The Euro 2008 final has arrived at last and the whole world – and universe – came together on Sunday in Vienna to celebrate the culmination of three weeks of football, ahead of Germany v Spain.
The old town was drowned all afternoon in a sea of red, gold and black, in which German and Spanish fans could hardly be told apart.
The ones boasted hats, wigs and face paint in the German black-red-gold, while the others waved red and gold flags with giant black bulls.
“You have to look at their faces and then you can figure out if they're German or Spanish,” said Matts Landmark, a Swedish fan in national blue and yellow.
A distinctly Hawaiian feel descended on the fans as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees Celsius and the sun streamed down, with flags used as pareos and flower garlands tied in the hair.
While men paraded in the usual team shirts, women showed off their colours with a little more creativity, wearing dresses made of flags, combining head-to-toe outfits in the national colours – a red floaty skirt with a bright yellow top – or accessorising their look with a pair of red high heels, a yellow belt or a tricolor scarf tied around the waist.
But those teams already eliminated from the tournament also had their share of loyal fans refusing to admit defeat, as the Euro played out once again on the cobblestone streets of the Austrian capital.
“People come up to us in the street and say we should have been here. It would've been good,” said John Bekavac, a Croatian from Adelaide, Australia, who traveled specially to Austria with his two brothers for the Euro.
“We'll go to the stadium later, it's easier to get tickets there as you get nearer to the game,” he added hopefully.
A Greek woman from Athens, meanwhile waved her blue and white flag excitedly.
“We are the champions and we're going to pass the trophy tonight to whoever wins,” said Anastasia Panaretos, dismissing Greece's elimination in the group stages.
“We cannot be the champions every year!” she continued to sing cheerfully.
A couple from Vancouver, Canada, Desmond and Sujin, decided to come to Vienna for the final, while traveling through Europe and had already marked their cheeks with decals of the opposing teams.
“The atmosphere is sensational, it's the first time we're hosting such a big event and the atmosphere is phenomenal,” noted Manfred Lasinger, a rare Austrian fan wearing his team's colours.
Austria, which co-hosted the championship with Switzerland, was relatively slow to capture the football fever, with fan zones around the country complaining about limited attendance at the beginning of the tournament.
But all this was forgotten in Vienna on Sunday as locals and tourists, young and old, women and men, football fans or not, took part in a heaving party outside St. Stephen's Cathedral and in the surrounding streets.
“Of course, the atmosphere gets better as you approach the final or the decisive games, and today is absolutely great,” said Lasinger.
A group of Spaniards from Zaragoza wandered around in full cow, bull, or even Bugs Bunny costumes, a tall German blonde in a pale orange negligee, with very hairy legs – Frank from Mannheim, on a stag party trip with his friends – sauntered down the street.
Even Darth Vader joined the party.
Accosted by a few German fans offering him a beer, the Lord of Darkness?? removed – gulp! – his mask, revealing the street artist underneath, who took a swig from the bottle before climbing back up on his pedestal.
A flurry of vendors hawked T-shirts, scarves and hats on the street, much of it illegal merchandise but police turned a blind eye.
“Today especially, on the last day of the championship, it's tolerated,” one officer said benignly.
“We'll celebrate tonight no matter what,” said German fan Thomas, wearing a mask showing German coach Joachim Loew.
“The Spanish are great, they're our favourite opponents.”
A perfect illustration of the mood in the Austrian capital hours before the final clash of Euro 2008.