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Euro 2000 - a slightly Swiss affair

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(Keystone)

Switzerland's famous neutrality is very much to the fore as the European football championships get underway without the participation of the Swiss national team.

Under the management of Gilbert Gress, Switzerland narrowly missed out on a place in the tournament being co-hosted by Belgium and Holland. But regardless of Switzerland's no-show, national television is responding to continued public demand in the continent's biggest football competition.

Around 75 hours of the television schedule will be dedicated to the tournament, with more than 30 games broadcast live. But what can the Swiss look for to enhance the Euro 2000 experience?

Well, the good news is that Swiss interest in the competition is not purely dependent on their neighbours in Germany, France and Italy. Controversial decisions, a winning run by an underdog team, and the fight against hooliganism could all have a Swiss link.

Urs Meier, Ermin Siljak and Guido Tognoni are unlikely to become household names during Euro 2000, but it seems they are all the Swiss have got to look to.

Meier is the Swiss referee chosen to participate at the championships - as such he is the only Swiss man likely to step onto a pitch during Euro 2000. Having been recognised as Switzerland's best referee at the annual football awards on Thursday, Meier could now get another chance to shine on the international stage. A perfectly judged penalty decision in the last minute of the final would see Switzerland's reputation for impartiality enhanced, even if its reputation for international football is starting to suffer.

Siljak is set to take to the field as a player, but unfortunately he's not actually Swiss. The 27-year-old Slovenian plays at club level for Servette Geneva, making him the only Euro 2000 player currently registered with a Swiss team. Siljak made headlines three weeks ago when he decided the course of the Swiss league championship - his headed goal against Basel ensured that Sankt Gallen took the title. A spectacular Siljak goal to knock out the favourites, Holland, perhaps?

If not, Swiss fans could reminisce over games involving Romania's Viorel Moldovan, Sweden's Hakan Mild, Denmark's Miklos Molnar, and another two Slovenians, Saso Udovic and Mladen Rudonja. All five have played in the Swiss league before moving on.

Graubünden's Guido Tognoni is the last of our Swiss men active at this month's big event, although unlike Meier and Siljak, he won't even get to pull on his boots. Tognoni works for the European Football Federation, UEFA, as the project director of Euro 2000. If the thorny issues of hooliganism and ticketing fail to rear their heads this time around, Tognoni will be able to take a great deal of the credit.

The location of UEFA's headquarters in the Swiss town of Nyon also ensures that the run-up to Euro 2000 has involved plenty of Swiss labour. New rule changes have been brought in governing how long a goalkeeper can hold on to the ball, clarifying the role of linesmen and even instructing referees on how to treat players who take off their shirts to reveal commercial or political slogans. Changes in the rules are often the subject of discussion during international tournaments. Swiss fans can proudly point out that those changes were brought about in their ever-innovative homeland.

How far the Swiss can really revel in the 'Swissness' of Euro 2000 is debatable. Drinking games based around the number of yellow cards issued by Urs Meier or wagers on the number of completed passes by Ermin Siljak could become popular diversions. It's more likely though that Swiss football lovers will simply sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

by Mark Ledsom

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