By Jim White
Happy days: Angela Merkel shares a joke with Uefa president Michel Platini Photo: GETTY IMAGES
In one corner of the ground, those Greek supporters who had ventured from Athens, Thessalonika and, according to one flag, Hamburg sang as if recession had never happened.
But it was not to last. Within five minutes, normal service had been resumed; Germany were back in front and soon eased over the horizon. Unable to make up the deficit on the favourites, the Greeks were subsequently bailed out of the Euros, ejected mercilessly by their fiscal masters with cut-throat rigour. I
t ended 4-2, a familiar score in German football history, but this time it told little of their advantage.
To mark this huge geopolitical occasion (oh all right, it was a football match), not for the first time in the city’s history, Gdansk was overrun with Germans. Entrepreneurs along the city’s water front were selling half and half souvenir scarfs to celebrate the first staging of the deficit derby. If nothing else, such a scarf is about the only place these days the words Greece and Germany enjoy equal billing.
Let us hope Angela Merkel bought one when she arrived at the Gdansk Arena. That way, the German Chancellor could give the scarf to her newly-elected Greek counterpart, Antonios Samaras, as temporary respite against the Polish chill.
Then 10 minutes later demand it back, with his trousers, jacket and tie as interest. Surely no better way for things to start as she means them to go on.
How Merkel enjoyed this game, incidentally. To much Greek disdain, an image of her skipping about in pleasure was beamed on to the big screen after each of Germany’s four sumptuous goals.
That was all they needed, the Greeks: their football misery compounded with a view of the woman they blame for their economic woe apparently relishing their suffering. But there was no wonder she looked so cheerful. Rarely in her day job does she get the chance to celebrate anything so tangible in dealings with Greece.
She will have particularly delighted at the sight of the Germans conducting such a useful dress rehearsal for their semi-final against either England or Italy. Unpicking mass defence so efficiently sent out an ominous message to their putative opponents.
Though, never mind Roy Hodgson’s two banks of four, Greece played for much of this game with two banks of five; it could be argued their football team are presently the only aspect of national life with their banks in surplus.
So defensive minded were they, when one of their players broke with the ball and headed off towards German territory, it was like a lone Tour de France rider splitting from the peloton.
Before this Euro 2012 match kicked off, one academic suggested this Greek football team are everything the Greek economy is not: organised, resilient, full of collective effort. Plus, in the fact that they progressed through the group stage scoring three goals from three chances, remarkably productive.
However well they were marshalled here by the superb – if over lettered – centre-back pairing of Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, the Greek defence was always going to find itself overwhelmed by opponents this superior.
The manner in which Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira patiently played the ball across midfield, the way they created chances at pace and, most alarmingly, the way they brutally executed them will have done nothing but send shivers down the spines of those who wait ahead. Take a deep breath, England: it could be us next.