Germany reaches fever pitch for Euro final
Chanting "Deutschland, Deutschland!" and still hours from kickoff, throngs of flag-waving German football fans were warming up on Sunday for the grand finale of Euro 2008 of Germany versus Spain.
In Berlin crowds of fans with their faces painted in black, red and gold were heading in high spirits to the central "Fan Mile" where half a million spectators were expected to follow the match on large screens.
"I think Germany will win 3-1," Mark, a 23-year-old insurance salesman who travelled almost 300 kilometres (190 miles) from Hamburg, predicted confidently with a beer in his hand and wearing a German flag as a cape.
The scene was similar in other towns and cities, with huge crowds expected at public viewing areas to watch the match beamed in from Vienna while tens of millions will be glued to their TVs at home.
Vendors have been doing a brisk trade in flags, facepaints and national football shirts in a country now much more comfortable with patriotism ever since the 2006 World Cup was held in Germany.
In all, 85 percent of the country's 82 million population will follow the match, according to a survey in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, bringing the country to a halt.
German automakers like Daimler, Volkswagen and Audi plan to shut down production during the game so that their workers can follow the match before the conveyor belts and Europe's biggest economy grind back into action after the final whistle.
The country was however on tenterhooks on news that their talismanic captain Michael Ballack might not take to the field after hurting his leg in training at the team's base in southern Switzerland.
Nevertheless, and despite the fact that Germany will have its work cut out to overcome an in-form Spanish side, 72 percent believe their side will win the "Wunder von Wien" (the Vienna wonder), according to the Bild am Sonntag poll.
"Ballack injured!," the top-selling paper's front page screams. "But we are going to win the cup anyway!" Only one in five took the more pessimistic view - including none other than Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück who perhaps unwisely predicts a 3-1 hammering, the paper said. Eight percent were hedging their bets.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was shown literally jumping for joy in Basel when the winning goal against Turkey hit the back of the net on Wednesday, will watch the match in Vienna along with President Horst Köhler and other ministers.
Merkel became a regular in the stands during the World Cup. She has even taken to giving the players some motherly advice, and after the Turkey match gave an interview in the flash zone area usually reserved for players and managers.
Her spokesman had to keep the chancellor informed by text message of the score in the game against Portugal while she was tied up with more serious matters at an EU summit on June 19. A parade has been organised in central Berlin for Monday for the players - even if they lose - and the city authorities have asked schools to give pupils the afternoon off so they can attend.
"It is very important for us that the team will be greeted by its supporters back in Germany. Berlin has become like a second home to us since the 2006 World Cup," Löw said.
Only one in five German televisions were tuned into something else as almost 30 million viewers were glued to Wednesday's semi-final thriller against Turkey, and Sunday's final was not expected to be any less of a crowd-puller.
Offers attempting to tempt TV viewers away from the football include the Rowan Atkinson comedy "Johnny English" - dubbed into German - and a programme about real-life animal capers in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, And as always there is a "Schlager" show, that perennial prime-time institution devoted to swingalong oompah songs about falling in love,
mountains and lederhosen.
"I am sure that our team is going to succeed," President Köhler said in a column in the top-selling Bild newspaper on Sunday. "Our opponent is strong...but with their fire in their bellies the German team can beat them."