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
BASEL, SWITZERLAND — The Turkey-Switzerland game immediately whet my appetite when I first went through customs.
"Why are you here?"
"To watch Euro 2008."
"Which team will you support."
"Portugal. If they lose, then Switzerland." (A blatant lie).
His face clenches and narrows evilly as he makes his final demand.
"Beat the Turkish very badly please, they cannot win. Enjoy your stay."
The guy barely glanced at my passport.
The Swiss and the Turks have had this game marked on their calendars since the draw for the tournament took place late last year. It all began when they last played an unbelievably exciting home-and-away series in 2005, where the winner advanced directly into the 2006 World Cup. The second match took place in Istanbul, a notoriously tough place for away teams to play in. The Swiss won on aggregate, but not before players from both squads brawled on and off the pitch.
The Turks have not forgotten one bit.
I trekked 10 hours to Basel for this match and ended up sitting with a pair of cool guys from Mexico who came to volunteer at the tournament. Alex, a diehard Morelia fan and his cousin Schabo, a Pumas supporter, were also trying to catch as many matches as possible, though the Mexican peso wasn't exactly going far for them in Europe. Alex negotiated with a Turkish fan on the train and ended up shelling out 220 Euros for a category 2 seat (it normally costs 80 Euros) while Schabo's budget was set at 150 Euros.
I expected to attend this match with Turkish Ben, but apparently he has disappeared off the face of the earth, so I was either going to buy a ticket or watch it in the fan zone.
Tickets at the St. Jacob's Park were quite pricey (cheapest going for 250 Euros), so and Shabo and I were off to the big screens.
The weather was brilliant in Basel until about 10 minutes before kickoff when a rogue storm flooded the city so badly they had cut off one of the fan zones for fear of ruining the big screen. Watching the match you could tell just how brutal the pitch was; it was more suited for water polo than a competitive soccer match.
Everyone watching outdoors scrambled to find a bar with a screen to catch this epic 'final' and we ended up grabbing two spots on a dirty wet floor at this hole in a wall. Everyone was in great spirits early on as the Swiss went up early. Random folks kept bringing us free beer throughout the match and speaking to us in German, even though we couldn't understand a lick of it.
You could barely hear a thing for the last half of the game, and people were so pumped for a Swiss win. Even when the Turks scored to tie it up they still kept going with thunderous blasts of "Hopp Suisse! Hopp Suisse!"
When Turkey ended the match with a last minute strike it was if the tens of thousands of locals deserted the city.
That is when you noticed the Turks out in full force. Streams of them emerged from out of nowhere and went wild into choreographed dances in the street with traditional Turkish music booming from portable stereos and cars. The crescent moon and star flag was all that one could see for a half kilometre wherever your eyes turned. It was quite spectacular to be in the middle of it all.
Alex had a perma-smile on his face when we met up after for a beer.
"Oh man, you don't see that too much in Mexico."
Yeah, try living in Canada, man.