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Sports

Germany in Full Grip of Euro 2008 Fever

Germans were unfurling their flags and applying face paint on Sunday as Euro 2008 football frenzy approached its climax. On the streets of Berlin, preparations for the final match were in full swing.

Fans in Berlin

Half a million German fans are expected at Berlin's "Fan Mile" for the final game

From Chancellor Angela Merkel downwards, Germans will be cheering on "Schweini," "Poldi" and their teammates in a nation now much more comfortable with being patriotic ever since the 2006 World Cup was held on home soil.

In towns and cities across the country, hundreds of thousands were expected at public viewing areas to watch the match beamed in from Vienna from 20:45 local time onto huge screens and tens of millions will be glued to their TVs at home.

On the streets of the capital, people are gathering in beer gardens hours before the game where they'll follow the action on large-screen televisions. Some have been seen carrying refrigerators down streets to make sure parties are fully stocked. Black, red and gold flags are everywhere.

The referee for the final of Euro 2008 holds a match ball

The referee for the final of Euro 2008 holds a match ball

Nearly half a million people watched the last game in the specially erected "Fan Mile" around the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin alone, and the atmosphere will be more electric still on Sunday if Joachim Loew's team triumphs.

According to a survey in the Bild am Sonntag weekely, 85 percent of the country's 82 million population will follow the match, and for all practical purposes, the country will come to a stand-still.

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.

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.

Worries about Ballack

The German national team

These guys have got to be feeling the pressure

Despite their confidence, the country is sweating over the fact that powerhouse captain Michael Ballack might not take to the field after hurting his leg in training at the team's base in southern Switzerland.

Nevertheless, 72 percent believe their side will win the Wunder von Wien (the Vienna miracle), according to Bild am Sonntag's 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 Steinbrueck who perhaps unwisely predicts a 3-1 hammering, the paper said. Eight percent were hedging their bets.

Leaders in attendance

Merkel herself, 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 Koehler and other ministers.

Angela Merkel and national player Bastian Schweinsteiger during the match between Austria and Germany

Angela Merkel and national player Bastian Schweinsteiger

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.

"I am sure that our team is going to succeed," President Koehler said in a column in the top-selling Bild newspaper on Sunday. "Our opponent is strong ... but with the fire in their bellies the German team can beat them."

A parade has been organized 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," Loew said.

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