One week before kick-off, hosts still lukewarm on Euro

Football is everywhere in Austria and Switzerland. But one week before the kick-off of the Euro 2008 football tournament, overall football fever failed to materialize, dpa reported.

In Austria's host cities Vienna, Salzburg, Klagenfurt and Innsbruck every flat surface seems to be covered in UEFA or football-related advertisements, with local businesses trying to get in on the hoped-for month-long football party.

Switzerland is taking its time with getting the enthusiasm going, with Swiss football federation president Ralph Zloczower saying that he was convinced the football spark would ignite with the tournament's kick-off.

"We don't have a (football) fever, that would not be good. I would say we have a healthy temperature," Zloczower was quoted as saying by Sportinformation Zurich.

"But one must not forget that not everyone enjoys football and not everyone must go crazy about it," he added.

A 600-square-metre flag, depicting an outline of the country divided up inside by the flags of the 16 qualifying nations was floating at the foot the northern Swiss Rhine Falls, Europe's biggest waterfall this week to mark the country's role as host nation.

Swiss artist Beat Toniolo's installation should have signalled the mounting excitement as the tournament is drawing closer but opinion polls even indicated the opposite.

The latest poll for the Sonntagszeitung newspaper said just 41 per cent of Swiss had any interest in the event, compared to 70 per cent two years ago.

More than 82 per cent said they feared nuisances like increased noise and traffic, 92 per cent could not be bothered to take any time off for the matches.

Least enthusiastic were the French-speaking population in the south-west of the country with Geneva one of the venues.

"I'll probably watch it, but at home on TV," said one bus driver typical of many.

Bucking the trend, Geneva resident Jean-Luc, dropping his son off at school said that he was "definitely" going to watch the opening game at the fan zone on June 7.

A few flags adorn the four Swiss city venues of Geneva, Basel, Berne and Zurich, other Euro 2008 paraphernalia is low key so far.

Swiss fans have been swift however to snap up the tickets for the national team's games, and Switzerland's matches were among the first to be sold out, suggesting there is a following out there.

And Geneva's sizeable Portuguese, Spanish and Italian communities are expected to generate a lively atmosphere, which might replicate the spontaneous partying the Brazilians triggered on the city streets during the 2002 World Cup.

Individual displays of fandom like national flags on cars are slowly increasing on Austria's roads.

Austria being Austria - a drawn-out debate over the legality of such displays hogged public attention, with experts warning that flags on cars increased petrol consumption.

"Don't get me started about that Euro thing," Erich, 33, said. The young businessman who bends the ball with his friends on the weekends is not looking forward to crowds and chaos: "It will be complete mayhem in the city for a month. I'm glad when this is over again."

Opinion polls seem to support his view: Austrians only cautiously embracing what to local organizers is the sporting event of the century for the country.

"The atmosphere could be better, but it has been worse," Karin Cvritla from pollster OGM said. According to their surveys, only 30 per cent of the Austrians were looking forward to the tournament.

A steady share of 20 per cent is annoyed, but even more telling, about 50 per cent of the Austrians could not care less.

Main reason for the lukewarm feeling are fears of an abysmal performance by Austria's team, which trails all other participants by far in the international rankings.

"The Austrian team is simply not good enough," Cvrtila said.

Organizers still hope for a last-minute boost: "Austrians have not realized the dimensions of the tournament," Lorenz Kirchschlager of Austria's Euro organization body Oesterreich am Ball said.

Euphoria would set in with the start of the tournament, he believed.

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