Hosts, and champions

AS ANTICIPATED, both Euro 2008 hosts got underway with defeats, although only one looked out of its depth – and it wasn’t Austria. Written off in most quarters as the tournament’s ‘punchbag’, the onus was on them to come out fighting on Sunday, and what a scrap it was.

Stunned into life by a fourth-minute sucker blow from the penalty spot, Austria went the distance against Croatia, all for nothing but the knowledge that they must follow knocking out Poland on Thursday with something miraculous against the Germans next week.

Salzburg takes centre stage today, as the competition rolls into the city for the first of its three matches featuring defending champions Greece. Don’t be fooled by the broadness of UEFA’s brushstrokes, FC Salzburg’s Stadion Wals-Siezenheim is none other than Red Bull’s glimmering monument to the paradoxes of corporate football, the Bullen-Arena. €60m down the line and still only the second best side in Austria, they supply as many players to the national squad as they do to rival nations, including Croatian captain Niko Kovač.

svas063Meanwhile, in nearby Maxglan last weekend, Austria Salzburg’s kultverein bade farewell to sixth division football with victory over Elixhausen before a Meisterfeier drew another near-perfect season to a close. With the final word on the club’s 75th term which ended, fittingly, three points shy of the available 78, here’s the unique perspective of lifelong Leeds United fan and Austria Salzburg’s English-language website fangler-in-chief.

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