Greeks in the UAE plan to win over football fans with their passion for the game

Football has always been popular in Greece, but rocketed when the national team won Euro 2004, even if fans do not expect the same success at the World Cup

From left, Greek expatriates Kostas Koumanidis, Xenia Rozi, Dia Chatzidimou, George Ioannidis, Theologis Sarvanis and Alexandros Katsikogiannis are ready to enjoy the World Cup, even if they do not expect a lot from their team. Jaime Puebla / The National
From left, Greek expatriates Kostas Koumanidis, Xenia Rozi, Dia Chatzidimou, George Ioannidis, Theologis Sarvanis and Alexandros Katsikogiannis are ready to enjoy the World Cup, even if they do not expect a lot from their team. Jaime Puebla / The National

RAS AL KHAIMAH // There is a close-knit community of Greeks living in the Northern Emirates, and they jump at any excuse to get together for a celebration, especially when football is involved.

“I don’t think anyone will be watching the matches alone,” said Dia Chatzidimou. “We’ll be all getting together to watch them, having a barbecue with the pregame show. It will be a social event for all of us, even those who know nothing about football.”

The beautiful game has always been popular in Greece but that popularity went through the roof when the national team won the Euro 2004 championships, and while fans do not expect the same success in the World Cup, any victory will be celebrated in raucous Greek style. “There will be plate breaking if we win, we may even need to remodel the house,” said the marine biologist. “I think if we win a game our neighbours may evict us from all the noise we’ll make.”

Theo Sarvanis, 35, a mechanical engineer, said: “All Greeks started loving football after we beat France in the 2004 UEFA European Championship semi-final. Every time before that we expected to lose. After the France game we learnt how to hope to win.

“This year we’ve been doing well in other competitions, so we know we have a good team. Colombia is our toughest match in the group. I’m hoping we can take second place in the group and continue on to the second round.”

Ms Chatzidimou said: “There are a number of Greek companies here. After the financial crisis, more people came to the UAE to open businesses and find jobs. Greek business is booming here in the UAE.”

She is preparing a barbecue banquet for the team’s first match against Columbia tonight, and she expects all her Greek friends to be in attendance.

“The community here is just starting to grow, so we are not organised yet for community events. Many of us work long hours, so it’s tough to find time,” Ms Chatzidimou said.

“But they have had a few events in Dubai. Earlier this month the Greek theatre was in Dubai with Greek actors, and they also have a Greek school there. More things are coming, I’m sure.”

For Greece to have a good performance at the World Cup, the team needs three things, said George Ioannidis. “Quality teamwork, luck and the gods must be asleep.”

Greek fans do not have fond memories of the World Cup.

In 1994’s tournament the team lost all three qualification matches, losing 4-0 to Argentina, 4-0 to Bulgaria and 2-0 to Nigeria before being sent home.

However, now the team is ranked 12th in the world and the fans, at least, believe there is nothing to lose.

Thomas Rozis is hopeful the team can reignite the spirit of 2004’s famous victory. “In 2004 we deserved to win,” said Mr Rozis, 57, a mechanical foreman.

“We played well, we played smart. The other teams were traditionally and statistically better, but our players had great teamwork and played their hearts out. And how we say, ‘we cleaned the other teams like eggs’.

“We don’t really have a tradition of football, like Brazil, Colombia, Germany, or Argentina, where they have big schools of football and have a lot of expectations, too – like we have a lot of expectation from our basketball teams. But we are stubborn, we try our best and play well.”

Charis Meintanis, a 30-year-old financial manager, believes the Greek mentality of supporting the underdog could play to their advantage in Brazil.

“That has always been our motivation. Winning the European championship in 2004, the celebrations were very much like the National Day celebrations here,” he said.

“Everyone takes to the streets with lots of flag-waving, painted faces, flares. Many people rode out on horses painted in the national colours. But this happens once every 1,000 years for us.”

Even if their own expectations are low, Greeks in the UAE plan to win over football fans with their passion for the game.

Published: May 26, 2014 04:00 AM

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