euro we go for co-hosts

VIENNA - Austria and Switzerland are ready to host the European football championship on June 7-29, having completed their preparations on schedule, one month before the kickoff.

VIENNA - Austria and Switzerland are ready to host the European football championship on June 7-29, having completed their preparations on schedule, one month before the kickoff.

"The host cities have never been ready so early," said the president of the Euro 2008 organising committee, Martin Kallen, who led the committee that organised the European championship in Portugal in 2004.

The last major construction projects have now been completed in Vienna.

The Ernst Happel stadium, which will host the final, has been entirely modernised and refitted to seat 51000 people, and builders finished putting up the 460-seat media centre last month.

The city's U2 underground line has meanwhile been extended to the stadium, facilitating access by public transportation and halving the time needed to travel from the city centre. The extension, which cost ß890 million, was inaugurated last Saturday.

The stadiums in the seven other host cities have been ready for months, including those in Zurich, Switzerland and Klagenfurt in southern Austria, which suffered some construction and renovation delays.

As renowned tourist destinations, the co-hosts are well prepared to welcome hordes of visitors next month and can rely on their existing hotel infrastructure: Austria expects an additional 1,1 million overnight stays during the championship, while Switzerland is counting on 700000.

Austrian and Swiss Rail are also planning to run 2000 and 2500 special trains, respectively, during the championship to ensure that fans reach their chosen destinations in time. Those with match tickets will travel for free.

The co-hosts are expecting some two million visitors and estimate the championship could bring in several hundreds of millions of euros in profit.

Beyond the stadiums, the eight host cities - Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland, and the Austrian towns of Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Vienna - are planning large public viewing zones, with live games shown on giant screens, music performances and food stalls.

Vienna will be able to accommodate some 120000 fans in several such zones, the largest being a 1,2km stretch of the Ring boulevard, transformed into a large Fan Mile similar to the one in Berlin during the 2006 World Cup, with nine giant screens.

The two host countries were slow to show their enthusiasm for the upcoming tournament but Euro fever has now caught up with them and preparations are in full swing for a series of side events, including concerts, exhibits and parties to keep fans entertained during the championship.

Austria, which has never hosted a sporting event of this scale though they have hosted two Winter Olympics, and Switzerland, which last organised the World Cup in 1954, have also placed a special emphasis on security, as they prepare to receive crowds of fans from all around Europe.

Austria's 27000 police officers have been called up alongside 3000 army officers, with a similar number providing security in Switzerland.

The co-hosts will also receive outside help with over 2500 police officers from participating countries lending a hand, including Germany which will contribute 1700 officers, and France which plans to send 750.

These will include profilers tasked with watching potential hooligans. Swiss and Austrian police have already organised a series of exercises to prepare for any eventuality during the Euro, from terrorist alerts to rioting.

Video monitoring and tight airspace checks will also be in place, and Austria plans to reinstate border controls, which were dropped in December. - Sapa-AFP