With the final game of EURO 2008 now over, it is time to breathe in the Alpine air and take stock.
Overall, it has been one of the better tournaments of recent years. The football has for the most part been attacking and open, an improvement on Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup and broadly as exciting as Euro 2000, although the final’s denouement will colour the final analysis.
I found only France v Romania a turn-off, although Judi Poker Uang Asli Croatia v Turkey would have had me switching channels if I had not been there in person.
Euro 2008 has certainly been a huge improvement on the last European Championships I experienced in person, the 1996 edition in England, which was memorable for too many defensive games and swathes of empty seats in the stadia.
Austria and Switzerland were good, if not perfect hosts. Their transportation was excellent and the fan information next to faultless. As far as I know, no left luggage facilities closed early like Kaiserslautern’s at the last World Cup. The accommodation ran out in and around Basel, but anyone armed with a train pass like me could zip to somewhere much nicer like Interlaken, where hotel beds were easy to find.
The size of the stadia was not ideal – six of the eight holding only the UEFA minimum of 30,000 seats, but there will never be stadia big enough to satisfy today’s ticket demand, while a rectangular 30,000-seater is the perfect capacity for an excitingly intimate atmosphere, far more fan-friendly than an 80,000-seat bowl could ever be.
Unless every European championship ever after is held in one of Spain, Italy, France, Germany or England, fans will have to accept 30,000 capacity arenas.
Joint hosting might not be ideal in terms of travel – Geneva to Vienna was a 10-hour hike, but take a look at Gdansk to Odessa on the map for Euro 2012 before you throw stones. Or how about Foxboro to Pasadena at the 1994 World Cup.
How was the tournament organisation and fan culture?
Pretty faultless. Two countries with a high standard of living and renowned for punctuality and cleanliness were never going to mess it up. The trains were plentiful, the signposting ubiquitous, the fan zones superb and the accommodation in the cities I visited available, except for around Basel, where not enough had been provided. With a train pass however, it was not hard to hop an hour to another city where there were beds.
That organizers tried to thrust a map and fan guide to the city into the hands of every passenger arriving at Vienna’s Westbahnhof or on nearby tram platforms was proof enough for me of their willingness to help visitors.
Poland and Ukraine, if UEFA does not get cold feet and withdraw their hosting, have got a tough act to follow.
The large fan zones which dominated the city centres of the two countries (I spared a thought for the middle-aged coachloads come to Salzburg to see the Mozart heritage on the day of Spain v Sweden!) should be the model for all future tournaments. Given there are far more travelling fans than match tickets, it makes sense from a security or atmosphere perspective to encourage them to enjoy themselves together in one area. As long as that area is securely monitored with bag checks, stewarding, plentiful big screens, toilets and food and drink outlets, there should be little risk of misbehaviour.
In Austria and Switzerland, there was negligible trouble. I read about a few arrests at Germany v Poland but didn’t see a single incident myself across the tournament and never felt any of the simmering tension present at England games overseas. I felt totally safe and relaxed throughout, whatever fans were in town.
When I was not inside the stadia, I found the fan zones almost as enjoyable. In many ways, it was a more relaxed way to watch a game because you could stand, wander around, sit down on the ground and drink beer or wine without restrictions on warm summer evenings.
What an amazing contrast the public viewing areas in Manchester were on the day of the UEFA Cup final in May. The big screens were the only similarity to the Euro 2008 fan zones. Without any restrictions on alcohol, inadequate facilities and stewarding, plus thousands of Rangers fans stopping the trams from running, the place soon descended into mayhem.
Austria and Switzerland got a lot of flack in the media for having only two stadia with capacities over the UEFA minumum of 30,000 seats, as well as some snide Anglocentric criticisms for having overly-cultural cities lacking the requisite grittiness for football.
It would be a shame if only England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain could host Europe’s showpiece football event, while one can hardly complain if a host venue is clean and orderly. Let’s see what happens in South Africa in two years’ time before we moan about civilised countries.
Was Michel Platini the real winner?
Behind the football, UEFA and FIFA have been rattling sabres over Sepp Blatter’s ‘6+5’ law, which will force clubs to field a minimum four players at the start of a game from 2010/11, rising to six two years later.
Despite Platini’s pleas for the specificity of football to be recognized, he is against Blatter on this issue and in agreement with the European Union, whose laws permit the free movement of EU workers among member states irrespective of nationality. UEFA believes FIFA’s law would harm the UEFA Champions League, lair of wealthy clubs with multi-national cadres.
Unlike the world’s governing body, Europe’s also oversees the world’s biggest club tournament so has to please both the club and country game. As a concession, Platini instead has advocated quotas based on home-grown players irrespective of nationality, which FIFA opposes because it would encourage a scramble for children by foreign clubs.
FIFA’s whole beef is based on the fact international football is suffering from the power of the club game. The jaded European players in the 2002 World Cup helped push their arm, as did the fact England failed to qualify for Euro 2008, despite having two clubs in the final of this year’s Champions League.
FIFA weasels therefore, probably wanted Euro 2008 to be a damp squib, while UEFA hoped for a successful tournament to show national teams could withstand whatever the club game had extracted from their players over a long season.
Battling it out on their home patch – both organizations have their bases in Switzerland, UEFA came out on top. The free-flowing soccer and memorable goals seem to have won the battle, if not the war for now, and Platini, whether harbouring desires for Blatter’s throne in the future or not, has the upper hand.
Are Poland and Ukraine in danger of losing the hosting rights for 2012?
Apparently so. Maybe it was the shining efficiency of the Austrian and Swiss settings, but the rumours swelled up in the press rooms in the Alps that Euro 2012 could be headed west after all.
There have been reports of UEFA’s worry at the Kiev stadium’s refurbishment as well as the country’s political situation, and Platini has just completed a short trip to assess both host nations. A curious story going around is that Scotland and Wales have already been in talks to step in should the visit draw negative conclusions.
Poland and the Ukraine were always facing an uphill task to live up to UEFA standards. Their entire hospitality, transport and stadia infrastructure are some way behind those of Western Europe, and the distances between the venues are far greater than ever seen before at a European Championship.
UEFA have announced a final announcement will be made in September. If they are politely ushered out following this inspection, it will be regrettable, but will come as little surprise.