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Vienna | 4.6.2008 | 15:18 
Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds

Zita, Rotifer, Steve

Just Hours to Go!
  I've just been back to England where it is raining and the major football talk is of the stag night party of a certain Mr. Wayne Mark Rooney and the vitally important international friendly against Trinidad and Tobago.

Oh how nice it is to be back in Austria! True it's raining here too, but I can enthusiastically talk about the biggest, most exiting football party of the year, without my interlocutors shaking their heads dejectedly, groaning audibly and muttering darkly about what they's like to do with the wally with the brolly (I love this video!!).

Unlike McClaren, I will be at Euro 2008. I'm happily accredited to the big bash and, like a Herbie P without the green studio, I will bring my formidable experience as top scorer of St. Paul's School Under-10s and red-carded villain of my college B-team's dream semi-final, to bring you some of the highs and lows of what should be an unforgettable tournament.
Some men are born objective, some men attain objectivity, but for England fans at Euro 08, objectivity is thrust up them.
Das Preview, innit.
  But before it all starts, with a big nod to my beloved British papers, the French Magazine L'Equipe and a long-running addiction to Eurogoals, I'd like to outline my list of things to watch out for.
The Home Team - Too Much Twiddle?
  Colleague Blumenau is the man to ask about Austria's chances and development, but I think it's interesting to take a look at the foreign papers' verdict too - where Austria's well-publicised mishaps have provided a rather boringly easy target.

The disappointed British papers, for example, are expunging the frustration of England's Euro 08 fate as a "non-qualified nation" (which meant less accreditations and jolly jaunts to Europe to the journos!) by ruthlessly tearing apart the chances of the country that didn't have to qualify at all.

History is being invoked; but not Cordoba 1978. Hardly a single paper or magazine that I've read has failed to mention Hickersberger's legacy of a loss to the Faeroe Islands in 1990. The Guardian was particularly scathing of the Austrian coach's new squad: "this could be the worst team ever put out by the hosts of an international championship."

Hickersberger's constant twiddling with his formation and team sheet has been much derided - (after a full two years to experiment haven't we seen 5 different formations in the last 5 matches - or was I dreaming?). Remember, unfancied Greece did so well last time, but they pretty much had a one simple, well-rehearsed plan of defence and counter-attack which they stuck to like glue!
The Slate is Clean
  There's a lot to prove then, but plenty of opportunity to prove it. Who remembers now how woefully poor Germany was in the run up to 2006 World Cup? And, on the plus side, there is a lot of international admiration for giant central defender Martin Stranzl (Moscow's big man seems to be much more rated on the wind-swept Isles than Middlesbrough's own Pogatetz, by the way).

And since the USA spends most of its time ranked in the world's top 10, I think we can forget Austria's FIFA ranking of 101 as a meaningless and uninteresting statistic. All that counts now... (no it's not Cordoba)... all that counts now is that Austria has the same number of points at Euro 08 as all other 15 nations competing at the tournament - as of Saturday past reputations count for absolutely nothing.

Besides, despite the international derision, I think everyone at the tournament, regardless of national affiliation should be wishing the home-team well. If the wind is taken out of the sails of the flag blowing public, that can only be bad for the tournament.

I'll be in the stadium on Sunday night, giving them my two lungs full (and not just because it was those dastardly Croats that knocked England out!).
Fan in Söll, Tirol during the World Cup final (I get invited to the most glamorous parties). It's pretty clear who he'll be rooting for again!
My Tip?
  I don't know who is going to win, but I think I know who I want to win. I know it's romantic to support an underdog, but let's be honest, aesthetically speaking, Greece made for pretty uninspiring viewing pleasure. I want speed, flair and cosmopolitan glamour. And that's why I'm shedding the straight-jacket of cross-channel national sporting antagonism (Austrian fans of Germany showed me the way two years ago) and rooting for "Les Bleus" of France.

If you're not drawn to the charm of Franck "Monsieur 100,000 Volt" Ribéry, I reckon you want your head examining. And who could fail to be seduced by the dynamite-booted 22-year old Bafé Gomis , who scored 2 goals on his international debut against Ecuador this month and is being talked of as the new Didier Drogba of world football?

Then there is the fleet-footed genius of Karim Benzema, who managed to look fantastic even while failing to breakdown the defence of lowly Paraguay last weekend.

It's says something about their squad that there are seriously calls in the French press for Thierry Henry to be left on the bench during the tournament. The lead-footed defenders of Holland, rivals for qualification from the "Group of Death" - Pool C - aren't expected to cope with the youthful exuberance and flair of another golden generation for "les Bleus". And if they can make Marco Materazzi (more likely of a game now that Fabio Cannavaro's out) looked foolish, then it will be a revenge I'm sure Zidane is too big to be wishing for.

Let's just hope Domenech has the courage to let his youngster off the leash!
Talking of Flair...
  Living in Ottakring I can't order my kofte without falling into a debate with my friend Baho about whether 21-year old Galatasaray winger Arda Turan is really headed to the Premier League next season.

It'd be great to see him there, and it'll be great to see him here at this tournament. He's tricky and mobile with a good eye for a pass; and on his day he can be sublime. He's also (according to Baho) deceptively strong and has earned comparisons with Romanian great Gheorghe Hagi and, here on YouTube, with Cristiano "winker' Ronaldo.

I hereby apologise unreservedly for the atrocious techno sound.
Scorching Talent
  I think everyone is secretly hoping that Ruud van Nistelroy gets tired before Holland inevitably drown in their group pool, so we can see whether young striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar can be as exciting and devastating against truly quality opposition as he has proved in the Eredivisie.

Up and coming Huntelaar is actually 18 months older than Cristiano Ronaldo, but talking of the hair-gelled one as a young star seems somehow absurd. I like his Cape Verde-born team colleague Nani, although I get nauseated by his spells of rolling around on the pitch as if his stomach had been suddenly filled with molten lead. His stringy but muscular frame lend amazing fluidity to his movement; and that, combined with his ability to change direction on the space required by a twopence, make him a joy to watch, however, and more than make up for the annoying amateur dramatics. Plus having just one name makes you sound great, doesn't it Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha?

If he, Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma had someone really decent up front to pass to... well, then Portugal would be a different team.

Switzerland's attack-minded full-back and neo-Liverpudlian Phillipp Degen is expected to impress too, if he's fit enough to start.
Rock N' Roll
  And who will actually win the whole shabang? The irrepressible Italians? The elegant Czechs? The dancing Croats? Doch die Hollander? The wonderful thing for me is that I really have no idea who it could be and, without the England fan's traditional and obligatory roller-coaster ride through hope, patriotism and despair, I can simply sit back and look forward to being surprised.

But probably not as surprised as I was when I saw Croatia Coach Slaven Bilic's Euro 08 rock video.

On that note, let the madness begin.
  Be sure to tune into the Morning Show and Reality Check for regular updates from Euro 2008. And, of course, tune into FM4 News.
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"My home is my castle"
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  Die UEFA EURO 2008 auf

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