In football-mad Vienna, you can almost slice the excitement

June 20th, 2008 - 12:07 pm ICT by IANS  

By Mehru Jaffer
Vienna, June 20 (IANS) Yasemin Cetenkaya, 22 is a Viennese of Turkish origin. On the eve of the European Football Championship quarterfinals to be played between Turkey and Croatia Friday evening she feels she can almost slice the excitement here like one of those chocolate cakes the city is so famous for. She looks forward to watching the match at home on television. But if Turkey wins she will drive from her home in Vienna’s 10th district to the Ottakringerstasse in the 16th district, a predominantly Turkish neighbourhood, for a street celebration.

Yasemin’s infatuation with football lasts only while the European championship and the World Cup games are played, she told IANS, adding that for the rest of the year she prefers dancing to football.

It is Selahatten Akbulut, the 45-year-old uncle of Yasemin, who is responsible for infecting the family with football fever. Akbulut is an year-round football fan and is already making hectic preparations - buying food and drinks in anticipation of the victory.

According to Brigadier Konrad Kogler, Euro spokesman for the interior ministry, the Croatian-Turkish encounter is the most challenging match from the security point of view of all the matches played since the games opened June 8.

The Turkish or Croatian celebrations are expected to continue deep into the night, watched by the police with native Turkish and Croatian officers assisting. Traffic control measures include the closure of certain streets to vehicles and limiting the number of people wanting to celebrate on the same street.

Over 56,000 Croats live in Austria, including 16,500 in the capital and thousands more are expected to travel here for the game.

The Ottakringerstrasse is already closed to traffic as Vienna prepares to accommodate 200,000 fans for the quarterfinal matches. The number of fans expected for Sunday’s match between Italy and Spain is around 150,000.

Thousands of Turks celebrated noisily after their team scored three consecutive goals in the final minutes of a game with the Czech. Fans beat drums, blew on clarinets and danced in a city where it is the right of a citizen to complain to the police of noise after 10 p.m. on a ‘normal’ night.

But after their last victory it was impossible to stop Turkish fans from driving motorcades throughout the city and honking till the wee hours of the morning, fluttering the crescent and star high on red Turkish flags in competition with the red and white colours of the Austrian flag.

Apart from the official fan zone created in the heart of the city by authorities, the most exciting place to be in is Ottakring, a working class neighbourhood where most of the city’s Turkish population settled during the economic boom of the 1970s and 1980s.

After the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, Vienna was flooded with refugees and many Croats found homes on the Ottakringerstrasse as well, in the 1990s.

Today the neighbourhood has a large immigrant population, including Poles, Turks and Serbs and a reputation for occasional incidents of ‘hot headedness’ between members of its diverse ethnic population.

Ivica Vastic, Austria’s star footballer, was born in the Croatian city of Split.

The decisive match between Austria and Germany was the second most viewed sports event since electronic measurements began in 1991. Nearly three fourths of all viewers, an average of 2.186 million people, watched the match. In Austria, only ski events have drawn greater attention in the past.

In an Austrian Television (ORF) press release it is pointed out that in addition to viewing the game on TVs at home, 350,000 football fans were present at the public viewing locations while another 222,000 followed the games on a German TV channel.

But not everyone is smiling over Austria’s offer to host the Euro 2008 along with Switzerland.

The stately corridors of the Vienna State Opera echo with grumbling sounds over cancelled performances, blaming football for dismal attendance. Performances are usually sold out to the grand opera house. But now it is forced to cancel a ballet evening June 29, the day when the final is played in Vienna.

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