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Euro 2004 celebration in AthensLast night, little Greece, a country with a population of 11 million, beat Russia, a country with 150 million people, to advance to the quarterfinals of the European Football championship. Most people did not give Greece much of a chance. They had come into the tournament with confidence but had tied host country Poland in their first game, and given up two goals in the first six minutes against the Czech Republic and lost that game. Russia on the other hand had demolished the Czechs and would have beaten the Poles if not for a late goal, and were the favorite to move on to the next round. Nobody saw this coming, except maybe the Greeks, who knew they were better than they had played so far and felt they needed to give the country, which is going through a difficult period, to put it mildly, some hope. So last night, the night before the elections that could change Europe and the world economy forever, all eyes were on the game.

I had watched the first game against Poland on Kea at En Lefko Cafe in the square though the game was tied when I got there and ended without another goal. I was in Istanbul for the game against the Czechs. The young guy who works at the hamam in the Hotel Neorion wished Greece luck as I left to go to the North Shield Pub where I knew there would be people watching, maybe even some Greeks. By the time I got to the bar Greece was down two and there were only about five people in the whole place, all of them Americans. When I moved to the Red River Pub for the second half there was a more enthusiastic crowd though still no Greeks. Greece scored a goal but were denied another because of an off-sides call which was questionable and ended up losing the game. They were firmly in last place and itseemed there was little hope to advance.

I sat in the hamam the next afternoon and worked out the scenarios that would enable Greece to advance, difficult since I did not really know the point system. But I came back to Kea from Istanbul believing that I was going to see something special and the next evening got a table at Yiannis taverna close to the big screen TV he rolls out for such occasions. The sports writer for the English language newspaper Kathimerini had written Greece off but it seemed to me that if they beat the Russians tonight then everyone would have pretty much the same number of points no matter what happened between Poland and the Czechs. The Russians would advance with just a tie and they knew that, but Greece had to win. GREECE HAD TO WIN. How often have we seen this in history? In Marathon when the Persians invaded with an army many times the size of the Greeks, to avoid elimination THEY HAD TO WIN. When the Persians invaded again and the Greeks took to the ships in the Battle of Salamis and again faced a superior force, to avoid elimination THEY HAD TO WIN. Because of these two victories you are reading this in English instead of Farsi and the USA is not some distant outpost of the Persian empire.

After that they may have lost a few, but those battles were against other Greeks so they don't really count. But when Italy invaded with their modern army in the Second World War and the Greeks mobilized and fought them with weapons from the previous century, again outnumbered, to avoid elimination THEY HAD TO WIN. They drove the Italians back into Albania and pretty much changed the course of the war. It was the first victory for the allies. Unfortunately the German's came to Mussolini's rescue and unleashed their war machine on Greece and that was pretty much the end. But even then the partisans kept harassing the Nazis and made a nuisance of themselves throughout the occupation and it is an historical fact that Hitler's invasion of Greece delayed his attack on Russia. The German army was then destroyed at Stalingrad by the Russian army and the Russian winter. So because of the Greek victory over the Italians you are reading this in English instead of German.

Then in 2004 it looked hopeless and Greece would not be able to pull off the Olympics. There was even talk of moving it back to Barcelona because at least they had the completed venues left over from the previous Olympics. The Athens stadiums were still construction sites a couple months before the games were to start. To avoid humiliation THEY HAD TO WIN. With a flurry of activity (and way too much money) they finished everything and the games went on as planned, even though many people did not think it was possible and canceled their trips leaving the big beautiful stadiums half empty. Greece was the smallest country to ever host an Olympics and they pulled it off.(and are still paying for them. But people have forgotten that earlier that summer the Greek football team had taken the sports world by surprise and against all odds won the European Cup in Portugal and the euphoria of that carried right on through the Olympics and showed the Greek people that anything was possible if you have hope and work hard.

So today is election day and the Greeks woke up this morning feeling like they can achieve anything because last night against all the odds, they beat the big bad Russians. The Russians are going home and Greece will play Germany and as we all know, the Greeks and the Germans have not disliked each other this much since the Nazi occupation. Of course people who know soccer have dismissed the Greeks as being lucky to have advanced and say they will be annihilated by the powerful German team just as the German army had overwhelmed Greece after they had beaten the Italians. Maybe so. But if the Greeks have gotten their confidence back they may thumb their noses at Germany's version of the EU and vote for Tsipras today, if not to bring it down, to show that the rules have to be changed. A victory for Tsipras and the left would put Greece into the familiar role of the underdog making such a big splash that the waves engulf the entire world. And if they see their match against Germany as another one of those defining moments in history where the forces of good have to succeed against unbelievable odds with the whole world watching this could be a very interesting game. And should they win and knock Germany out of the tournament they may earn the German team's respect. But the Greek people should not expect any favors in the form of a bailout from the German people who saw their team's march to the championship cut short by those lazy people from little Greece.

Not that Greece will care. If Tsipras wins today and Greece beats Germany then it is a whole new ballgame. And nobody even knows the rules yet.

(Don't forget to vote)

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