Football triumph lifts Greek spirits
Celebrations in Athens as surprise win over Russia gives nation a lift amid economic misery and political uncertainty.
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2012 06:12
Saturday's 1-0 victory against Russia sees the 2004 champions enter the quarterfinals [Reuters]

Thousands of Greeks have poured onto the streets of Athens to celebrate after the country's football team cheered the nation on the eve of crucial elections with a surprise win over Russia at the Euro 2012 championships. 

Sporting triumphs that cheered a nation 

1956 Olympics  
Hungary's brutally contested 4-0 semifinal win over USSR on their way to waterpolo gold came against the backdrop of the Soviet invasion of the country

 South Africa
1995 Rugby World Cup
Host nation's triumph over New Zealand, watched by Nelson Mandela, helped forge "Rainbow Nation" after decades of Apartheid  

2007 Asian Cup
1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in final saw nation's football squad unite country torn apart by war and sectarian violence

2010 Twenty20 World Cup
Country's qualification for finals of cricket's short-form game provided sporting boost for war-torn nation

2012 African Nations Cup
National side scored emotional victory in final against Ivory Coast in Gabon, where entire squad was killed in plane crash 19 years earlier

The 1-0 victory, which secured Greece's place in the quarterfinals and evoked memories of the national side's stunning triumph in the 2004 edition of the tournament, provided a welcome lift in the debt-stricken nation where voters on Sunday are presented with a stark choice between punishing austerity or the risk of ejection from the eurozone.  

"Greeks have heart and they show it when things get tough, we pull together in times of crisis" said 29-year-old Vasilis Papaspyliotopoulos, standing amid a crowd in the Greek capital's central Omonia Square with the nation's blue-and-white flag draped across his shoulders.

"The result is a message to politicians, to everyone that Greece won't die and never bows to anyone,'' said Chris Mbogosian, amid the celebrations.

The crowds in Athens waved Greek flags, lit green and red flares and set off firecrackers amid the soundtrack of hundreds of honking cars and renditions of the national anthem in a spontaneous outpouring of patriotic fervour.

'Pure magic'

Few football watchers had given Greece any hope of winning Saturday night's clash in Warsaw against a Russian side which had looked impressive in its earlier two matches, while the Greeks had struggled to draws with Poland and the Czech Republic.

"The moment is pure magic for all of us," said Giorgos Karagounis, the squad's captain and goalscorer. "This night is very important, it is something important for Greece for all Greeks. We said we would give it all, despite all the difficulties."

Greek players and coaching staff celebrated wildly on the pitch in front of their small section of fans who had been heavily outnumbered by the large Russian contingent that descended on the Polish capital.

"It turned out to be good for us, it was unexpected, when we came this morning from Athens, really we did not expect, we did have a small hope, a small chance. The team played as good as they could, they were defensive, waiting for one chance, one goal and it worked out", a Greek reveller in Warsaw's National Stadium told the Reuters news agency

In Athens, crowds broke into chants of "Bring on the Germans", relishing the prospect of a possible quarterfinal meeting with the country blamed by many for the punishing austerity terms imposed in return for the bailout package that is keeping Greece afloat.

"It's a result that shows our country is strong,'' said Stavris Helmis, 26.

"Sport may not be the most serious thing, but it lifts our spirits."


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