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Countdown begins to Euro 2008

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Switzerland and Austria have begun counting down to the European football championships, which will begin in the Swiss city of Basel exactly one year from now.

This content was published on June 7, 2007 - 16:17

Six of the eight host cities unveiled "Countdown Clocks" on Thursday. The larger-than-life digital displays show the days, hours and minutes still to go before June 7, 2008.

"Tempus fugit – time flies," said Zurich mayor Elmar Ledergerber at the event to unveil the 5.5-metre-high clock at the railway station in the Swiss financial centre.

A similar ceremony took place in Basel. Among the dignitaries in attendance was Ralph Zloczower, president of the Swiss Football Association.

Speaking to swissinfo, Zloczower described the opportunity for Switzerland to play host to the games as "a unique and extraordinary event that only comes along once every 50 years".

"People still remember [Switzerland] hosting the 1954 World Cup. Today, it's a much bigger event that I am sure will also stay in people's memories."

The clock in Geneva has been set up in the centre of town on the Rue du Mont Blanc near the lake, to remind passers-by of the upcoming event.

The authorities in Bern decided to postpone the unveiling of their Euro timepiece until sometime after June 17, the day when local residents will go to the polls to vote on whether the city should use an additional SFr5.6 million ($4.6 million) of taxpayers' money to finance the event.

If they reject the plan, the Swiss capital could lose its right to stage three of the 31 matches.

Swiss government ministers welcomed Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer to Switzerland to assist in the countdown ceremonies.

At a meeting in Bern, Swiss president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, and Gusenbauer said both countries were trying to resolve the issue of visas so fans do not require duplicate papers - one for Austria, another for Switzerland.

The single border controls regulated under Europe's Schengen agreement mean visitors only require one visa to enter all signatory states, but Switzerland is not yet a member of this zone.

Public viewing

Also on Thursday, the Euro 2008 officials unveiled the names of all of the 17 towns and cities across Switzerland where public viewing areas will be set up. Aarau, Chur, Lausanne, St Gallen, Thun and Lugano are among the places where there will be giant screens, covered stands and food stalls.

The European football association, Uefa, said preparations are on schedule for what is the world's third-largest sporting event after the Olympics and football World Cup.

Uefa said one third of the available match tickets had already been sold and work would be completed on the stadiums by September. The organisation has finalised the list of sponsors and sold the television rights for 28 countries.

Still not decided are the 14 nations besides the two host countries who will win a ticket to the championships. The last qualifying matches will not take place until November. The draw will be held in Lucerne on December 2.

"For the tournament to be a real success we need good weather and for our national team to perform well for the people," Zloczower concluded.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The qualifying phase of the tournament began in autumn 2006 and will end on November 21, 2007. Co-hosts Austria and Switzerland will qualify automatically.

The winners and runners-up in the seven qualifying groups – 16 teams - will go through to the Euro 2008 final round. A draw will take place in Lucerne on December 2, 2007 to decide the composition of the groups for the finals.

15 of the 31 Euro 2008 matches will be played in Switzerland and 16 in Austria. Switzerland will play the opening match of the tournament at Basel's St Jakob's Park on June 7, 2008. The final will be in Vienna on June 29.

Swiss stadiums: Zurich - Letzigrund (30,000 seats); Basel - St Jakob's Park (40,000); Bern - Stade de Suisse (30,000); Geneva - Stade de Genève (30,000 seats).

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