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Slick Germany crush Greek dreams again
GDANSK (Reuters) - Germany dictated terms to Greece with a crushing 4-2 victory to reach the Euro 2012 semi-finals on Friday in a mostly one-sided game that was given extra spice by the economic and political tensions between the two countries.
Germany, watched by Chancellor Angela Merkel, a hated figure in Greece who for many personifies the painful bail-out conditions imposed on the country, were easy winners in the end and will face England or Italy for a place in the final.
Greece, hoping for a repeat of their unlikely Euro 2004 triumph, produced some stout defending in the first half but were sent home by clinical German finishing to the delight of Merkel who leapt out of her seat to celebrate their goals.
"Of course, we desperately wanted to win, and it would have been amazing for people back in Greece," said 42-year-old Aliks Fotiou, a Greek who lives in Zurich and had flown to Poland with his sister and her two daughters.
"At least we got two goals and that gives us some compensation. We tried hard but Germany are just such a powerful team."
There were no signs of the disputes between the countries spilling over into trouble at the stadium with fans focused on the high stakes drama on the pitch.
"Yes there was all this hype beforehand but I think all the fans from Greece and Germany and Poland helped make it a really warm, friendly occasion - a football festival," said Joerg Himmler, 47, who had travelled 20 hours by train from Heidelberg to reach Gdansk.
EURO ZONE THEME
While the fans may have concentrated on the football, the German and Greek newspapers had talked up the euro zone theme with enthusiasm.
"Bye-bye Greeks, we can't rescue you today!" the top-selling Bild proclaimed on Friday's front page in the colors of the Greek flag.
"Bankrupt THEM," blared leading Greek paper Sport Day.
Even the respected daily Kathimerini drummed home to Greeks that the match was against a foe popularly blamed for saddling Greece with a punitive austerity program, chronic unemployment and years of deep economic recession.
"Whoever thinks today's match is just a game is wrong," the paper wrote, vowing it was "politics (maybe even war) by other means".
On the field, though, Germany, who have never lost to Greece, dominated possession from the outset although they had to wait 39 minutes to break down a dogged Greek side when Philipp Lahm's swerving effort put them in front.
However, they were stunned 10 minutes after halftime when Giorgos Samaras leveled, finishing off a swift counter-attack.
Sami Khedira's rasping volley and a header from Miroslav Klose, his 64th goal for his country, then eased Germany's nerves before Marco Reus added a fourth.
Greece grabbed a late consolation, marginally reducing the deficit with a penalty from Dimitris Salpingidis.
The tournament continues with holders Spain facing France in Donetsk, Ukraine on Saturday before England and Italy clash on Sunday in Kiev.
Portugal striker Helder Postiga has been ruled out of next week's semi-final against the Spanish or French with a thigh injury, the Portuguese Football Federation said.
Postiga pulled up late in the first half of their 1-0 quarter-final win over the Czech Republic and was carried off the pitch on a stretcher clutching his right leg.
Looking ahead, UEFA have defended plans to expand the tournament by eight teams to 24 for the next edition to be held in France in 2016.
Euro 2012 director Martin Kallen said on Friday that expansion would broaden participation but would not dilute the quality of the tournament.
"At the moment we have the best teams here, but there are great teams who are not," he said, listing Switzerland, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovenia and Norway as examples.
"The Scots are also not here - they bring a lot of emotions, a lot of atmosphere with them. We need to see how 2016 will be. For sure this tournament will be more and more looked at because more nations can participate," he said.
Czech Republic striker Milan Baros, who scored 41 times in 93 appearances for his country, retired from international football following their 1-0 quarter-final defeat by Portugal, the Czech football federation said.
The aftershock of the violent clashes in Warsaw earlier in the tournament continued with Russia's Foreign Ministry urging Poland on Friday to release detained Russian soccer fans.
The Russians were held 10 days ago after street battles with Poles on the night their teams met in a Group A match.
Poland's Foreign Ministry responded with a statement saying the matter would be dealt with under "currently applicable law".
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson; editing by Ken Ferris)
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