Greece's national soccer team believes success at Euro 2012 can serve as a distraction for its compatriots as the stricken European country battles a devastating financial crisis.
With fiscal calamity causing severe hardship, and elections in 10 days that could prompt the Greece's exit from the eurozone, the side admits to facing extra pressure ahead of its tournament opener against co-host Poland in Warsaw on Friday.
"Of course it means more," said defender Avraam Papadopoulos, who plays club soccer for Olympiakos. "The whole country is behind this team, and while we might not be able to help their situation, we can try to give them something to celebrate."
In 2004, Greece shocked the soccer world by beating host Portugal in the opening game of the European Championships, and then again in the final three weeks later to become the unlikeliest champion in the tournament's history.
A repeat would be an even bigger miracle, yet a strong run could not come at a better time for a country with deep troubles that show no sign of abating. Unemployment figures have topped 21 percent, while billions of dollars of international aid have been awarded in an attempt to prevent Greece from being forced to ditch the Euro and revert to its old currency, the drachma.
The only way out appears to be fierce austerity measures that will mean a dramatic decrease in the quality of life for the average citizen, and a long and difficult road to something resembling stability. Soccer, and the fortunes of the squad marshaled by Portuguese coach Fernando Santos, has the potential to lift spirits in this sports obsessed nation, one that rejoiced for weeks following that unexpected triumph in Euro 2004.
"Football can provide joy to every man, woman and child," Santos said. "Victory, in all its glory, can be about more than 22 men and 90 minutes and goals and tackles. It can carry a city or a nation on its shoulders. We have seen that many times in the past. We want to make the Greek people as happy as we can.
"The best way to do this is to represent them with pride and spirit. We can guarantee and commit to only one thing: that we will fight with all our energies and intelligence for every minute of every game."
As extraordinary as Greece's Euro 2004 win was, it was largely achieved with a defensive mindset. Such an approach may be necessary again, as Greece is not blessed with the level of natural talent coursing through squads such as Germany or Spain.
That is not intended as a criticism, it is simply a comparatively small country and its domestic league is respectable, but not one of the strongest on the continent. It will need to play to its maximum potential, and need a little luck, to stand a chance of making serious progress.
One piece of fortune has already been conferred by the draw, which pitted Greece in the easiest group of the competition. Poland cannot be discounted at home, but the fact that it was given a top seed (due to being a host along with Ukraine) was faintly ludicrous. Of the other group rivals, the Czech Republic is lacking in the same creativity as its teams of the past, and Russia, though the best team in Group A talent-wise, is prone to underperformance in major events.
Greece will hope to hold its nerve much the way it did toward the end of its qualifying campaign when it overcame a highly touted Croatia squad to clinch an automatic berth in the tournament and avoid the need for a playoff.
"Everyone is thinking about the Croatia game," Greece striker Giorgos Samaras said. "And how we managed to help people celebrate and escape their daily problems for a while."
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