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Football fans all love to hate referees … but getting close up and personal with them would change a lot of people’s opinions.
Meeting the refs and other match officials for Euro 2008 at their media open day at Regensdorf just north of Zurich was an illuminating experience.
UEFA first opened the doors to the men they dub “the 17th team” at Euro 2004 and while you go along expecting to be yellow-carded if you so much as trip over a paving stone, you quickly realise that referees are often unfairly maligned by managers, media and public alike.
The first thing you notice is how young and fit they are. The retirement age for elite referees is now 45 and most of them look a lot younger than that. In fact, many look like they could actually be playing.
Click on the video above to see just a few of our correspondents here in Austria and Switzerland giving their views on what to expect at Euro 2008.
At the end of the video we give our predictions on who’s going to win and we’d like you to follow suit. Feel free to upload your own video views somewhere (if you send us the link and we like what we see, we’ll showcase it here) or just let us know who you think is going to win in the comments below.
It is only at major championships like Euro 2008 that training sessions become public events.
Any hint of an injury or a change of formation is gold dust to the world’s press, but often we are forced to sit and watch 23 men run around for two hours without a story in sight.
On the subject of goalkeepers (see Kev’s blog on Jens Lehmann here), you have to pity the Austrians Alexander Manninger and Juergen Macho.
Gruff coach Josef Hickersberger said he would name his number one keeper on Wednesday, having already advised the unlucky one to display the stoic “humanity” shown by Germany’s Oliver Kahn after Juergen Klinsmann left him on the bench in 2006.
Chatting to some Turkish soccer journalists on Wednesday before the news conference with Nihat Kahveci and Hakan Balta, I got the sense they felt Turkey had some fine young attacking players and a lot of potential but could be fatally weakened at Euro 2008 by a dodgy back line.
“I’m a realist,” said Mutluhan Suner from the Kanalturk private television broadcaster.
When I was a keen but accident-prone goalkeeper growing up, the one piece of advice all my teachers and coaches used to give was: “Stand up when a player’s coming through on goal, and make yourself as big a target as possible.”
Jens Lehmann took that literally when he came into Germany’s news conference on Wednesday. The 38-year-old keeper, who has taken some stick from the media lately, said: “I’m going to stay standing up and give you all more surface area to aim at.”
Italy may be thinking the gods are against them after World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro was ruled out of Euro 2008 after being injured in their first training session in Austria. They needn’t worry too much.
The 2006 World Player of Year suffered ankle ligament damage after a robust tackle by fellow defender Giorgio Chiellini, who will now be in the running to take his place in the backline.
Schalke’s stadium was awash with black, red and gold on Saturday evening as thousands of Germany fans turned out in rainy Gelsenkirchen to give the national team a rousing send-off to Euro 2008.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was there but chose a lime green jacket and white trousers instead of a Germany shirt, tricolor wig and scarf. She also wisely avoided the face paints.
One Salzburg bar is offering free drinks for every sending-off in a match and even Mozart’s house has a soccer ball and an Austria shirt in the window.
You wouldn’t have thought it, but even sleepy little Salzburg, beloved of older tourists and “Sound of Music” fans has embraced Euro 2008 fever.
Up until a few weeks ago you’d have been fined in Austria for flying a flag on your car. Only ambassadors and government officials were allowed to that. But bureaucracy is slipping and passions are stirring, albeit slowly, as Euro 2008 approaches.
In the last few days Austrian flags have been fluttering from cars in the capital after the government lifted the ban for the duration of the tournament to help drum up some atmosphere. Some of Austria’s cheap supermarket chains will sell tournament merchandise half-price this weekend, and at last the Austrians, whose first sporting love will always be skiing, are starting to show an interest.