Euro 2008 decision imminent
Switzerland and Austria are about to find out whether their joint bid to host the 2008 European football championships has been successful.
A secret ballot to decide the winning bidder is currently underway in the Swiss town of Nyon, home of European football's governing body, Uefa.
A record seven bids have been put forward to stage the championships, which are regarded as potentially big money earners for the host countries.
The Swiss-Austrian bid is one of the favourites; observers witnessing its presentation to Uefa officials said the bid came over as professional and extremely well prepared.
But there is strong competition from Russia, especially as no eastern European country has ever held the championships before.
The joint bid from Scotland and Ireland, and the four-nation Nordic consortium (Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden) are also seen as having strong chances.
Boost for Swiss football
If the Swiss-Austrian bid wins, it will be seen as a major boost for football in Switzerland. The Swiss are not normally regarded as big fans of the sport.
But the recent success of FC Basel, which became the first-ever Swiss team to qualify for the second round of the European Champions League, ignited football fever in Switzerland.
Basel's matches against Liverpool and Manchester United gave the Swiss the chance to show off the new St Jakobs Park stadium, and to prove that they could stage big international matches safely.
After years on the international sidelines, Switzerland has also recently celebrated notable successes at junior, senior and club level.
Earlier this year, the country's under-17 side won their version of the European championship to earn the Swiss their first-ever title at international level.
Just days later the under-21s made it to the European semi-finals after qualifying for the tournament (and staging it) for the first time in history.
A successful bid would also almost certainly bring plenty of income to Switzerland and Austria.
The 2000 championships in Holland and Belgium earned the host countries around €18 million (SFr 26.5 million), while the 1996 event in England brought in around €30 million.
Failure would be painful
A failed bid would, however, bring back painful memories for those on the Swiss bidding team, as many of them were involved in the unsuccessful bid to bring the 2006 Winter Olympics to Sion.
At the time, the Swiss were so convinced of success that a huge victory celebration had been planned in Sion's main square. The defeat was a crushing shock for all concerned.
This time, the team bidding for Euro 2008 is trying not to appear too sure of eventual success.
"We have no reason to be overconfident," warned Thomas Helbling, who is project manager of the Swiss-Austrian bid. "I wouldn't even say that we are the favourites, just that we are one of the strongest candidates."
If their bid is successful, it will be the culmination of a long and often difficult campaign by Helbling and his colleagues to bring international sporting events to Switzerland.
Seven bid teams from 14 countries are competing to host the tournament.
Switzerland and Austria are earmarking SFr170 million for the organisational costs, but any final deficit would be covered by Uefa.
Matches would be staged in Bern, Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Vienna, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Innsbruck.
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