Kris Fernandes is a FIFA accredited freelance writer based in Toronto. He has been actively involved in spreading the love of the beautiful game in Canada and abroad for several years through administration, media coverage and coaching. He also covered the 2006 FIFA World Cup live for CBCSports.ca with the popular journal series, "A Canadian in Germany". Contact Kris at firstname.lastname@example.org
GENEVA - Upon arriving in Geneva it was quite evident that the marketing gurus at UEFA and the organizing committee had spent lavishly on promoting the tournament.
Both the airport and central train station were plastered with ads from official sponsors and housed two separate fan apparel stores that were overpriced, even compared to the cost of items back home. Usually, soccer items cost less over in Europe but this is the first time I had seen any jersey go for the equivalent of 130 Cdn.
As for the opening match between Switzerland and the Czech Republic in Basel, the atmosphere was lively early on and grew steadily. The weather had been miserable for the first few days and damped the outdoor celebrations the night before in the main square of Geneva.
Luckily the rain subsided hours before the Swiss and Czechs kicked off their match. I say luckily because the particular fan zone where I watched the game was erected on a large muddy piece of real estate and the ground was topped by bits of stone.
Everywhere you walked you sank an inch or two into the ground and all it would take is one bad call by the ref in the match, coupled with an overly drunk supporter, to create a hailstorm of stones. Selecting this venue for hosting tens of thousands of fans is questionable at best. Thankfully the game was relatively clean and nothing came of it.
Though the location selection issue was clearly not up to the performances of past hosts cities, the one thing that was proper about it was the view. The 40-foot high big screen was set amidst a backdrop of mountains, capped with a heavy, drifting fog and was quite nice to look at. The entire park was packed with Portuguese, Swiss, Turkish and Czech fans all clad in red, and the Portuguese and Turkish had a non-stop chanting competition going for about two hours.
Many, myself included, left early in the second half to march towards Stade de Geneve for the Portugal-Turkey match.
It was an amazing sight outside of the stadium: cars that were fully customized to each team with precision detail, and I almost expected both vehicles to get up and become Transformers. Music was blaring and thousands danced in the middle of the streets and on top of buses. It was nothing short of sensational.
Getting in, however, proved difficult as it took over an hour, as fans desperately tried to squeeze and force their way in. But once inside the noise was deafening as both sets of fans blasted out their respective chants back and forth at each other. I cautiously sat in the Turkish section with my Turkish friends wondering if I was going to get hit with something had I cheered a Portuguese goal.
The stadium was equally split in the numbers department, despite the Portuguese having a significant population within Geneva.
Both goals in Portugal's 2-0 win made both sets of fans rowdier, though the Turks had showed their distaste by mercilessly whistling the referee.
Getting back into the main part of town was a mission, as celebrating Portuguese supporters closed off all the streets. Flags were draped everywhere and beer spilled all over the place. It was quite a solid night of partying for everyone.