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Swiss delight at Euro 2008

Winning partnership: Swiss football's Ralph Zloczower (left) congratulates Austria's Friedrich Stickler

(Keystone)

Swiss football officials have reacted with delight to the news that Switzerland and Austria are to host the European football championships in 2008.

The announcement came after a secret ballot on Thursday in the Swiss town of Nyon, home of European football's governing body, Uefa.

"It's a wonderful feeling," Ralph Zloczower, president of the Swiss football association, told swissinfo. "It's a great recompense for all the hard work of the past 18 months."

"Emotions were very high while we waited for the announcement," he admitted. "The tension was enormous."

The Austrian-Swiss bid beat off challenges from Hungary, and from Greece and Turkey, who made it into the final ballot, despite originally being considered as no-hopers to host the championships.

Russia, which some observers regarded as a favourite because eastern Europe has never hosted the championships before, was eliminated early in the voting.

The hopes of Scotland and Ireland, and of the four-nation consortium of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, were dashed in later rounds.

Announcing the winner after a series of delays and dozens of conflicting rumours, Uefa president Lennart Johansson paid tribute to all the bidding countries.

"The road to this decision was a long one," he said, "because there were so many excellent bids."

Good infrastructure won the day

Victory for Switzerland and Austria is being seen as a vindication of the two countries' claims that they had the best football facilities and the best infrastructure to host the event.

"For our country and our population this is a really big thing," said Zloczower. "This is the third biggest sporting event in the world. I am sure we will grow through it, and show we are able for the big task that lies ahead of us."

Thomas Helbling, project manager for the Austrian-Swiss bid, believes the championships will be wonderful publicity for the two countries.

"We are expecting 10,000 journalists to cover the matches," Helbling told swissinfo. "And the football will be watched by billions of people around the world. What better showcase could we hope for?"

Helbling warned, however, that a lot of work remained to be done to ensure a successful championship.

"There is a lot to do," he said. "And there will be hindrances, there will be difficulties, but I am sure the two football associations will overcome them."

Good football and good money

The right to host the championships will also be a major boost for football in Switzerland. The Swiss are not normally regarded as big fans of the sport.

The Swiss national team is guaranteed a place in the Euro 2008 finals, since host countries automatically qualify.

Although hosting the championships is set to cost at least €100 million, the event will also bring in plenty of money for both host countries.

The 2000 competition in Holland and Belgium earned the host countries around €18 million (SFr26.5 million), while the 1996 event in England brought in around €30 million.

The alpine tourist industry is confident that the event will be good for business. Tourism officials expect many families to combine a visit to Euro 2008 matches with holidays in Austria and Switzerland.

Defeat would have been painful

Members of the Swiss bidding team will be extremely relieved that their bid has been successful, following the crushing disappointment when Sion failed to win the Winter Olympics of 2006.

Switzerland's sports minister, Samuel Schmid, said he believed the successful Euro 2008 bid would heal some of the wounds left after the disaster of Sion.

"We've waited for this moment for a long time," he said. "It is a testament to the hard work and close cooperation of the football associations of Switzerland and Austria."

The championships are expected to attract over a million visitors to Switzerland and Austria.

The first match will be played in Bern's Wankdorf stadium on June 7 2008, site of the last international football championships to be held in Switzerland, the World Cup final between Hungary and Germany in 1954.

The Euro 2008 final will be played in Vienna's Ernst Happel stadium on June 29.

So, Swiss and Austrian fans can look forward to three weeks of great football right on their doorsteps, although they will still have to wait almost six years to enjoy it.

swissinfo

In brief

Seven bid teams from 14 countries competed to host the tournament.

Switzerland and Austria are earmarking SFr170 million for the organisational costs, but any final deficit would be covered by Uefa.

Matches will be staged in Bern, Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Vienna, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Innsbruck.

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