Saturday, June 7, 2008

EURO 2008 diary - 7th June, Kick-Off

With Euro 2008 only moments away, the temperature is cooling.

Well, it is the Alps after all. Football tournaments in the summer conjure up t-shirts and sun cream as well beer and polyester souvenirs for me as a fan but I've just donned my third layer in Interlaken.

I am residing in the heart of holiday Switzerland because Basel, the arrival point for so many, has not got a bed to spare for miles around. Unlike Germany in 2006, where you could always find a room at the last minute, Switzerland simply is not prepared for the influx of fans. Shame on you for missing such an Alpine cash-cow, Heidi.

'Expect emotion' promised the organizers.

Well I certainly have been through a bunch the past few days searching in increasing desperation, in neighbouring France and Germany as well, for a bed within 50 miles of the host city or less than a mountain hike to the nearest train station, and which costs less than a transatlantic flight.

Last night I just gave up the ghost and hopped on a train to a non-host city, which I figured would be free of those pesky football fans.

How wrong I was. The Dutch have colonised Interlaken, a tourist city where Indians and Koreans are oddly ubiquitous too. Fair play to them, the Dutch fans have no shame in looking or acting stupid, and age never seems to be a barrier to being an oranje follower, either.

Rather their ‘barmy army’ than the simmering aggression you too often feel with England fans (though the last World Cup was on the whole a vast improvement.)

The Swiss are not known for having a warlike side or a desire to ‘conquer’ others so you would expect the place to take Euro 2008 fairly gently.

But while they are one of the world’s more private nations but they look all set to ring their bells loud across the valleys once the game kicks off.

The red and white colours are everywhere and there is genuinely growing excitement, even in this normally tranquil oasis of placid lakes and majestic mountains. A trip to Switzerland is supposed to clear the air, not give you a headache, so we’ll see what Euro 2008 feels like in the morning.

As for the football, England’s painful exclusion bites even harder now I am here. An advert for Euro 2008 betting has an England fan plastered on it grasping his coupon (being supposedly neutral and exempt from the patriotic betting syndrome) while the English-language welcome guide to Switzerland for Euro 2008 also makes a play on the fact English visitors can enjoy themselves more than ever without any balls to worry about.

Greece’s victory in 2004 should have dented the validity of any predictions once and for all, but my pre-tournament favourites Italy suddenly look rather shaky now that anchorman Fabio Cannavaro has withdrawn.

While the Germans or Dutch are still good bets on paper, this tournament is being played on Alpine meadows, and I have an inkling that this time a major trophy could at last be on its way to the Iberian Peninsula…

© Sean O’Conor & Soccerphile

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