Match means more than soccer

It was powerful Germany battling underdog Greece on the ground Friday, on Polish soil, for soccer supremacy in the march to the UEFA European Championship.

(Just don’t mention the war.)

Then there’s the enduring fiscal crisis in the eurozone and an obvious underlying theme hooked to the international tournament: affluent locomotive Germany versus economically derailed Greece.

But back to the soccer game, which attracted a good crowd at the Niche Lounge Supper Club in downtown Halifax. Pitchers of beer and plates of nachos were in demand, and the patriotism was palpable.

Greece had never beaten Germany in this much-vaunted game the rest of the world calls football. Deutschland prevailed once again, 4-2, in a contest skilled German players controlled handily.

Student Sarina Holz, an expatriate German who moved with her family to Canada in 2000, was confident at halftime her team would emerge victorious.

Germany scored about six minutes before the half and led 1-0 at the break.

“I feel like, watching the game so far, Germany has been pretty strong,” Holz said, adding “I don’t really want to jinx the score.”

She didn’t.

Holz acknowledged she’s not a huge soccer fan. But the game-watching experience was still lots of fun, she said.

“When I first arrived here, there was no room outside for the German fans. But they cleared a table for us and made some room.”

The Euro 2012 quarter-final match in coastal Gdansk, Poland, started at 3:45 p.m. Atlantic time — on a Friday afternoon, during summer, in a government town. Niche was noisy.

Most patrons — a couple of whom held Greek flags — were pulling for the Greek squad. Every time the face of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — at the Gdansk stadium for the big game — was shown during the telecast, the Greek fans at Niche booed heartily.

Niche general manager George Eleftheros, a soccer player and loyal supporter of the team from his ancestral home of Greece, said not everyone at his place was a student of the game.

“There are people here who are: ‘Ooh, I’m of German descent. I’ve got to come watch the game and support the country.’ Just like the Olympics, that sort of thing.”

Eleftheros said his business has benefited from television coverage of Euro 2012.

“It’s been very busy — I’d say comparable to two years ago with the World Cup.”

Niche’s management had several TV screens inside its Barrington Steet establishment and a big screen at a tent-covered patio with heaters overhead to warm hard-core fans sitting outdoors.

The tournament’s semifinal matches are set for Wednesday in Ukraine and Thursday in Poland.

Although a 21st-century soccer pitch is the antithesis of a war zone from yesteryear, some media reports leading up to Friday’s quarter-final (and many folks of a certain age) couldn’t help but reflect on the past.

In the spring of 1941, Hitler’s army invaded Greece during the Second World War. Nazi Germany occupied the Greek mainland for at least three years. Scores of civilians died of famine during the Nazi occupation, and thousands of Greeks were executed in reprisals for their part in resistance missions.

Eleftheros said his grandfather was detained, after a sweep in the mountains of Greece, by German forces during the war. He said it was a case of mistaken identity that could have cost his grandpa his life.

“They captured him, had him in a tower — a bunch of them — for execution, and then someone came” and negotiated his grandfather’s release, he said.

“They released him and he survived the war.”

Sixty-seven years after the conflict ended, gifted athletes rather than steadfast soldiers drew the attention of Greek and German soccer fans around the world.

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