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 — As most trains stop running after midnight, I spent the night sleeping in the train station along with at least 300 other fans heading to Basel to watch the Swiss play their farewell match against Portugal.
I arrived around 8 am and as most shops in Switzerland aren't open on Sundays, I gladly spent a few first hours eating pastries while watching match replays through the display window of an electronics store.
At around noon I headed towards the main square in hopes of landing a ticket and bumped into three Portuguese fans that were working in Paris, and who had taken the weekend off to catch the game.
Nuno lived in San Francisco for a few years and knew the lack of top quality soccer that North American fans face, so he invited me to join the crew on a nonstop mission of song and dance through the cobblestone streets of Basel, fuelled by overpriced kebabs (Europe's tasty street meat) and two-dollar tall boys.
We strolled into a small square and that's when the fun really began.
I've always said that the only language barrier in soccer is when there is no ball to play with. Well some Swiss fans were doing some keep-ups when their ball rolled over to us. We gestured to them to have a mini-game right there in the square and without hesitation they ran over.
Another four Portuguese joined our squad when out of nowhere some completely random dude shows up wearing a referee's outfit, runs over and blows his whistle and motions for us to line-up to sing the national anthems.
By this time, a rather large crowd of 1000 or so had circled us, creating the pitch boundaries while whistling and chanting as we played our eight-a-side game. It is the closest I'll ever get to feeling like a pro. I'm happy to say I got it on tape as well.
I ended up shelling out $260 for an awesome front row seat in the second tier right behind the net and on we marched, 10 kilometres towards classy St. Jakob Park.
I was more surprised than anything to see that the Swiss were really into it. At the last World Cup and at this tournament, the Swiss had been the quietest and lamest fans I have ever come across, and trust me it is no exaggeration. This match however saw the entire stadium covered in red and white with Swiss crosses everywhere in sight. The team showed its appreciation of course with a fine 2-0 result against Portugal's B team.
The parties afterwards were some of the best of the tournament, aided by a large Turkish fan base that was rabid after that thrilling 3-2 comeback win over the Czechs.
Everyone went hard until 4 am before staggering back to wherever they lay their heads.
Despite Portugal's loss this was easily the best day I have had so far at Euro 2008.