Co-hosts hoping to scale new heights

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The Independent Football

Austrian and Swiss officials said yesterday they were confident that Euro 2008 would bring a long-term boost to local interest in the sport despite the early exit of both the co-hosts' teams.

Speaking at a news conference before yesterday's final between Germany and Spain, the presidents of the two national football associations said the performance of the home sides and some bad weather had been the tournament's only negative points.

"From the Swiss point of view, we are of course not satisfied with the performance of the national team," said Swiss FA president Ralph Zloczower whose team were eliminated after two games, five days into the tournament. "We had the target of reaching at least the quarter-finals and we didn't make it. But interest remained high throughout the tournament and the atmosphere in the fan zones could not have been better."

The decision to award Euro 2008 to Switzerland and Austria attracted some criticism based on the two countries' relative lack of profile as footballing nations. Austria, in particular, had never managed to qualify for a European Championship before receiving its automatic place as co-host of Euro 2008 and are currently ranked 92nd in Fifa's international standings.

The Austrian FA president Friedrich Stickler said however that his country's reputation for being interested only in Alpine skiing was exaggerated.

"The Austrians do love their football and they already did before the Euro," he said. "But now you can tell that people are getting even more enthusiastic with far more people taking an interest.

"We already have 400,000 registered footballers and we have been preparing clubs for the fact that many more boys and girls will be coming to them after the tournament wanting to play football." Zloczower said the Swiss FA had already seen the first signs of a Euro 2008 boom.

"The number of our members has already shot up this year and there will be even more men, women and children wanting to play," he said. "Our main problem is having enough pitches and infrastructure to cope with the demand but I'm confident we will make good progress there too."

Things have also gone well in terms of security, the Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid said. "It's been a mega event," he said. "The third biggest sports event in the world has been organised with no problems. In Switzerland, we've had fewer traffic bottlenecks, less road congestion and even the crime rate dropped in some places."

The Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said organisers had coped well after heavy rain forced the pitch at St Jakob Park in Basle to be replaced and a thunderstorm forced the main fan zone in Vienna to be evacuated.

"We were able to cope with difficult situations – the heavy rain in Basle, the thunderstorm in Vienna during which the fan zone had to be evacuated," he commented.

"In terms of security, the more critical matches like Germany against Poland, Croatia against Turkey and Switzerland against Turkey, these were all situations that were coped with very, very well.

"There were negative scenarios that had been announced by certain prophets of doom – that city centres would be destroyed, that there would be hooligans all over the place, that the public parks would be ruined – all sorts of fears and anxieties that had been expressed before, but nothing like that happened."

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