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June 27, 2008

Euro 2008 tough on Greece

Euro 2008 hasn't been easy on Greek national pride, as we've watched the champions slink home from Salzburg as the only team who failed to register a point at the tournament, whilst arch-rivals The Ottoman Empire Turkey sensationally advanced as far as the semis thanks to an improbable 'Roy Of The Rovers' style series of late goal comebacks.

Any criticism of the Greek team's performance from the English press seems to be met with a prickly "well you didn't even qualify". England can take some crumb of comfort from the fact that they were in the only qualifying group that produced two quarter-finalists (Croatia and Russia), but to be honest the tournament has probably been better for our absence. None of the gut-wrenching anxiety for days before an England game means I've enjoyed it much more than usual as well.

And, of course, it is always good to be able to observe German, Polish, Croatian and Turkish fans fighting, and a deafening silence from UEFA about expelling them - in contrast to the way England were treated at Euro 2000.

But just because England didn't qualify, doesn't mean we can't criticise the style of play adopted by the Greek team. It was a joyful surprise to see a nation from outside the big 6 win the trophy in 2004 - but this time around the Greeks were simply dour.

Still, one can understand the Greek attitude to criticism - 'my country, right or wrong' is a policy adopted by the highest echelons of Greek society. Only the other week Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos was complaining about Greece's MEPs:

"A lot has been said about Greece, and also, unfortunately, by Greek Euro-deputies...they accuse Greece of not following asylum rules. The least I would expect from Euro-deputies is to support the country."

Indeed. Never mind the facts. Never mind political principle. Never mind human compassion - the least we expect is for Greek MEPs to support the country, right or wrong.

In truth my biggest problem with supporting Greece at Euro 2008 was nothing to do with the style of play, but everything to do with the players. I have spent the last two years watching Greek domestic football and cursing Olympiakos, and I found it almost impossible to suddenly start cheering Torosidis, or not finding myself smiling at mistakes by Nikopolidis which cost goals. It isn't an anti-Greek thing - I find myself feeling exactly like that with Ashley Cole and David Bentley for England as well!

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Greece lost in all respects because they weren't prepared to face the fact that the EURO 2004-winning team had gotten OLD. (What on earth was Otto thinking in sending back the same team???) In the intervening four years, was there not a SINGLE new player that showed greater powers than the rotting squad that won the last EURO round? Were not new players born since?
I would pity that bunch of losers (whose ego stopped them from facing the truth) if the EURO took place annually, but after four years, surely someone in that 'dream' team would have aged (Nikopolidis' hair alone attests to this), or simply fallen short of the mark of their past glories.
Greeks in general (there are exceptions) do not face the truth easily: that they are not gods, that they are not perfect, and that, yes, there is a more creative, more industrious, more progressive world outside Greece.
Despite their embarrassing loss, they still thought they deserved praise for their efforts. And to top it all off, the Greek TV news went into over-drive analysing the losses. What was there to analyses, pray tell me? We lost because we were hopeless, so the players need to get another life, and Greece needs to find another team.

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