Greece play Germany in quarterfinals of Euro 2012 in Gdansk, Friday
Both nations caught up in the turmoil of the Eurozone debt crisis
Greece coach Fernando Santos wants his men to focus on football
Santos says what is happening in Greece is a "social crisis"
Greece coach Fernando Santos has urged his players to focus on football rather than the political tensions surrounding his side’s Euro 2012 quarterfinal against Germany in Gdansk Friday.
Both nations are at the heart of the Eurozone debt crisis and German chancellor Angela Merkel is an unpopular figure in Greece over her calls to maintain tough austerity measures in return for financial aid from her country.
“Look, the situation has affected us,” Santos told CNN.
“The players have family, they have friends, and they worry about what is going on. I would say Greece is going through more than just a political or economic crisis. There is a social crisis with a lot of unemployment. The players are human beings and they feel that.
“What I have asked them to do is to try to forget about that when they play and to focus just on football to show they are real fighters.”
When Greece unexpectedly reached the last eight with a 1-0 win over Russia, a day before key elections which saw a narrow victory for pro-Euro party New Democracy, Greek newspapers were quick to link Friday’s game with the country’s economic turmoil and strained relations with Germany.
“This is how your debtors qualify, Angela get ready,” ran the headline in Sport Day. “Bring us Merkel!” said Goal News.
But Santos told CNN that his players had to keep their emotions in check against Germany.
“As far as the players are concerned, they can have extra motivation and more passion in this game against Germany but they can’t lose focus,” he said.
“We need to think during this game, and if we are led just by our hearts and our emotions, we will be in trouble.”
German coach Joachim Low is also trying to keep politics out of the last-eight clash as his side bid to bag a first major trophy since Euro ’96.
“Angela Merkel and the national team are on very good terms,” Low told a press conference earlier this week.
“We have reached an agreement where she doesn’t interfere with my tactical instructions and, in return, I don’t deal with her political agenda.
“As far as we are concerned, we are approaching a normal football contest and that is the end of it.”
Euro 2004 success
Santos’ men have already shown the fighting qualities which marked Greece’s surprise triumph at Euro 2004, snatching an unlikely qualification after winning a single point in their opening two games.
But the 57-year-old Portuguese, who replaced German coach Otto Rehhagel in 2010, is not surprised by the team’s passage to the knockout stages.
“I always believed we could make it out of the group,” Santos said.
“Even after our first two games didn’t go well I still had faith because I know this team very well and the players always do well in situations of adversity.”
But can they beat one of the favorites for the competition and go on to repeat that 2004 success?
“We all believe we can beat Germany, why not? We have our weapons as well and if we use them to our advantage we can make our dream of advancing to the next stage come true,” he said.
“Sometimes history can repeat itself. We have to keep dreaming and believing we can make history repeat itself.”
One of the major obstacles to Greece progressing is the suspension of their captain and key midfielder Giorgos Karagounis, who scored the only goal of the match against Russia.
Santos admits his absence Friday is a “big blow.”
But he added: “We can’t forget our strength is in our group not just on one player, so we will find a way to be successful without him.”
Germany go into the match in the Polish port city as clear favorites, having won the so-called “Group of Death” with a 100% record.
But they needed a late winner to beat Denmark 2-1, and Low was unhappy with some aspects of their performance.
“We left a few enormous gaps in midfield for the opponent to exploit and I didn’t like that. The solutions are just as clear as the challenges.”