LEGIONOWO – Greece is in fighting mood ahead of their crunch Euro 2012 quarter-final on Friday against tournament favorite Germany, aiming to conjure up the spirit that helped them win the trophy eight years ago.
Panathinaikos midfielder Costas Katsouranis said they were giving no thought to the inevitable underdog image Greece has against powerhouse Germany.
“We’re going to play Germany. What do you think we are thinking? That we’re going to lose? That’s why they are going to have a tough time,» the 33-year-old veteran told reporters at Greece’s training ground in Legionowo near the Polish capital Warsaw.
“What do they think? That we’re just going to stand there and look at them? We’re going to play them. We have proven that through the games so far.”
PAOK striker Dimitris Salpingidis was similarly gung-ho: «If you come to the dressing room, you will see 22 fighters, ready to fight. It doesn’t matter to us what anyone says,» he said. «In 2004, we proved we can do it. What we’re going to do is fight, and try to go through to the next round.”
Greece stormed into the quarterfinals after halting the high-octane Russians in their tracks in their final Group A match last week. Russia had only needed a draw to make the last eight, but Greek captain Giorgos Karagounis scored in stoppage time in the first half and Russia could not breach Greece’s solid defense.
“It never crossed our minds that we were going to lose to Russia. From the first moment, we were confident. We believed we would win. And we did,» said Salpingidis. «There’s no doubt that that win was very important. It boosted the team’s spirit.”
Greece started off their campaign with a 1-1 draw with Euro 2012 co-host Poland, then lost 2-1 to the Czech Republic – who dashed the Poles’ hopes with a 1-0 victory in its last game – and face Portugal in Thursday’s quarter-final in Warsaw.
Salpingidis – who came on at half-time against Poland, when Greece was down to 10 men and losing 1-0, and rapidly equalized – warned against underestimating them.
“We’re now among the eight best teams in Europe, so things will get tougher from now on. But in my opinion, there’s no surprise regarding the teams that have advanced to the quarterfinals. Our group was very tough and I’m glad we made it,» he said.
Along with Karagounis, who is suspended for the quarterfinal after two yellow cards in two games, and goalkeeper Costas Chalkias, who missed the Russia game due to a hamstring injury, Katsouranis is one of a trio who were in the squad that won Euro 2004.
In the wake of their shock European championship title eight years ago, Greece failed to shine, suggesting it was a one-off. But Katsouranis said the spirit of that era was alive and kicking. «The spirit of the team is the same. Everybody is ready to dedicate himself to the team. We have passion.”
The eurozone crisis gives the match an extra edge, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel maintains the pressure on Greece to toughen its austerity measures in return for continued financial assistance to the indebted, cash-strapped nation.
But despite media pressure hiked by Merkel’s planned presence at the match in the Baltic port of Gdansk, Katsouranis played down the political context.
“We’re not here to talk about politics. We’re just here to play soccer. We’re here to represent Greece. Okay, everybody knows about the crisis we have as a country, but it’s not the most important thing for us at the moment. The most important thing for us is to wear our shirts with our flag on, play for ourselves and for the people back home, that’s all,» said Katsouranis.