the middle of play, Sokratis Papastathopoulos for having an impossible last name, and Kyriakos Papadopoulos for having practically the same last name as Sokratis Papastathopoulos. But the cards failed to calm the Greeks.
Exasperated, Draghi looked ready to issue red cards to the entire Greek team before the German team bailed them out. German Captain Philipp Lahm grudgingly explained to Draghi that the Germans wanted to play, which could only happen if the Greeks weren’t forced to forfeit.
So in a historic attempt to stabilize the international game, the Germans were asked to lend Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller to the Greek team. The referee also insisted that Germany place Manuel Neuer on the bench, leaving the goal open, on the condition that the Greeks stop picketing on the pitch.
Momentarily encouraged by the unfair playing field, the Greeks stormed downfield, swaggering with an inflated sense of national pride and bloated pensions. In the 19th minute, the ball fell to Georgios Samaras. With great speed he picked it up, promptly lay down on the pitch, and placed it under his head as a makeshift pillow. Reports later surfaced in Der Spiegal that his family celebrated their newfound wealth upon becoming the only family in town with a pillow. But these are unsubstantiated and more than slightly racist.
The Greeks having fanned out into their positions–minus the sleepy Samaras–the Germans ticked passes around. Merkel, the brilliant tactician, shouted orders from the edge of her technical area: “Ve need to give zem ze damn ball, ja?! Let zem have its!” From the 22nd minute through the 37th, the German team pinged 174 billion passes to the Greeks, who looked momentarily relieved before stuffing the balls into their pockets and adopting an air of confusion, asking each other where the ball went.
In the 38th minute, while Kostas Katsouranis was fumbling to pocket a ball, irritated sort-of German midfielder Lucas Podolski lunged in with a tackle. The Greek player lay clutching his junk–which, incidentally, is the status of his team’s debt rating. Katsouranis was carried off the pitch on a stretcher, smiling widely.
Germany entered halftime two goals to the good after dejected Greek goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis angrily threw two balls into his own net, shouting “No one will even notice! No one cares about me!” before collapsing in tears on the penalty spot.
The teams exited the tunnels for the start of the second half, the Germans looking focussed and determined following the PA announcement that the Greeks could only afford to field eight players, who filed out brandishing freshly painted picket signs. On the referee’s whistle, the Greeks broke into an unconventional circular formation, lighting their picket signs on fire. Team trainers wheeled a half-dozen 1981 Fiat sedans onto the field, flipped them over, and lit those on fire too.
The riot continued into the 68th minute, with the German team begging the Greeks to take even a single shot on their open net, until Greek Captain Giorgos Karagounis led a march on the dugout and called for the resignation of interim manager Panagiotis Pikrammenos. Pikrammenos looked relieved at the news and hurried off down the tunnel. Throughout the last 22 minutes of play, various Greek fans intermittently declared themselves manager and pushed each other over, while the referee was overheard muttering that the game was thoroughly fucked anyways. Shrugging, he allowed the Greeks to play out the remaining 12 minutes.
But by fulltime, the Germans and the Greeks had both given up, withdrawn all of their personal savings, and scattered Euros over the pitch, agreeing that the green wasn’t good for much else.