By Andrew Thomas

Giorgios SAMARAS is wandering through a desert.

SAMARAS: Does everybody think so?

CHORUS: They do.

SAMARAS: It looks okay, on the replay.

CHORUS: It does. But still, they suspect.

SAMARAS: I reckon they were all mis-hits, you know? Van Basten was standing it up at the far post. Carlos Alberto was putting it in the mixer.

CHORUS: What was Samaras doing against Georgia?

SAMARAS: I was aiming for the goal!

CHORUS: Which part?

SAMARAS: It went in. One goal is as good as another.

He pauses.

SAMARAS: I am worried about my beard. When I play well, it makes me look enigmatic, virile, and dangerous. But when I play badly …

CHORUS: It makes you look like a haunted sloth.

SAMARAS: I will shave it.

He stops and looks on the floor for a rock with a sharp edge. Finding one, he begins to scrape his beard from his face. It works well, and soon he is smooth-chinned and clean-shaven.

Beardless

Enter the ghosts of Theo ZAGORAKIS, Antonios NIKOPOLIDIS, and Traianos DELLAS.

SAMARAS: Who are you? You look vaguely familiar. And slightly transparent.

ZAGORAKIS: I was the captain, as we devastated the lands of the Portuguese, drove their children to tears, drank their fortified wine, burnt their cork-trees, sank their tall ships, and took their trophy for our own.

NIKOPOLIDIS: I was the guardian, as we repelled those who wished us harm, as wave after wave of enemy spears foundered around our shields.

DELLAS: I played for Sheffield United for a bit.

SAMARAS: And what do you want with me?

NIKOPOLIDIS: The world is troubled.

ZAGORAKIS: Our country labours under the cruel yoke of her European neighbours.

NIKOPOLIDIS: Athens is torn apart by civil unrest.

ZAGORAKIS: The Greek people weep while their streets burn.

NIKOPOLIDIS: The Aegean foments and crashes upon our shores.

DELLAS: And United got done by Huddersfield, the bastards.

SAMARAS: So, what must I do?

ZAGORAKIS: Inspire our people!

NIKOPOLIDIS: Awaken our nation!

DELLAS: Dick the Germans!

ALL: Win back our trophy!

The ghosts depart. SAMARAS sits on a rock.

SAMARAS: Could we win? We’ve got a good defence.

CHORUS: (aside) Only five goals conceded in qualifying.

SAMARAS: We’ve got a little bit of youthful creativity.

CHORUS: (aside) Sotirios Ninis will start on the right; Ioannis Fetfatzidis, aka “The Greek Messi” and Kostas Fortounis will be on the bench.

SAMARAS: We’ve got experience.

CHORUS: (aside) Giorgos Karagounis may become Greece’s all-time most-capped player during the tournament.

SAMARAS: We’ve got a pretty weak group.

CHORUS: (aside) Poland are the worst team in the tournament, according to FIFA’s rankings. The Czech Republic are the only team at the finals who scored fewer goals than Greece in their qualifying group. Russia are still pretty good, but not what they were four years ago.

SAMARAS: We’ve got —

Enter, at great speed, the ghost of Giourkas SEITARIDIS, pursued by the very-much alive Vasilis TOROSIDIS

TOROSIDIS: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

They run across the stage, kicking up dust, and vanish.

SAMARAS coughs, and brushes the dust from his face. He wanders on. Presently he encounters a strange, chimerical beast, forty feet long, with the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle, a snake for a tail, and the face of Otto REHHAGEL.

REHHAGEL: Stop, traveller.

SAMARAS halts, and looks up at REHHAGEL in mute confusion.

REHHAGEL: All who pass before me must answer my riddle. Those who fail, are doomed.

The snake-tail whips round and hisses into SAMARAS‘s face. He shrinks back in terror. REHHAGEL beats his wings and the dust flies up in clouds around his claws.

REHHAGEL: My riddle is this: Can Gerrard and Lampard play as a midfield two?

There is a long pause.

SAMARAS: Is that it? Of course they can’t! Everybody knows that.

REHHAGEL: (depressed) I know. Hardly anybody gets it wrong. I have to survive on former England managers and tabloid journalists, and that’s not what I call a well-balanced diet.

SAMARAS: So you’re not going to eat me?

REHHAGEL: What? No. Rules are rules. All the best, then. If you happen to run into Sean Custis, do send him my way.

Another pause.

SAMARAS: Could I … could I ask you a riddle?

REHHAGEL: What?

SAMARAS: No, no, of course not. Sorry. I’ll get off.

REHHAGEL: Nobody’s ever asked me a riddle before. Go on.

SAMARAS: Okay. How do Greece win Euro 2012?

REHHAGEL thinks for a while, then a while longer, then tucks his head into his wings. The sun sets, and night falls across the desert. SAMARAS, suddenly cold, huddles up between REHHAGEL‘s front paws for warmth.

Night passes. The sun rises, then sets, as another day passes, and another, and several more. During the day, SAMARAS catches small lizards that he eats raw; at night, his sleep is troubled. His beard grows back, longer and bushier and wilder than before.

Eventually, REHHAGEL awakes.

REHHAGEL: It’s not possible.

SAMARAS: That can’t be right.

REHHAGEL: Sorry.

SAMARAS: No, I mean, I know it’s unlikely. But it must be possible.

REHHAGEL: It just can’t happen. 250/1 shots don’t win tournaments. Sorry to have kept you.

There is a long pause.

SAMARAS: But we did it before!

REHHAGEL: And there’s your problem.

SAMARAS: What?

REHHAGEL: It shouldn’t have happened, because¬† it couldn’t happen. Then it did, and now you have to try to do it again, except you can’t and you won’t. Failing to do something impossible is fine. Nobody could blame you for that. But failing to do something impossible that you’ve already done once before? They’ll try not to blame you. But they will. And deep down, you’ll blame yourselves.

There’s a new riddle for you. How does the impossible happen twice? Don’t bother trying to answer. Get to the second round, and that’ll have to do.

REHHAGEL flings himself off a nearby cliff. SAMARAS falls to the floor, and weeps into his beard.

Beard

Twisted BloodYou can follow Andrew on Twitter – @twisted_blood – and at twistedblood.co.uk.

 

 

 

> READ THE ANFIELD WRAP’S OTHER POSTS ON THE EUROS:¬†

Ireland

Holland

Croatia 1

Croatia 2

France

Russia