Football offers Greeks brief moment of joy

It was as if a magician’s wand had waved away the crisis. Shortly after
midnight, central Athens erupted in joy. Car horns blared and strangers
embraced in the darkness. Over the past 24 months of debt-driven
disaster, I’ve never seen Greeks so happy.

At the Euro 2012 football tournament, Greece had just defied the odds and
beaten Russia 1-0 in Warsaw’s national stadium. Amazingly, they’ve made
it to the quarter-finals and the nation is celebrating.

Today the Greek people must come down to earth and vote in an election
that will open the next phase of their struggle to survive in the
. If Giorgos Karagounis, scorer of Greece’s winning goal, were
running for prime minister, he’d be streets ahead of the politicos that
the voters despise.

Feeble, self-indulgent Europe is a funny old place during these football
championships, which happen once every four years. National pride shines
in tens of millions of citizens desperate to see their country triumph
over other Europeans – in sport, not war.

The twist in this tale is that Greece’s quarter-final opponents may well
be Germany, the eurozone’s master and chief critic of Greece’s abysmal
economic record. The debt crisis has left Greeks and Germans barely on
speaking terms.

It reminds me of the 1998 football World Cup, when the US was placed in
the same qualifying group as Iran. The Iranians beat the Americans 2-1.

Will the Greeks turn over the Germans? The spirits of Plutarch, Plato and
Socrates are willing them on.