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Soccer-Alpine hosts can party, say Euro 2008 organisers

BERNE, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Euro 2008 hosts Switzerland and Austria have promised to bury any preconceptions of national reserve and show the continent they enjoy a party during the June tournament.

“There will be a huge party in both countries and I can guarantee that by the time the first match starts, the emotions will be there,” tournament director Martin Kallen told reporters after a news conference to mark 100 days to the event.

As well as emphasising their own ability to party, organisers brought in some outside help on Thursday when they presented Jamaican reggae artist Shaggy as the singer of the tournament’s official mascot song.

“They’re the official mascots and it’s my job to loosen them up a bit,” Shaggy told Reuters as he pointed to the cutesy cartoon twins Trix and Flix. “In fact I’m going to take them out and get them drunk later and see how much of a mascot they are after that.

“I’ve been to Switzerland and Austria on tour a few times, enjoyed the food and the people and even partied a little here in Berne. It’s perhaps not the greatest partying place but maybe we can change that in June.”

Organisers said they would be offering an extensive entertainment programme for supporters at the stadiums, which will open three hours before kick-off to allow fans attending late matches to watch the early evening game on screens.

There will also be DJs, videos and interactive games with similar programmes on offer at the public viewing zones for ticketless fans.

SHORT CEREMONIES

The tournament’s opening and closing ceremonies will be kept short -- around 13 minutes for the June 7 opener and 10 minutes following the final on June 29 -- in an effort to “focus on the football”.

Organisers said both ceremonies would give a “creative, modern twist” to characteristic features of the two host countries, but added that “there will be no shortage of yodellers and Alphorns”.

The decision by UEFA’s executive committee to award soccer’s second biggest tournament to two countries not known for their footballing passion has increased the pressure for the Swiss in particular to show they can lay on a good party as well as perfect infrastructure.

The concern surrounding Austria revolves more around the underperforming national team, and whether the Austrians can keep smiling if their side suffer an early exit from the tournament.

“I think the tournament is one thing and the national team is another,” Swiss Kallen said on Thursday.

“In Austria they are also looking forward very much to the actual tournament. Of course they also hope their team plays well, and they already showed some improvement this month in the first half of their friendly with Germany.

“But I think the feeling in both countries is that you cannot expect to get beyond the quarter-finals when there are 14 other teams who are as strong or even stronger than the hosts -- though of course it would be fantastic if either of them did.” (Editing by Alison Wildey)

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