A tournament buzzing with emotion
'Expect Emotions', the official slogan of UEFA EURO
2008, accurately reflects the game of football, an emotion-packed
affair on and off the field. The faces of the players and the fans,
jubilant and tear-stained by turn, emphasise the fine line between
elation and sorrow.
So it was on Wednesday evening when Turkey's last-gasp winner shattered co-hosts Switzerland's dreams of glory. Or a day later, as the Croatia stars exploded in joy while their defeated German opponents wept tears. These emotions were not entirely expected - especially in the German camp. Lauded on all sides and the bookmakers' pre-tournament favourites, Germany were brought back down to earth with a resounding bump in Klagenfurt. The task facing coach Joachim Low now is to pick his men up and ready them for the do-or-die clash with Austria.
By contrast, Croatia's 2-1 win sent the thousands of fans at
the stadium and in the Fanzones into raptures. Klagenfurt is only a
little over 200 km from Croatian capital Zagreb, a stone's
throw in continental terms. The scores of fans who travelled
without tickets gathered instead in the centre of Klagenfurt to
watch the action on giant screens, before the entire Croatian
support came together for a massive after-match party.
Another unforgettable image was provided in the opening match by a weeping Alexander Frei. The Swiss captain was a model of determination and ambition ahead of the eagerly-awaited tournament on home soil, but the fates conspired against him. Frei's EURO lasted just 42 minutes, the point at which he ruptured knee ligaments in the meeting with the Czechs. The co-hosts fell to a second-half goal, and the subsequent defeat to Turkey in rain-drenched Basel means the Swiss are the only team so far who can no longer qualify for the quarter-finals.
The weather overall has certainly been temperamental and inconsistent at this tournament, with cool, cloudy and downright damp conditions much of the time, adversely affecting the various fan fests. Thursday evening was the first time the Vienna Fanzone filled up to its 70,000 capacity. On that occasion, the Austrian fans were a picture of jubilation as their heroes snatched a draw from what long appeared a hopeless cause. Veteran 38-year-old Ivica Vastic' stoppage-time penalty was the trigger for unconfined joy throughout the Alpine Republic after the oldest player in the tournament kept alive the co-hosts' quest for a quarter-final berth. The Austrians now meet the Germans on Monday in their final group fixture knowing only a win will do, whereas Germany will progress if they avoid defeat. An emotional evening is guaranteed.
With only a week gone of the 2008 European Championship, there are many games and points still to be contested, and the emotional rollercoaster is bound to keep going. This evening, for example, features two enthralling encounters in Group C. FIFA World Cup™ runners-up France meet the Netherlands in Berne, while world champions Italy take on Romania in Zurich. The tension is already palpable, especially as the Azzurri face the spectre of elimination after their initial defeat to the Dutch. The French also need a win to get their campaign back on track following a drab scoreless draw against the Romanians.
Today is of course Friday the 13th. Who will lose out on this traditionally most unlucky of days? That may be mere superstition, but as a matter of hard fact, we the viewing public can assuredly 'expect emotions'.