The Germans reached the European Championship semifinals for a record seventh time by beating Greece 4-2 Friday in a match played amid the contentious political backdrop between the countries.
But just as in the real world, where Germany has been a major contributor to economic bailouts for Greece, the three-time champions were in control at the Arena Gdansk. And after the match, Merkel visited the players in the changing room.
“(Merkel) congratulated us and said that we played very well,” Germany forward Mesut Oezil said. “The rest of what she said will stay among us.”
Philipp Lahm put Germany in the lead in the 39th minute as his team controlled nearly every facet of the game. Although Georgios Samaras tied it for Greece in the 55th, it was all Germany after that as Sami Khedira, Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus scored.
It was the 15th consecutive competitive victory for Germany, dating back to the win over Uruguay for third place at the 2010 World Cup. The Germans will go for No. 16 against either England or Italy in the semifinals on Thursday in Warsaw.
Although Germany dominated from the start, the Greek defense held strong for much of the first half. Lahm put his team in front by controlling the ball with his chest and dribbling toward the middle before sending a long-distance shot into the corner off the hand of Greece goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis.
“We couldn’t breathe and did very little with our chances and on set pieces,” Greece coach Fernando Santos said. “The first goal made things very difficult for us, despite our good defensive effort.”
The Greeks looked better at the start of the second half, and tied it when Samaras knocked the ball past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer after a perfect cross from Dimitris Salpigidis.
It was one of Greece’s few forays into Germany’s side of the field.
“Greece is a curious team. They had one chance and scored two goals,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. “But we didn’t get nervous after 1-1, and the goals came.”
They did indeed.
Khedira volleyed in a cross from Jerome Boateng in the 61st, and Klose headed in a free kick from Oezil in the 68th as Sifakis was late to punch the ball away.
“When we conceded a second goal we had to open up and that cost us,” Salpigidis said. “I hope the Greeks got some encouragement from watching us fighting.”
Reus made it 4-1 in the 74th, volleying a shot in off the underside of the crossbar after Sifakis made a save on Klose. Salpigidis added a consolation penalty for Greece in the 89th.
“We scored twice. We did what we could,” Greece defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos said. “Maybe we could have been a bit more careful but we fought hard, we fought for the whole of Greece.”
Loew dropped his three main forwards for the match, including leading striker Mario Gomez, but their replacements did just fine.
Klose, who has Polish heritage, constantly troubled the Greek defense and linked up well with Oezil and Andre Schuerrle.
Greece had one major change in its lineup, but it was because of suspension. Captain Giorgos Karagounis sat out the match after picking up a yellow card in the 1-0 win over Russia for diving.
Without him in the midfield, the Germans had little trouble controlling the play and creating chances.
“We made it to the last eight and this is very important,” Papastathopoulos said. “The Netherlands didn’t make it and we are talking about a very big country in football terms.”