Swiss, Austrian football bank on Euros boom

June 29, 2008

VIENNA, June 29 (Reuters) - Austrian and Swiss football officials said on Sunday they were confident that Euro 2008 would bring a long-term boost to local interest in the sport despite the early exit of both co-host teams.

Speaking at a news conference before Sunday's final match between Germany and Spain, the presidents of the two national football associations said the performance of the home sides and some bad weather had been the tournament's only negative points.

'From the Swiss point of view, we are of course not satisfied with the performance of the national team,' said Swiss FA president Ralph Zloczower whose team were eliminated after just two games, five days into the June 7-29 event.

'We had the target of reaching at least the quarter-final and we didn't make it. But interest remained high throughout the tournament and the atmosphere in the fanzones could not have been better.'

The decision to award Euro 2008 to Switzerland and Austria attracted some criticism based on the two countries' relative lack of profile as footballing nations.

Austria, in particular, had never managed to qualify for a European Championship before receiving its automatic place as co-host of Euro 2008 and are currently ranked 92nd in FIFA's international standings.

Austrian FA president Friedrich Stickler said on Sunday that his country's reputation for being interested only in Alpine skiing was exaggerated.

'The Austrians do love their football and they already did before the Euro,' he said. 'But now you can tell that people are getting even more enthusiastic with far more people taking an interest.

'We already have 400,000 registered footballers and we have been preparing clubs for the fact that many more boys and girls will be coming to them after the tournament wanting to play football.'

Zloczower said the Swiss FA had already seen the first signs of a Euro 2008 boom.

'The number of our members has already shot up this year and there will be even more men, women and children wanting to play. Our main problem is having enough pitches and infrastructure to cope with the demand but I'm confident we will make good progress there too.'

At the professional level, both Austria and Switzerland will return to action for World Cup 2010 qualifying with new coaches at the helm.

Switzerland coach Koebi Kuhn retired following Euro 2008 and will be officially succeeded by two-time Champions League winning trainer Ottmar Hitzfeld on Tuesday.

Austria are yet to name a replacement for Josef Hickersberger who stepped down following his team's group stage exit. Stickler said on Sunday that the new man would be chosen by the end of July.