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German Chancellor Merkel to travel to Greece match

President Barack Obama, left, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, and China's President Hu Jintao chat while waiting for other leaders to come to the stage to pose for the family photo of the G-20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, Monday, June 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

BERLIN (AP) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Germany's European Championship quarterfinal match against Greece for a game that brings together nations at opposite ends of Europe's debt crisis, a match she hopes will be "very fair."

Merkel can go to Friday's match in Gdansk, Poland, because the Italian government moved forward by several hours a meeting in Rome with the Italian, French and Spanish leaders that originally was supposed to end as the match started, government spokesman Georg Streiter said Wednesday.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has been a major contributor to international bailouts for Greece and was instrumental in demanding structural reforms and hugely unpopular spending cuts in return.

The presence of Merkel, who is not a popular figure in Greece, could add extra political spice to Friday's encounter — though team officials on both sides have been at pains to stress that it is purely a sporting event.

It wasn't clear whether Merkel will meet any Greek officials at the match. New Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was sworn in on Wednesday, three days after Greek elections.

Merkel said she had congratulated Samaras, "and I would be glad if he came to Gdansk too; whether he can arrange that, he will have to say himself — I can't say it for him."

"In any case, it will be a good sporting event, and I hope that it will be a very fair sporting event," Merkel told reporters in Berlin after meeting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Merkel, who has frequently attended Germany matches over recent years, was invited to Gdansk by Poland's prime minister, Donald Tusk.

Merkel visited the Germany team at its hotel in Gdansk shortly before the tournament started.

Germany midfielder Sami Khedira told reporters in Gdansk on Wednesday that "she seems to bring us luck." Coach Joachim Loew's team beat Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark in the first round.

The Netherlands' Rutte said he had congratulated Merkel on archrival Germany's performances so far.

"On Sunday, all of Holland crossed its fingers for Germany" against Denmark, he said in German. "Unfortunately, that didn't help our team — but that's how it is in sport, and of course we wish Joachim Loew and his team success."

Germany, unlike neighboring France, has not said its officials would boycott matches in Ukraine in protest at the treatment by authorities there of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. But Merkel didn't go to any of Germany's opening-round matches, which were played in Ukraine.