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Union des Associations Européennes de Football
Hungary hopes going solo can clinch Euro 2008

By Ian Geoghegan
© Reuters Limited

Hungary, a once dominant football power which has since fallen on hard times, hopes a solo attempt to host the European championship in 2008 will give it the edge in a tight race against several joint-nation bids.

Football Federation secretary general Sandor Berzi insists a one-nation bid cuts out some of the coordination and logistics problems seen at Euro 2000, co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands, and at this year's FIFA World Cup" in South Korea and Japan.

"To make a European championship with another country...there are a lot of big problems with language, borders, different taxes and policing systems," he said in an interview on Wednesday.

"I hope a solo bid has more advantages than disadvantages."

That said, Hungary had hoped to put forward a joint bid with neighbour Austria, as they did, unsuccessfully, for the 2004 finals. Then, they were pipped by Portugal.

This time, however, the two governments could not agree and Austria teamed up with Switzerland, while Hungary toyed with the idea of a joint bid with Croatia but decided to go it alone.

Berzi, busy entertaining UEFA's Euro 2008 task force which is visiting Hungary this week, said the key to Hungary's bid was its location, its football tradition and the full backing of the new centre-left government, which stands as project guarantor.

"We have the full support of the government, without which we couldn't do anything," he said.

New Grounds
The new government has gone quiet on Hungary's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games - widely seen as a pre-election stunt by the previous conservative government - and so has more time to lobby for the football championship, the third biggest sports event on the world calendar.

The state has pledged to back the bid with 500 billion forints ($2.02 billion) to improve road, rail and air links and build new hotels.

That sum would also include 120 billion forints ($484 million) for five new stadiums - in Budapest, Debrecen, Kaposvar, Miskolc and Szeged - and the complete renovation of three others in Budapest, Szekesfehervar and Gyor.

These would all be completed by late 2006 but, for now, the UEFA team are looking at building sites.

Hungary has already begun a long-term stadium rebuilding programme, improving up to 40 current grounds at a cost of 21 billion forints ($84.67 million).

Berzi acknowledged that Hungary had no long-term need for all the seats that would be built for Euro 2008 and planned to dismantle parts of some new venues after the tournament to make way for shops, restaurants and conference centres.

He said Hungary, close to Europe's geographical heart and with a population of 10 million, bordered seven countries, making it an ideal location for a month-long event where many fans travel to matches and then go home again straight away.

That could also reduce some of the security concerns.

Beating Hooligans
Hungary does not have a tradition of football hooliganism, though there are often ugly scenes at the Ferencvaros versus Ujpest league fixtures in the capital, Budapest.

"We learnt from previous competitions. The key is the stadiums and ticketing," said Berzi, who sat on UEFA's disciplinary committee.

"If we have a good ticketing system, there is an almost 100 percent chance Hungary can avoid the hooligans."

It is 30 years since Hungary last qualified for the final stages of Europe's biggest competition and the national side is a far cry from the glory days of the 1950s and 60s when Ferenc Puskas, Nandor Hidegkuti and Florian Albert ruled supreme.

Berzi noted that a solo nation bid would allow more teams to qualify for the 16-nation finals. With any joint bid, two hosts qualify automatically.

"It's one of our arguments but we don't yet know what UEFA's reaction will be," Berzi said.

He also said Hungary's current form - it is ranked 64th in the world by governing body FIFA, below Ghana and Zimbabwe - would not be a disadvantage.

He said that with FIFA planning to rotate future World Cups among the continents, Europe's big football powers would take more interest in hosting the European championship.

"This could be the last chance for some of the smaller nations," he said, adding that Central Europe had never before hosted the full finals and Hungary had never been asked to stage one of Europe's big club cup finals.

Hungary, which hopes to join the European Union in 2004, and Russia are the only solo bidders for Euro 2008.

There are also joint bids from Scotland and Ireland, Croatia and Bosnia, Austria and Switzerland, Greece and Turkey and a four-nation bid from Scandinavia.

UEFA will make its decision in mid-December.


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  Copyright © 1994-2002 En-Linea, Inc. All rights reserved.

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