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Football fever slowly gripping Austria one week before Euro 2008

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 3 Jun 2008

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It took time, but with less than a week to go before the start of Euro 2008 and with sunny weather bringing people out in droves, Vienna is starting to show some football fever.

Preparations for the 100,000-square-metre fan mile enclosing City Hall Square, Heroes' Square and the Ring road in between, which is to be closed for a whole month starting on Monday, are in full swing.

Stages and giant screens are being set up and the still-shuttered food huts are already in place, ready to be opened for business.

Euro 2008 banners, which already greet visitors at the luggage claim area at Vienna's international airport, line all the main arteries of the city, while every other shop window seems to have a football theme, whether the products on sale are ladies' shoes, cakes or umbrellas.

Meanwhile, Strandbar Herrmann, a popular summer hang-out with sand and deck chairs on the banks of the Danube canal, re-christened Swiss Beach for the occasion with giant screens and cheesy dishes to satisfy the appetite of Austria's alpine neighbours, is already buzzing.

“You can feel that the country's rejoicing,” says bar manager Clemens Haubenwallner, who already witnessed crowds flocking to the Strandbar to watch live games during the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

The sandy beach expects to receive some 3,500 fans per day during the Euro and has already had upwards of 2,000 in the last few days as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees and people came out in force.

“I'm a football fan, I'm glad it's here in Austria,” Haubenwallner says of the championship, although he is less than optimistic about his team's prospects.

“I'm just afraid it will all be over for Austria after the first match,” he says half-amused, half-resigned.

“If they get flattened… I'm just being realistic.”

The on-the-pitch performance of the national team, ranked 101 in the world by FIFA, hasn't stopped a wave of patriotic feeling sweeping across Austria.

In a country where nationalism has had disastrous consequences in the past, red-white-red flags are no longer seen only on official buildings and hotel fronts these days.

Transport Minister Werner Faymann temporarily suspended a law allowing the state flag to be flown only on official limousines and Austrians are now displaying their national colours on their cars, bicycles and motorbikes, often two, three or even four at a time.

Austria's 5-1 win against minnows Malta on Friday in its last friendly game before the Euro – its first win this year – has not hurt the mood either.

Meanwhile, fans of all ages are already boasting their favourite team shirts.

One souvenir shop on Kaerntnerstrasse, the main shopping street in the city centre, doubled its surface to sell official Euro 2008 paraphernalia, from shirts to baseball hats, beer mugs and keychains, and has been doing very good business in the last two weeks, says a salesman.

Even drivers of the traditional Viennese horse carriages, who are having to alter their sightseeing routes and are being deprived of their prime tourist spots due to the Ring road closure, are staying positive.

Says “Fiaker” driver Erich Wittmann: “We might have more tourists wanting us to take them all the way to the stadium.”

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SoccerNews

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