I may not be the world’s biggest sport fan, but spending June 2008 in Vienna and not devoting at least one post to football (soccer to Americans) is just plain wrong! After all this was city hosting the 2008 European Cup tournaments. Ignoring it would be the same if I omitted the Eiffel Tower from an account of Paris. Unthinkable. Anyway there was no getting away from the fußball craze during the month of June. Everything was structured around the event. Concerts, museum exhibits, and of course, city transport was arranged or rearranged around the games. A large section of the city center from the Hofburg up to the University was cordoned off into the Fan Zone, encompassing the Rathaus and the Burgtheatre, the latter sporting a giant ball atop its roof!

And while I’m not the biggest (or even a moderately big) fan, I don’t (as many locals professed to) hate the game. Merely indifferent most of the time, as I am to most sporting events, unless I’m witness to a game -to an actual live on or to a live broadcast – by invitation, accident or any other circumstance. Then I’m as engaged as any fan, I’ll pick a side, root for them despite all odds, cheer hysterically, groan in despair, cross my fingers bite my nails … the works. And I’ll even make the effort to initiate a game-viewing myself. And so it was with the Eurocup this year. I ended up watching 4 games in full and bits and pieces of some others as well. Here’s a recap…

vs.

The first match I watched was an elimination round game — Switzerland vs. Turkey — invited by the Swissman in Vienna, Dr. Hannes Majer, who during the game told me what the offside rule was. The venue, Swiss beach, was interesting, a bar by the Donau canal. We watched the game sitting on a blanket on the sand before a giant screen. Out of courtesy to my viewing companion (and because I was otherwise uncaring) I rooted for the Swiss, who lost not only the game but their chance to advance in the tournament. That depressed Hannes enough to call the rest of the evening to an end. So that was that.

vs.

Game #2 for me was a yet another elimination, this time with higher emotional stakes in this city – Austria vs. Germany. Now Austria hasn’t won a match against Germany in 30 years – not since 1978 in Cordoba. Given that Germany was being touted as a finalist (most people in the know were predicting a Germany vs. Netherlands final), and that Austria really only even made into the tournament on account of it being the host country, the odds of repeating a Cordoba were remote in the extreme. None of this deterred the fans in the least, as we (Ravi, Charu and Vidur Khanna and me) witnessed in the train over from Salzburg that morning. A train so full of sozzled soccer fans from both Austria and Germany (people were travelling in from Munich) that’s is a wonder the train didn’t sway like a drunk itself.

I watched this game, thanks to Ravi Khanna, on the terrace restaurant of the very fancy Palais Coburg, after a fabulous dinner with lots of great wine. Out of courtesy to my summer host country, not to mention our hosts for the evening, I rooted for the clear underdogs – Austria, even wearing a tight T-shirt (I returned at the end of the evening) to declare my loyalties. The game itself was not as exciting as the hype surrounding it. Germany won, as expected, but not by much: the score was 1:0

The next evening I caught the tail end of the Italy vs. France game, which even the sports-ignoramus I am could tell was played at a higher level than the previous evening’s match. It was a face-off between the finalists of the 2006 World Cup tournament but at the elimination level didn’t elicit much excitement where we were. A few days later walking home I paused to watch the last few minutes of Croatia vs. Turkey (the next round already, I believe). The score was unbelievably still at 0-0. I didn’t stay to watch the tie-breakers but Turkey was declared the winner. I know this because they played the semis against Germany, a face-off that had been the prospect of much dread in Germany during the World Cup matches in 2002.

vs.

I caught the entirety of the Spain vs. Italy quarter-final match quite by accident. I was working on my computer (as I’m doing now) sitting outdoors at a restaurant called Point of Sale, near my place and directly in my line of vision me was a large screen put up by Johnny’s a pub across the street. I was joined at my table by a German couple who were divided in their loyalties. The guy basically wanted Italy to lose because they had beaten Germany in the last World Cup (quarters or semis I can’t remember). The game was another tie breaker with two overtimes and finally a penalty kick-off to decide on a winner. As everyone knows by now Spain emerged the victor. Seemed like however slight my loyalties, the team I rooted for always lost 😦

I didn’t watch any more games until the final, although I caught the aftermath of the Spain vs. Russia semi-final at the neighboring Spanish tapas bar, Aquilice, where the chef was kind enough to give a hungry trio of non-soccer fans (Michel and Louise were with me) a great bowl of paella that we washed down with beer (Michel) and sangria (Louis & me). Sufficiently impressed with the place and its atmosphere to make reservations for the night of the final.


As things turned out we almost didn’t make it to the finals. Having spent the day wandering about the city — Schonbrunn, a heuriger, a monastery atop a small hill from whence we hiked (me in high heels) down to the riverside — we were tired. But since we were also hungry and had reservations we already with a great view of the screen, we ended up going to the restaurant. The game – Spain vs. Germany – was fun. Since everyone knows the outcome of the match, I won’t be giving anything away when I say that FINALLY (pun intended) I rooted for the winning team. And it was clear right from the start that Spain took ownership of the ball and the field and even though they did not score many goals, they were very effective in preventing the Germans from making any. And since we were in a Spanish restaurant, the mood was very merry indeed.

Some pictures of sundry fans that night:

Advertisements