Alexa

Football and art converge as European Championship opens

Football and art converge as European Championship opens

If football is art, Basel is the place to be.
This city that borders France and Germany is teeming with thousands of people _ for Art Basel, not the European Championship opener Saturday between Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
At midday Friday, trendy crowds dressed in black were viewing "Inversion," the silver, upside-down tree that's outside the main entrance of the world's biggest contemporary art fair. Not a football jersey in sight.
"I have seen no soccer hooligans here in the Messeplatz," said Deborah McLeod, director of the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, California.
Standing near one of Roy Lichtenstein's brushstroke sculptures, McLeod said she was on the lookout to bring home football souvenirs _ and chocolate _ for her three boys.
Usually, football engulfs host cities before World Cups and European Championships. Thus far, the Swiss seem rather cool _ and it has nothing to do with the rainy, March-like climate that has officials worried the fields might get too soaked.
Switzerland (ranked 44th) and Austria (92nd) appear to be the weakest teams in the 16-nation field. And because the tournament is being played in the middle of Europe, supporters can travel by car or train on the days before matches _ even on the mornings of games.
For now, everything is orderly in the lands of Heidi and Johann Strauss; would the Swiss and Austrians have it any other way? Although the "Willkommen" signs were still being hoisted Friday at Basel's St. Jacob Park, site of the opener.
"The party is about to start," said Michel Platini, the former France star elected last year as UEFA president. "There will be a lot of laughing, a lot of crying, there will be pain and joy."
This tournament has become a mini-World Cup, with UEFA saying about 200 countries will broadcast the matches on television. The three-week, 16-nation event will earn euro1.3 billion (US$2.03 billion), more than a 50 percent increase from the 2004 tournament. The projected profit is euro700 million (US$1.09 billion).
Still, the Euros have a far-smaller scale than football's premier event. Six of the stadiums hold about 30,000 spectators apiece, with St. Jakob Park (40,000) and Vienna's Ernst Happel Stadium (50,000) bigger.
At the World Cup, the big boys dominate, with Argentina, Brazil, Italy and West Germany winning 12 of the last 14 titles. At the Euros, small nations come through. There was the night in Goteborg, Sweden, that Denmark toppled world champion Germany in the 1992 final. Four years ago, Greece shocked host Portugal.
Perhaps that's why Platini said one of his sport's greatest attributes is that success is so arbitrary, that the best team doesn't always win.
So, for now, get ready for the best football feast until the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
_Will Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo live up to his status as the world's top player or will he resemble the flaky star who scored in the Champions League final, then almost cost Manchester United the title when he took a stutter step and failed to convert a penalty kick?
_Will Franck Ribery, France's 25-year-old midfielder star, emerge as a successor to Zinedine Zidane? Will Fernando Torres, nicknamed "El Nino," lead Spain to its first major title since 1964?
_Will the Netherlands put aside never-ending infighting and win for the first time since 1988?
Over at Art Basel, no one seemed to care. The big event was architect Richard Meier autographing copies of his book later in the day.
Now that the games will begin, perhaps the atmosphere will rev up. All it will take to spark the Swiss or Austrians is one big win.


Updated : 2021-03-05 21:10 GMT+08:00