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Page last updated at 11:14 GMT, Friday, 6 June 2008 12:14 UK

Swiss gear up for football debut

Chris Mason
BBC News, Basel, Switzerland

Swiss fans in Basel
Swiss fans are hoping for a great time, if not a stunning upset
There is no mistaking Switzerland's excitement about being one of the hosts of football's European Championship Finals.

The Euro 2008 tournament starts here in Basel on Saturday evening.

It is clear at every turn that after years of preparation they are just about ready.

Fans arriving at the city's airport are greeted by adverts which, whatever the product they are promoting, somehow manage to shoehorn in a reference to football.

Be it a luxury car or a bag of children's sweets, Euro 2008 gets a mention.

As a taxi pulls up to take me to the city centre, I spot the cab driver has attached a Swiss flag on a temporary plastic mast to the outside of his car.

A passionate and optimistic Swiss fan, I assume.

Wrong.

Patriotism vs realism

I quickly learn not to confuse Swiss excitement at co-hosting this competition with optimism that their team is going to do well.

Ari Dimopoulos, 30, a Switzerland fan from Zurich, sums up the mood of the host's fans neatly as he enjoys an outing with friends in the Marktplatz - Basel's main central square.

Piero Cuna Italy fan
Italian fans point out that their team are World Cup champions

"I am really excited. I am sure it is going to be a great party," Ari tells me as he and his friends gather in front of the striking 16th Century town hall and chant "Hopp Schwiiz!" or "Go Switzerland!" as they wave their flags.

"As for the Swiss team, I hope they will do better than I expect - perhaps the quarter finals, if we're lucky," he adds.

The bookies unfortunately share his pessimism - putting Switzerland at around 25-1 to win Euro 2008.

And so Ari has an insurance policy. He is supporting another team too - Greece, which just happened to win the European Championship last time round.

Other Swiss fans appear to be doing the same. Many of their cars not only sport their own country's flag - but another's as well.

It is patriotism mixed with a healthy dose of realism.

Some supporters of fellow host nation Austria are taking pessimism about their own team's prospects even further.

They want the 100-1 outsiders to pull out of the tournament before it even starts - so they do not embarrass themselves.

On the hunt for some optimistic fans, I head for the St Jakob stadium, where Saturday's opening match between Switzerland and the Czech Republic will be played.

It is the country's biggest football ground, with a capacity of 42,500, and will host six matches during Euro 2008.

'Campioni'

Italy fan Piero Cuna, 53, is flicking through a huge bundle of football stickers inside the St Jakob Park shopping centre, part of the stadium complex.

He's brimming with confidence - and has the smile and the t-shirt to prove it.

Turkey is the best football team in this tournament. We will win this championship. But I ask this question to you. Where are the teams from Britain?
Merk Cabukoglu, Turkish fan

"We are the world champions!" he tells me, unzipping his white tracksuit top to show me his T-shirt underneath.

"Campioni" reads its slogan. "Champions!" Piero repeats. Saying it once clearly was not enough.

And yes, Italy are the reigning World Cup winners. But they do have to take on both France and the Netherlands in the group stages here.

Hanging from the ceiling of the shopping centre are the flags of the competing nations in Euro 2008.

It seems football widows - girlfriends, wives and other partners temporarily abandoned during this festival of football - will not even be able to go shopping to escape.

Fans are now streaming into this ancient city that not only straddles the Rhine, but also sits on both the French and German borders.

Many are expected to travel here without tickets, and so huge television screens are being put up in so-called "Fan Zones."

'Where are the British?'

Two giant monitors are being erected on the Mittlere Rheinbruecke, or Middle Bridge.

Fans will look out over the Rhine to the screens, with views behind them of the cathedral and the medieval buildings which surround it.

Turkish fans
Turkey's fans are armed with optimism for their Euro 2008 chances

And in the 12th Century Munsterplatz - which is a lung-busting hike up cobbled streets from the city's main square - seating for a few thousand people is being installed in front of another huge television screen.

All of which - coupled with no shortage of beer - is really exciting the fans.

Ale Katipoglu, 20, from Istanbul has travelled here with three friends to support Turkey.

Their team's first match is being played in Geneva - but they could not resist soaking up some of the atmosphere here first.

"Sure we are looking forward to it. We are staying in a campsite out of town and hope there'll be a great party atmosphere there," Ale says.

His friend Merk Cabukoglu, also 20, chips in.

"Turkey is the best football team in this tournament. We will win this championship. But I ask this question to you. Where are the teams from Britain?"

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all failed to qualify for Euro 2008 - as Merk well knows - and his friends erupt in laughter.

"Expect Emotions" is one of the tournament's slogans. They're beginning to bubble away here already - before a ball has even been kicked.

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