Hosts look to cash in on friendly crowd

Paris, May 24:

Austria, FIFA’s lowest ranked team ever to compete, and Switzerland, will be praying for some of the magic host-effect to rub off on their Euro 2008 challenges.

Staging the European championships has proved a rewarding experience for Spain in 1964, Italy in 1968, and France in 1984. Curiously though with the exception of Portugal four years ago, not one of the other eight stagings of the event has a host nation made it past the semis. A case of all or nothing it seems when it comes to the continental crown.

The last time the tournament was co-hosted was in 2000 when the Dutch lost out on spot-kicks in their semi-final with Italy, Belgium were unable to make it past the opening group phase.

There’s no doubt playing in front of your home supporters helps but it wasn’t quite enough to stop gatecrashers Greece spoiling Portugal’s party in Lisbon in 2004. While the heady heights of an appearance in the 2008 final in Vienna on June 29 might be about as likely as Jose Mourinho taking up a job with Accrington Stanley Austria will at least be out to uphold national honour. But it’s not going to be easy for the 101-ranked team in the world to avoid even finishing bottom of Group B where they come up against Germany, Poland and Croatia.

While they may not succeed in winning on the pitch, off it a study this month suggested that the Austrian economy will be boosted by nearly a quarter of a percentage point.

The Swiss have a far better chance of making an impact in the competition which gets under way with their opening match with 1996 finalists Czech Republic in on June 7. Also in the

group are Portugal and 2002 World Cup semi-finalists Turkey.

For manager Kobi Kuhn there is the added incentive of wanting to walk away from the post he’s held for the past seven years on a high. But the most likely scenario is that both these alpine countries have mountains to climb just to make it into the knockout stages.

Still, one thing is assured, with picture postcard settings, the two countries’ renowned for efficiency and organisation, and a party atmosphere generated by an expected two million visitors, this Euro 2008 is shaping up to be a major success.