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More than just a game? Soccer's biggest grudge matches

Story highlights

  • Germany and Greece to meet in last eight of Euro 2012 in the ultimate grudge match
  • Ongoing Eurozone crisis has added a political edge to the quarterfinal clash
  • Friday's game will be one of the biggest grudge matches in football history
  • Other rivalries include the old East and West Germany and Argentina vs. England

After months of turmoil in Europe's financial markets, Greece has an opportunity to do something that just a few weeks ago would have seemed incomprehensible -- knock Germany out of the Euro.

Not the single currency, of course, but Euro 2012 -- the competition that pits the continent's best soccer teams against each other.

Friday's quarterfinal clash is being heralded as the ultimate grudge match after months of wrangling over the future of Europe's economy, and Germany's insistence on sweeping austerity measures in Greece after providing the bulk of its bailout money.

Though the recent rivalry has been provoked by matters of finance, the suffering endured during Nazi occupation in World War II has left many Greeks with strong anti-German feelings.

It is far from the first time political and sporting lines have become blurred, even in the current European Championship tournament.

Economic turmoil has 'affected' Greece at Euro 2012

    Poland's group match with Russia last week provoked running battles on the streets of Warsaw as fans from both nations transported historical tensions to the modern day. Fighting started after city officials sanctioned a Russian national day march before the game.

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    Joseph Stalin's Russia occupied Poland shortly after the outbreak of World War II, and the Communist regime's influence extended for many years. Even inside the National Stadium last Tuesday, away fans unfurled a banner that read "This is Russia" -- infuriating Polish supporters.

    Perhaps the most notorious case of football fanning the flames of political dispute came when a World Cup qualification clash between Honduras and El Salvador sparked a four-day war in 1969.

    The Latin American neighbors had been at odds over issues of migration and land reform, and the two legs prompted angry clashes between fans.

    Greece star focused on football

    This, in turn, led to skirmishes on the border before Salvador launched bombing raids. Four days later a ceasefire deal was clinched.

    At the World Cup in 1998, the United States and Iran met in a combustible fixture that those involved claimed did more for relations between the two countries than 20 years of infrequent political dialogue.

    A 2008 clash between North and South Korea had to be contested in China after the North refused to play its neighbor's anthem or fly its flag before the World Cup qualifier. After the return game in Seoul in 2009, the South's victory was followed by the North's accusations of tactical food poisoning.

    Perhaps the most politically-charged games of football ever to take place came in 1974 when East Germany met West Germany at the World Cup.

    The nation was still divided after World War II, and proved the staging post for years of Cold War tensions between Russia and the West.

    East Germany forward Jurgen Sparwasser scored the only goal of the game but West Germany had the last laugh, going on to win the tournament on home soil.

    Germany's games against the Netherlands also prove to be a hotbed of hostility, which has its roots in World War II and Nazi occupation.

    Former Dutch coach Rinus Michels summed up the rivalry between the two nations prior to their 1974 World Cup final clash when he said "football is war."

    Midfielder Willem van Hanegem went one step further, reportedly saying: "I don't like Germans. Every time I played against German players. I had a problem because of the war."

    War was also the backdrop for England's meeting with Argentina in the 1986 World Cup, coming just four years after the countries had finished fighting in the Falklands Islands.

    The match was immortalized forever by Diego Maradona's handball goal, which he later said was scored by the "Hand of God."

    He claimed in his autobiography the goal was revenge for the Falklands conflict in 1982, when Britain bombarded the islands after Argentina's invasion and occupation of the disputed territory.

    The fledgling nations of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina clashed on the pitch and in the stands when they met in 2008 just a few years after the end of a brutal war.

    And in North Africa, a World Cup playoff between Egypt and Algeria in 2009 saw both nations recall their ambassadors when team buses were stoned and fans repeatedly clashed on the streets.

    Let us know what you think about football's biggest grudge matches in the comments section below.