There’s no sea of blue-and-white to greet Greece this time around.
Fans from the crisis-hit country trickled in for the opening European Championship match against co—host Poland, setting up lively pockets of partying in Warsaw’s Old Town.
Since its stunning victory at Euro 2004, Greece has attracted legions of fans to major tournaments, also drawing support from large immigrant communities around the world. In 2008, Greece fans laid siege to the Austrian city of Salzburg with noisy supporters briefly taking over upmarket cafes to the combined amusement and astonishment of locals.
It was a different picture Friday.
Couples in Greece shirts strolled through Warsaw’s Zamkowy Square, facing the city’s imposing new National Stadium across the Wisla River, while groups of 10-20 mingled with Poland fans and posed for photos with them.
“It’s true that not so many have come so far there are many reasons for that but maybe they will show up later,” said Theano Diakosia, wearing blue lip stick, a puffy top hat and with a Greek flag fashioned into a dress.
She traveled from the central Greek city of Volos, flying to Berlin with four friends before going on a road trip to Poland.
“We’ll always follow the national team, because they make us happy,” she said.
Struggling through a major financial and political crisis, Greece is battling to meet the draconian demands of an international rescue program that have extended a recession to a fifth year and triggered a surge in poverty and unemployment.
The country will also head back to the polls on June 17, after a May 6 general election failed to produce a government and saw a significant rise in support for an extreme right party.
In Poland, Greece’s national team starts in Group A and will also take on the Czech Republic and Russia.
At a Warsaw fan zone Friday, most waiting Greek fans came from the country’s diaspora, not Greece, many driving from neighboring Germany.
Tasos Pantzaris, beating a drum, came with a group of 12 fans from Gifhorn, Germany. They attached a blue and white flag with the name of their adopted city to a fan zone fence.
“It’s very difficult to come,” he said, while one of his friends in a Spartan helmet looked on. “There’s not enough money for them to come on the plane. It’s very difficult there.”
Standing nearby, 33-year-old fan Lefteris Moschidis came from Stockholm and said he hoped the tournament would distract Greeks from their troubles.
“It’s a very big relief to come here. We have to get our minds off it,” said Moschidis, who has relatives in northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. “It would be nice to celebrate together with fans that come from Greece, so they can join in the festivities.”