Monday, March 25, 2019

Austria and Switzerland, the unlikely co-hosts

SoccerNews in European Championships 11 May 2008

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This year's European football championship will be hosted by two countries – Austria and Switzerland – better known for their mountains and their prowess on skis rather than with the round ball.

The co-hosts, selected in 2002, have built an international reputation on their diplomatic, financial, artistic and sporting skills.

Geneva is home to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Red Cross and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), while Vienna plays host to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The two cities, which will both host matches in June, are also seats of the United Nations.

Swiss cheese, chocolate, watches and banks are known around the world and tourists flock to Austria every year to visit the birthplace of Mozart and Strauss, experience The Sound of Music and enjoy concerts in renowned venues.

But neither country has in recent years organised an event on the scale of the Euro, one of the main sporting events in the world, with hordes of passionate and potentially violent fans descending on the eight quiet, if not provincial, host cities.

Switzerland, the home of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Football Federation FIFA and its European sister UEFA, only hosted the World Cup in 1954. Austria, meanwhile, has never organised a major summer sporting event.

Known for their majestic mountain ranges and snowy slopes, the two alpine countries have preferred to host winter events, from annual ski world cup championships to the Olympics in St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948 and Innsbruck in 1964 and 1976.

Meanwhile, the two once great footballing nations have had little recent success on the pitch, despite ranking in medals in other disciplines, from skiing to sailing, tennis and figure skating.

In FIFA's April 2008 ranking, Switzerland came in 48th, ahead of Austria in … 101st place.

Once one of the best in the world, Austria's national football team is taking part in this year's European championship, its first, thanks to its automatic qualification as host.

Switzerland meanwhile went out in the preliminary round in 1996 and 2004, the only two times it made the finals.

Still, if Swiss clocks – even if the Swiss were damned for just producing the cuckoo clock after several centuries of peace by the villain Harry Lime in Graham Greene's 'The Third Man' – and Viennese balls are anything to go by, Euro 2008 will be a well-run machine.

And with the whole world watching, the two small neutral countries will no doubt use this opportunity to shine.

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