Greece out to bring some cheer
Greece are aiming to give their hard-pressed compatriots back home a rare moment of cheer this evening when they take on co-hosts Poland in the opening match of Euro 2012.
The Greeks have as a national squad been left largely untouched by the enormous financial hardships experienced by their fellow citizens, because of the cuts imposed due to the bailout terms by the EU and others, but almost to a man their hearts are with them.
“We are a new team, with a lot of new players who are taking part in a major tournament for the first time,” said Celtic striker Giorgios Samaras, 27.
“All of us have on our mind the match with Poland and nothing else. As for how far the team can go, we will see in each match separately. It would be nice to give joy to the Greek people once again.”
The squad is captained by Giorgios Karagounis, 35, who scored the first goal in the shock opening win of the Euro 2004 finals against hosts Portugal, and he echoed Samaras’s mood.
“We want to give joy to the Greeks. We will do our best, without stress and pressure, and hopefully bring back beautiful memories,” said Karagounis, who went on to lift the trophy with his team-mates in 2004 after beating Portugal again in the championship final.
For Poland’s young squad, average age just under 25, Euro 2004 is a boyhood memory.
Their stars number the likes of striker Robert Lewandowski, 23, who has enjoyed a stellar season with Borussia Dotmund, and Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, 22.
Polish football’s long-lost glory days of the 1970s and 1980s are ancient history for that generation.
Over the past decade, Poland have raised and wrecked fans’ hopes, with solid qualifying campaigns for the 2002 and 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 turning into poor finals performances.
But the new side crafted by manager Franciszek Smuda since he took the helm in October 2009 are not overwhelmed by fans’ expectations.
On paper, Poland are the 16-nation European Championship’s weakest team, ranked 62nd in the world. They earned their berth only as hosts, like fellow organisers Ukraine.
Having failed to reach the 2010 World Cup, and not having had to qualify for Euro 2012, Poland will have gone 968 days with nothing but friendlies by kick-off today.
Greece, who qualified for the tournament without losing a game, are ranked 15th by FIFA, while Group A rivals Russia and the Czech Republic stand 13th and 27th respectively.