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Vienna | 21.6.2008 | 12:09 
Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds

Zita, Rotifer, Steve

The Carneval of Ottakring
  What a long, long night!
  It was the loudest, most vibrant Friday that I've ever experienced in Vienna. I was woken by chanting fans with still nearly 12 hours until kick-off. Fantastic! The streets around the 16th and 17th district were already full with face-painted fans by lunch time. These Croatian girls were confident it was going to be their night; and, with 9 points in their 3 group matches, their confidence seemed justified.
  But as children and romantics know, anything can happen in football - and particularly when Turkey is playing.

Fatih Terim's men only scraped through qualifying for the tournament at the very last minute. Then they proceeded to lose their first match at these Euro finals, left it until the 92nd minute to beat Switzerland, and needed two Nihat goals in the last two minutes against the Czechs to book their place in this match against the classy Croats.

Escape artists indeed! But every run had to come to an end sometime, surely...
  The Brunnenmarkt was a miniature Turkey, but the Ottakringerstraße was certainly Croatian territory. I, consummately objective reporter that I am, watched in a street that separated the two worlds. A sort of safari truck was beaming the match live onto the wall of a café.
  After a brisk start, the game developed into one of the most tedious encounters of what has been, in terms of footballing quality, surely one of the best major international tournaments ever.

Even this football fanatic dog, proudly wearing a Turkish flag around his collar, couldn't hide the boredom from his facial expression.
  There was a huge police presence in the 16th district. Rows of police vans always give me a slight tinge of uneasiness and sense of foreboding. But it has to be mentioned that was, at least at first, a relaxed presence. A couple of smiling officers popped in and out of the small café where we were watching the game, chatting with the owner and checking the score.

In the end, it appears their presence was sadly needed. After 119 minutes of very little action at all on the pitch, the finale couldn't have been more dramatic. Klasnic seemed to have won it for Croatia with a minute left of injury time, but Semih hit back with the last kick of the game and Turkey won on penalties. Frustratingly, this was apparently the trigger for some very distateful violent clashes on Ottakringerstrasse only metres where I was standing. There were several injuries and at least 11 arrests.

Although I didn't see it myself, I don't want to play down the idiocy of such violence. The outspilling of frustration seems such a shame after such a festive, tolerant evening. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

For sure there underlying tensions. A Turkish fan who bear-hugged me: wanted also me to know this: "If A Turk and a Croat go for the same job, the Croat always gets it. This victory means so much to me!" Whether that's baseless paranoia or a hidden immigrant's truth, his hug told me he, at least, believed it. For the immigrant population of this part of Vienna, there was certainly a lot of emotion wrapped up in these 90 minutes of football. And last night it exploded.

Mostly the celebrations were wild, but peaceful. In my café, for example, a Turkish fan held a disppointed Croat friend in his arms. Fans from the opposing teams shook hands. We all know how cruel football can be.
  After the final penalty save from Rustu Recber, the Brunnenviertel in the 16th district erupted. Hooting cars made laps of the narrow streets (2 of them sadly running into each other before my eyes and causing traffic havoc!) and Turkish fans pulled drums and even flutes out of nowhere.

Just to re-iterate this: I watched in delight as red and white-chequered Croatian fans danced to the Turkish-drummed rythyms - a wonderful show of spirit.
  A stubborn and unlikely dream had, again against all the odds, refused to lie down and die. For the third time! The Turks I spoke to yesterday morning couldn't quite believe they were in the quarter-finals of the Euros. Now they are in the semis.

Germany is up next - it's improbable that they will win, but the Turkish players are making a habit of surprising us. And their fans are making a habit of robbing us of our sleep!

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