Friday, June 13, 2008

Vienna calling, is there anybody out there?

Italy 1:1 Romania (Mutu 55', Panucci 56'), Zurich
Netherlands 4:1 France (Kuyt 9', Van Persie 59', Henry 71', Robben 72', Sneijder 92') , Bern

So here I am in the Austrian capital, venue of the EURO 2008 final and Europe's most eastern western city.

I confess to knowing Vienna quite well already having been here a few times over the past two years. It is elegant, genteel, civilised and trouble-free, everything you could hope for for a big football tournament.

As soon as I had been to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, I realised the same could not happen here. Austria is just too nice and quiet for a big show of fervent fans. It is cultural rather than emotional, serene rather than buzzing.

Seeing the breathtaking monuments of the Austro-Hungarian empire swamped by advertising and the vast Fan Zone today were a shock to the system, therefore, but fair play to Vienna for trying to put on a big show in the city centre. In certain parts of town, Euro 2008 is big news, elsewhere the flags and bunting are absent.

But if Austria beat Germany in three days' time, who knows what could become of this cool-minded nation.
The weather is not warm at all here, so much so that as I buttoned up my longsleeve shirt and jacket early this evening, still feeling chilled, I racked my brains to recall the next coldest football finals.

I was in Sweden for Euro '92 but even in Stockholm, the most northerly host city, was warm enough for shorts and t-shirts.

The Vienna FanZone was full last night for Austria v Poland, but sparsely attended tonight.
Actually I watched the big screen from the outside, as the heavy security would not allow me to enter with an umbrella or a bottle of water.
The Fan Zone is open-air and rainclouds loomed over Vienna, but no umbrellas! And don't even think of bringing in water when the sponsors' fizzy drinks are on sale! Why, I asked. "UEFA" was the one-word answer.
Despite my UEFA accreditation, I still could not come in without ditching my beloved lightweight folding umbrella and bottle of Evian. 'Well f*@&# UEFA' I concluded, bringing a smile to the security goon's face, as I took my business somewhere less petty.
I will come back most nights now, especially after Monday's clash against Germany, before I give my final verdict. What is certainly welcome though is Vienna's seamless public transport system. You are never far from a tram or tube here.

- - -

The World Champions failed to beat Romania in Zurich but are falling over themselves to thank Gianluigi Buffon for keeping them in the competition.

With the score finely poised at 1-1 and nine minutes remaining, Romania won a penalty kick. Adrian Mutu, who had fired his country into a 55th minute lead, stepped up but saw the Italian goalkeeper repel his kick with a hand and leg save.

An entertaining contest in Zurich saw a number of near misses for the Azzurri and Romania hit a post before honours were finally shared.

Meanwhile, the Dutch performed another miracle of Bern by duffing up France 4-1, having bested Italy by three goals before. France saw much of the ball, with Frank Ribery a constant threat playing just off Thierry Henry up front, but the Dutch were lethal on the counter attack all night.

The rejuvenated Arjen Robben terrorised the French right flank, scoring with a Marco Van Basten-esque finesse for the pick of the Netherlands' goals a minute after Henry had pulled one back.

France will rue Henry chipping over the bar when one on one with Edwin Van der Sar and the referee's refusal to award a penalty when Andre Ooijer unquestionably handled in the 49th minute.

Tonight's scores set up France v Italy next Tuesday as a winner-takes-all repeat of the 2006 World Cup Final, unless Romania, a point ahead of them both, defeat the already-qualified Netherlands.

If Italy win, goal difference would decide who out of them and Romania go through. A French win against Italy would not suffice if Romania beat Holland. For now, all we are sure of in Group C is that the Dutch have qualified, meaning one or both of France and Italy will be packing their bags.

Tomorrow's Group D games see holders Greece and Russia both hoping to get off the mark after first-game defeats, while Sweden, impressive 2-0 conquerors of the Greeks, hope to upset Spain, euphoric after their 4-1 mauling of Guus Hiddink's men.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

No comments: