Friday, June 20, 2008

All set for the 16th district derby

It's close to kick off here at the Prater in Vienna for the second of EURO 2008's quarter finals.

Croatia versus Turkey is virtually a local derby in the Austrian capital.

This afternoon I toured the two respective Viennese neighbourhoods, beggining with walking the length of mile-long Ottakringstrasse in the 16th district, home to Vienna's Croat expat population.

With the sunny weather and the fans' confidence in their team after three straight wins had created a red and white-checked party atmosphere.

The Croats know they are playing well and have an excellent opportunity tonight to win the right to have another crack at Germany in the semi-finals.

While the 2-1 win over the 2006 World Cup hosts was the pick of their first round victories, Croatia are on a knife-edge in terms of possible suspensions.

Seven of their players are on a yellow card going into this game, one less than Turkey.

After the Ottakringstrasse, I walked down to the nearby Brunnenmarkt, a little piece of Turkey in Austria.

The market stalls crowded the narrow streets, likea bazaar in the near East. The traders hawked their wares, a kaleidoscope of food, consumer goods and fake football merchandise.

The Turks are probably the most passionate fans at EURO 2008 so I can't imagine what this neighbourhood will sound like should they win tonight.

Fatih Terim's team made the comeback of the tournament so far in defeating the Czech Republic 3-2 having been two goals down.

That fighting spirit they will need in abundance tonight against the classy Croats, who start favourites, in my book anyway.

Skipper Nihat Kehveci, protagonist in Turkey's fightback against the Czechs, will be itching to prove it was not just a one-off night for a team that was lowly-rated at the start of the competition.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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