Monday, June 16, 2008

Austria looks for Vienna boys' fire


Austria v Germany, Ernst-Happel Stadion (Prater), Vienna 2045 local time.

The time has come. When the match which has been described as 'TAustria looks for Vienna boys' fire.he Game of Games' or 'The First Final' ends, expect an ocean of Teutonic emotio to have been used up.

Two nations which share a frontier, a common language and strong commercial ties will have no time for friendship tonight.
This is an eliminator. Host v pre-tournament favourite, little sister versus big brother.

For Germany, the pre-tournament favourites, a point will be enough to take them through to the quarter-finals.
For Austria, the hosts, nothing less than a win over their former masters will do.

Vienna, the continent's most refined and tranquil capital, is warming up into a huge fan-conflagration. Two hours before kick-off the vast fan-zone which takes up much of the tourist heart of Vienna was almost full to its 200,000 capacity.
As an emergency measure, Rapid Vienna's Hanappi Stadion has become another public viewing area, with space for 40,000 viewers.

For much of the year you could hear a pin drop in elegant Vienna but the significance of tonight's clash has gripped the Austrian capital in the sort of fan fervour normally seen only in other nations.
The combination of playing Germany and perhaps having the last chance to party has made the Blue Danube a sea of red and white celebration.

The atmosphere is joyful and not aggressive; Austrians and Germans might be serenading each other with reminders of past victories but many are posing for shared photos, sharing beers and wishing each other an absorbing 90 minutes.
Let us hope it stays that way. According to the newspaper Osterreich, 40,000 German fans are estimated to be in Vienna tonight, half of whom have seats in the 51,000-capacity Prater Stadium.

Make no mistake. Despite the home advantage and patriotic euphoria, a win for Austria will be a 'Super-Wunder von Wien' (super miracle of Vienna). National team coach Josef Hickersberger has rated his team's chance of winning at only 40%, adding that he would have taken that situation a year ago.
"If Germany played like they did against Croatia then we can beat them," he said, claiming they are not the side they were at the World Cup. "If they take the game to us we can overcome them and go on the attack," he said confidently.
Four months ago, Germany won 3-0 in Vienna, but following their humbling 2-1 loss to Croatia at EURO 2008, they will not be taking tonight's clash lightly.

Michael Ballack has warned that Austria have nothing to lose and have a fiery atmosphere and a full stadium behind them, so Germany must go for it "full gas".
Coach Joachim Low is well aware the responsibility for any slip-up will be his, reminding his players in onerous terms, "We must win for the German people and our nation."
Low's team should win, but Austrians will be repeating to themselves how they are the hosts, that both teams start equal and that over 90 minutes, anything can happen.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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