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Football fever builds slowly in Geneva

(Keystone)

After Switzerland's favourable Euro 2008 group draw – Turkey, Portugal and the Czech Republic – there's optimism in the air about next summer's football tournament.

With less than six months to go before kick-off, swissinfo visited Geneva – one of the four Swiss host cities – to check on the competition build-up but found the atmosphere was far from fever pitch.

"It's almost an ideal draw for us," said senator Marc Muller, in charge of organising Euro 2008 in Geneva.

"The group is balanced and Switzerland has a good chance; and the Portuguese, the largest foreigner community in Geneva, will create a great atmosphere, just like the Turkish who always travel to support their team."

With a 30,000-strong local community, Portugal will certainly feel like they are playing at home for their two games at the Stade de Genève. A wave of fervent Turkish fans is also expected to travel to Geneva from the Basel area, and from neighbouring Germany and France.

"They're hot-blooded teams, but although the matches will be hot, we are sure they will be played in an excellent sporting spirit," said Muller.

The draw means that Geneva has avoided the major security headache of welcoming nations with large, rowdy followings, such as those of Germany, the Netherlands or England, who just failed to qualify.

Up to now, security, alongside noise and the cost for the taxpayer, has been the main Euro 2008 concern in Switzerland - rather than football.

The Geneva-based newspaper Le Temps put it succinctly when it wrote in its column this week: "Now the giant has a face, we could maybe stop being afraid and try and smile."

"The Swiss have to prove that they can be associated with more than just gold bars, watch mechanisms or chocolate," it added.

"As an international city we should have a certain sense of openness and be able to celebrate and get to know other cultures," local resident Johanna Medellin told swissinfo.

Pre-match build-up

The Geneva organisers are confident that preparations are on track.

"We are the most advanced city in this regard," Muller told swissinfo.

But apart from a few posters at Geneva train station, there is little to indicate that the third most popular sport event after the football World Cup and the Olympic Games is being hosted here next year.

"It's normal; in Switzerland we get excited slowly," said Frédéric Hohl, one of the organisers, who reckons that "up to one million people" could watch games in the city during the month.

With matches at the 30,000-seat Stade de Genève pretty much sold out and tight controls over installing TV screens in bars and cafés, the organisers want to concentrate people at "fanzones" with giant video screens at Plainpalais in the heart of the city (100,000 capacity) and at Le Bout-du-Monde (30,000 capacity), towards the south. Concerts and other festivities are also planned at both sites.

"All about money"

But the idea of three weeks' of rowdy football fans, potential damage to cars and other property and loud music has alarmed many local residents.

"It's inadmissible; why doesn't all that happen somewhere else? The city doesn't care about us. I'm planning to leave for three weeks," said a Plainpalais local.

"It's all about money," moaned 78-year-old Jacqueline Dabbagh. "The authorities are happy as long as people are busy following a football and not thinking about other things."

Most local businesses, however, are rubbing their hands in glee.

"During the 2006 World Cup there was a big screen and even with four people working here, they couldn't sell beer fast enough," said Walid Panschiri, who runs a small corner shop at Plainpalais.

But there is always the odd exception.

"It's a real shame the English didn't qualify. It's true that their fans are chaotic but they are the best clients," explained a local taxi driver.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley in Geneva

Key facts

According to a 2006 survey, the Portuguese community (174,000) is the third-largest foreigner community in Switzerland, preceded by the Italian and Serbian communities.There are some 74,000 people of Turkish origin in Switzerland – the fifth-largest community - mostly based in Basel.
According to Le Matin Bleu newspaper, fans with tickets for games will have little chance of finding a hotel room in Geneva, which has 9,200 hotel rooms, as the International Labour Organization has booked many rooms for its annual congress from May 30 to June 15.
Euro 2008 matches played in Geneva: June 7 - Portugal v Turkey (18.45hrs); June 11 - Czech Republic v Portugal (16.00hrs); June 15 – Turkey v Czech Republic (18.45hrs).

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Euro 2008

Co-hosts Switzerland and Austria qualified automatically for the tournament, which takes place from June 7-29, 2008.

The 31 games will be played in four cities in Switzerland (Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich) and four cities in Austria (Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Vienna). The final will be held in Vienna on June 29. Switzerland will play its three qualifying matches in Basel.

The finals will be broadcast in 170 countries and are expected to be watched by some eight billion TV viewers.

Up to 5.4 million football fans are expected to follow the tournament in Switzerland, including 1.4 million from abroad.

European football's governing body, Uefa, says it has received eight million requests for the 1.05 million tickets that have gone on sale.

According to a study published on Sunday by the credit card MasterCard, the tournament will generate more than €1.4 billion (SFr2.3 billion) for the European economy.

end of infobox
(swissinfo.ch)


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