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Euro 2008 Challengers Arrive for Tournament

World champions Italy were one of six Euro 2008 teams to arrive at their bases to begin final preparations for the month-long tournament in Austria and Switzerland.

Members of the Italian national soccer team stretch before practice

The Italian team has been put up in the spa town of Baden

With five days to go before Saturday's kick-off, fans got a chance to see soccer stars up close at public training sessions.

Italy was among the first teams to arrive in Austria. The Squadra Azzurra was welcomed by Italy's ambassador to Austria, Massimo Spinetti, as well as Friedrich Stickler, the president of the Austrian Soccer Association, the Austrian press agency said.

The team then headed to their base 30 kilometers (19 miles) away at Schloss Weikersdorf, a Renaissance castle converted into a hotel in the spa town of Baden.

Baden has gone to great efforts to welcome the world champions, with local businesses stocking up on Italy-themed fan items, hoping for a boost in tourism.

Lucky pigs and high hopes

Jaroslav Plasil

Jaroslav Plasil and the Czech team were greeted with lucky pigs

The Czech Republic squad flew into Innsbruck for their journey to Seefeld, 30 kilometers away, where a reception included a guard of honor from local schoolchildren, a brass band and furry pigs -- a symbol of good luck -- for coach Karel Bruckner and the players.

Co-hosts Switzerland in Feusisberg and Austria in Stegersbach established their team bases, while Poland arrived at Graz airport for a trip to the thermal spa resort of Bad Waltersdorf, and the Romanian squad set up their camp at the Swiss mountain resort of St. Gallen.

Speaking at the Austrian base, coach Josef Hickersberger said the quarter-finals were the minimum for his team. The co-hosts, seen as the weakest team in Group B, are up against Germany, Croatia and Poland.

"We definitely want to reach the quarter-finals," he said, adding that Austria needed four points from the games against Croatia and Poland to do so.

Portugal and Turkey, who are Group A opponents, were the first teams to check into their team bases in Switzerland, on Sunday, and both held open training sessions Monday evening.

Spain will be the last of the 16 finalists to arrive when they check into their Tyrol headquarters on Thursday. By UEFA rules, teams must arrive at their team bases five days ahead of the first games.

Vienna sets up fan zone

Meanwhile preparations for the tournament continued in Vienna where city authorities closed off a long stretch of the inner city boulevard Ringstrasse to serve as the main Euro 2008 fan zone.

Traffic delays remained minimal as motorists were generally well informed about the changes in force until the end of the month.

Bewildered and annoyed pedestrians and cyclists however were subjected to 30-minute-treks and a myriad of detours as they tried to make their way around the city center.

Local businesses complained about the eerily quiet streets in the fan zone area and were hoping for customer frequency to pick up with fans arriving for the tournament's kick-off on June 7.

Vienna, one of Austria's four host cities during the tournament and location of the final on June 29, set up the largest fan zone, which is expected to hold up to 50,000 soccer fans.

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