Greece and Germany. The austerity standoff adds spice, though Greek animosity toward the Germans has lingered since the country’s brutal occupation during World War II. The Greeks fought off the initial Italian invasion, and, actively resisted against overwhelming force, despite the hundreds of thousands dying of starvation.
A direct parallel would be grossly inappropriate, but if the Greeks are to advance against odds here it must be through their characteristic obduracy. On paper, they are about to get wrecked. Germany will dominate the ball and press their advantage. The Greeks will try to hold fast at the back and score a goal on a rare break or a set piece.
Germany made three changes to their group stage starting XI. They are improving versatility without sacrificing much talent. Miroslav Klose will replace Mario Gomez. He’s not the “big finisher in the box” Gomez is, but his movement is far better. Gomez is straight forward and powerful. Klose is more tactically astute. He can link up play and drag defenders out of position. Gomez is better than Klose, but Klose might be better for Germany. The Schurrle and Reus for Mueller and Podolski substitutions spring from a similar mindset. The latter two are more direct, straight line runners. Schurrle and Reus are both younger. They want to be less predictable, more multifaceted and open up the Greek defense.
Pressure could pile on the Germans, who are in a classic no win situation. If they win big it would be because they were supposed to do so. If they win narrowly, it would be a disappointment. Should they lose it would be an apocalyptic disaster. An early goal would help them greatly and force the Greeks to come forward.
A major loss for the Greeks is captain Giorgos Karagounis, who will miss the quarterfinal with a yellow cards suspension. Besides being savvy and experienced, he is Greece’s best ball-playing midfielder, and often the only one who shows something resembling impetus and creativity.
Fact: Angela Merkel is not the world’s least photogenic world leader. She’s the world’s least photogenic person.