Geneva: Portuguese for the day
Such has been the ubiquity of Portuguese fans and colours in Geneva this week, that visitors to the the Swiss city could be forgiven for thinking they were back at UEFA EURO 2004.
Camped on the shores of Lake Geneva, Portugal are preparing to contest their second match of EURO 2008 against the Czech Republic, and to see the number of supporters clad from head to foot in the traditional red and green colours, Luiz Felipe Scolari's charges are not likely to lack support. Not only have hordes of fans travelled up from the Iberian Peninsula, but the local Portuguese community has also been doing its utmost to leave their heroes in no doubt that they have an entire nation behind them.
Flags hang from windows and balconies, shop windows and cars have been decorated and special outfits created: in short, everything imaginable has been done to paint Geneva red and green. Jorge, a restaurateur in the La Praille district right by the stadium where the Portuguese take on the Czechs, puts the finishing touches to his premises' new colour scheme before explaining his own interpretation of the national flag: "the red is for the passionate relationship all Portuguese have with their national side. The green symbolises the hope of finally winning a major tournament. We almost did it in 2004 and this year, we're going to put right that injustice."
With a Seleção das Quinas flag on her back, Mariana numbers among the other category of supporter; those who have made the long journey by plane, trains or automobile in the hope of seeing Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. reign in Europe. "It's the first time I've had the chance to travel and watch my team," she explains while her husband, clearly not yet au fait with the Swiss franc, attempts to convert the cost of his sandwiches and drinks into euros. " . In a few weeks' time, we'll be crowned champions of Europe and I just couldn't miss that moment."
The veracity of this young Lisbon teacher's vision will soon be revealed, but to hear the conversations on the terraces of the FanZone, a gigantic area where the supporters can share their enthusiasm, many are predicting precisely the same denouement. 16-year-old Manuel declares that he has made a bet with his classmates that Portugal will lift the trophy. "We've been talking about nothing else for weeks. I'm so sure we'll win it that I've promised to shave my head if we don't." And this is a young man who seems extremely fond of his current hairstyle, a cut inspired by his idol, Ricardo Quaresma.
The burgundy sea
Beneath the giant screens installed to show the tournament's matches, the fans in Portuguese colours are too numerous to count, despite their game not being until the next day. "We're proud to wear our colours, and not only on match days," adds Manuel. "Here in Geneva, there have been Portuguese flags hanging from balconies for weeks, and they'll still be there long after the final."
To kill time while awaiting the crunch match where victory could send the Portuguese through to the quarter-finals with a game to spare, those set to invade the stadium's terraces in a matter of hours have opted to gather to watch Tuesday's fixtures together. In the late afternoon, enthusiastic shouts greet each goal scored by their Spanish neighbours against Russia, while in the evening, Greece's defeat at the hands of Sweden triggers more delight among the Portuguese fans.
"We're not bitter, we just have a good memory," comments Patricio, who has travelled from Paris to follow his homeland team. "The Greeks deserved their win in 2004, but to be beaten at home in the final when we'd had victory within our grasp hurt the whole Portuguese nation. Only victory this time can heal those wounds."
Courtesy of this vast army of devoted fans, the Portuguese side are practically at home again, the only difference being that Scolari's men will be hoping for a happier outcome than four years ago.