Thursday, June 12, 2008

Turkish delight as Swiss clock out

EURO 2008: Turkey 2:1 Switzerland, (Yakin 32', Senturk 57', Turan 90') Basel.

It seemed as if the Alps themselves were crying overnight. The majestic range of peaks which tower over this little country like gods tried to intervene in the Swiss’ favour in Basel but in the end it was not enough.

The rain-soaked field might have stopped the Turkish passing as they usually do and certainly helped Hakan Yakin steer Switzerland into the lead, but in the end it was not enough to stop Turkey scoring twice and stealing the spoils.

The only post-match comment which mattered came from the mountains. From atop their lofty perch high in the clouds, the Alpine gods made their feelings clear, sending down gentle but persistent raindrops until dawn.

Most of Switzerland was covered in melancholic tears from the sky after the joint host-nation became the first to be sent home from EURO 2008. At least the journey home is a short one, but the players and fans will be forced to stay and watch the rest of the tournament in envy.

Whenever the hosts exit, it is a blow to any big football tournament, but for this to happen on only its fifth day, Euro 2008 has taken a serious blow. What hopes there are of Austria carrying the flag cannot last for much longer either as their western neighbours were clearly the stronger of the two.

Home advantage in the end counted for little and the Swiss are packing their bags already.

While only 41% of the nation said they were interested in the event before it began, and a first-round exit for both Austria and Switzerland was arguably on the cards as soon as they won the right to host the tournament, this still seems a sad day.

Switzerland might never have been a lan of ‘fussball-fieber’ (football fever) as billed, but it did at least make an effort to prettify itself for the event. Everywhere you travel here, you see Euro 2008 decorations and merchandise, and even if the country did not get its act together when it came to hotel provision, it did more than enough with promotion.

It never felt quite as exciting as Germany did two years ago, but then this is a smaller and more private country and at the Euros there are half the amount of teams in the World Cup and no fans from Africa, Asia or the Americas to spice things up.

This might be a country whose people prefer individual sports like tennis and skiing, hiking and climbing, but to modify Sir Christopher Wren's epitaph, si requiris Helvetiam, circumspice (if you are looking for Switzerland, look around you).

Whatever their history of questionable neutrality and reluctance to engage with the rest of Europe or the world outside, the Swiss undoubtedly live in God's country when it comes to nature. The entraning beauty of their mountains and lakes and breathtaking purity of their air, water and food can never be lauded enough.

If they are not the best football team in Europe, they are forgiven, because they certainly excel in many other areas and after all they are a small country with a professional league to match. At least they have a place in football's history as the site of the first continental club, the Lausanne cricket and football club of 1860.

That Switzerland have qualified for recent European Championships and World Cup finals and been a tough nut to crack for so many opponents is perhaps proof they have over-achieved. It didn't work out this time, but the Swiss are not about to join the San Marinos or Andorras of European football.

I am sorry, therefore, to see the little square flags being put away and the national euphoria over, but grateful for the hospitality I have had and happy that EURO 2008 could come to this lovely country in the first place.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


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