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Greece Euro 2012: Introduction to a Greek Tragedy

Having been selected to write for the Greece National football team during Euro 2012, I have an uneasy feeling about just how long I will be here. Eight years on from what may be Greece’s all time football achievement in lifting the European Championship Trophy in 2004, it could be that just a matter of eight days may see the end of this writer, eight days being the length of time in between Greece’s opening game against hosts Poland and their final group match against Russia on the 16th June.


So how best to get across the fate of this unpredictable team in what may become a short space of time. The Greek’s are of course famous for their tragedies, recognised as an official state cult in 534BC the country has seen its fair share of modern day real tragedies(240 Billion Euro bailout and austerity measures for a generation) as well as the ones performed by writers in the ilk of Aristotle.


A Greek tragedy has a number of elements that replicate the modern day football match, they reportedly started with the singing of a choral lyric, so we have the National anthems all sorted. They took place in open air theatre’s, so the National stadium in Warsaw seems a fitting venue for Greece’s opening game in the campaign. All the actors were men, so the starting line up on Friday will cause no problems, yet the audience could be from either sex. Most of all, the word tragedy depicts the downfall of a hero or heroes’ usually through the combination of fate, luck or the gods, so when England are knocked out on penalties by the Germans, at least we now have an answer, we are in a tragedy all of our own.


Aristotle wrote that in any tragedy the hero’s must have a flaw, or have made some mistake along the way. They must also have a change of fortune or fate during the tragedy and show some honour, throw in some calamity as well and the perfect tragedy has been written.


So before Act One against the joint hosts Poland on Friday, lets study the history to understand if Euro 2012 will be the worst tragedy ever written for Greece and put this writer out of work after eight days, or will a “peripeteia” occur for the squad just like 2004.


So where is the flaw in our main character? Certainly the Greek National team didn’t appear to make any mistakes in their qualifying group. Finishing top above a strong Croatia side that meant a playoff game for the Croatians certainly wouldn’t suggest that Greece are going into this tournament with a shortage of confidence. A slightly more attacking side than the defensive outfit of 2004, still didn’t encounter any major problems at the back, only conceding five goals throughout the campaign. Could though the flaw to this team be at the other end, of all the teams finishing top of their qualifying groups, Greece scored the least amount of goals, only 14 in ten qualifying games with no player scoring more than two goals. The forwards selected in the 23 man squad only managed three of those goals between them and joint top goal scorer was defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos. The Greeks got away with only scoring seven goals in total on their way to winning Euro 2004, but one wonders if their strike force is capable of outscoring some of those most potent attack minded teams in Europe during this tournament. If we have a flaw, then the next part of our tragedy is to seek a change of fortune or fate…..


Greece will certainly have to somehow change their fortunes and more importantly the record books if they are to prolong this particular tragedy. Their respective records against the three teams in their group are not impressive. Hosts Poland have beaten Greece in ten of the sixteen meetings between two countries, Russia have an even better record against the Greeks, winning nine of the eleven encounters they have played out. The Czech Republic are the only team that Greece can hold up their record with some pride, having not lost to them in four games. Indeed the game against the Czech Republic could be the most vital for Greece if they are to progress, a difficult opening game against the hosts Poland and a final game against a strong Russian side probably means that no less than a win will do in this fixture on June 12th in Wroclaw. Fate however may be on the side of the Greek team, in Euro 2004 their opening game was against hosts Portugal, a shock 2-1 win set them on the road to the championship, overcoming the hosts again in the final, could it happen again, would suggest all Greece fans look up the odds of a Greece v Poland Final, a decent amount of Euro’s on the bet could clear their national debt!


Our tragedy now has a flaw, some hopeful reverse of fortunes and a chance of some fate. We now need some honour shown by our lead characters and far more of it than was shown when Greece defended their Euro 2004 exploits in 2008. A dismal defence of the trophy saw the team go out in the group stages without a point being gained, defeats at the hands of Spain, Sweden and Euro 2012 group rivals Russia meant for many Greeks normal service had been returned. So who of the 23 man squad selected this time around is likely to show the honour required to bring this tournament to life for Greece.


The only survivors of the winning 2004 squad are Konstantinos Chalkias, Kostas Katsouranis, Dimitris Papadopoulos and Giorgos Karagounis. Of the four men likely to show the most honour having taken part in their country’s biggest football achievement only one featured in the starting line up against Portugal, Kostas Katsouranis will line up in midfield alongside captain Giorgos Karagounis and Giannis Maniatis, in what is likely to be a 4-3-3 formation. As mentioned above, Greece’s flaw may be the lack of goal scorers, but those likely to be chosen to spearhead the attack are star man Sotiris Ninis, Fanis Gekas and probably the most well known member of the Greek side in this country, Celtic’s Georgios Samaras. Keeping the honour at the back are likely to be the same back four that were successfully used in the qualifying group, namely Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Avraam Papadopoulos, Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Jose Holebas. In goal Kostas Chalkias will be doing all he can to ensure the honour of his net is kept intact throughout the tournament, although it may be here that our tragedy could see its much needed calamity. Portsmouth fans will know of Chalkias and his somewhat wild tactics and inconsistency during his spell on the south coast In 2005. Most of the squad play their football in Greece, so should a repeat performance of 2008 prevail rather than 2004, there will be no hiding place for this group on returning back to the country, honour should not be a problem, as they know a country on its knees is looking for some inspiration and reason to celebrate.


So the foundations are set for this particular tragedy to unfold, we have our players, our audience, all the elements of a good tragedy in place and now only the outcome of our heroes fate is to be decided.


We are almost ready for Act One on Friday, the joint host nation Poland lie in wait for our Greek heroes, a tough start with a home nation crowd looking for a good start. Audience participation will be light on the Greek side, only 60% of ticket allocation being taken up by the cash strapped supporters, so a repeat of the 2004 opener against Portugal is going to be tough, for this writers continued employment a draw may not be a bad result. Look out for the continuing tragedy to unfold in our next instalment…….. Poland v Greece Act One.


Finally in the words of Aristotle when describing the act of recognition in a tragedy:  “A change from ignorance to awareness of a bond of love”


Let’s hope those fans who seem determined to spoil this tournament under a backdrop of racism are regular readers of Aristotle’s views on morality……..





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