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STUTTGART, Germany — Two years ago when it hosted the World Cup, Germany’s colors flew everywhere as its team made an inspiring run to capture third place.

Now, outside the gates of U.S. installations, one might have noticed: The red, black and gold is back. And not just German flags, but the green of Italy, blue of France and colors from throughout Europe.

Euro 2008, Europe’s biggest sporting event, is under way, pitting 16 neighborly and not-so-neighborly nations against one another for the second-most prized trophy this side of the Atlantic. Held once every four years, it’s like the World Cup, but only for European national clubs.

As national colors flap from cars and bicycles and hang from apartment windows, the UEFA European Football Championship, as it is officially known, causes the continent to stop and watch like no other event, including the Olympics.

"Nobody will be as excited about anything else as they are the football," said Simone Burger of the city of Wiesbaden tourist office.

The flag-flying fervor in Germany hasn’t always been this way, according to Brita Kraemer, who teaches German culture in Stuttgart to newly arriving Americans.

Germany pulled out all the stops for the World Cup and showed a pride that had been squelched since World War II.

"For the first time, I myself as a German — and I was born in 1943 — saw that we had flags coming out," Kraemer said.

"Before (the World Cup), I never saw that many flags, never heard people shouting ‘Deutschland, Deutschland,’ never saw people having pride in being German like every other nation."

Germany’s young people are among those turning the page, Kraemer said.

While the games are not being televised on American Forces Network, pubs and clubs throughout Europe have fired up their big screens for the games. Wiesbaden, Kaiserslautern and Stuttgart are among the cities hosting public viewing areas. Some sites are showing every game, others just the games involving Germany.

The tournament, being played in Switzerland and Austria, concludes June 29. Greece is the defending champion.

Fifty-three teams played qualifying games over the past 18 months for a chance at making the field of 16 teams. One team that didn’t qualify was England, a crushing blow to that nation’s massive sporting ego.

"It’s a big disappointment, a really big letdown," said Robert Quigley, an Englander who works in Stuttgart military community’s central processing facility.

"When you read about this tournament in the papers, they don’t even write names of the country — they’ll just have the flags. That’s where it’s really noticeable. You see all these flags, but you don’t see your own and it registers, it hurts."

Two nations with large U.S. military populations — Germany and 2006 World Cup winner Italy — qualified handily and are among the favorites to win it all, even though the Netherlands clubbed Italy in the opener for both teams on Monday

The 16 qualifiers are divided into four groups. Each team will play the other three teams in its group. The top two teams from each group — eight teams in all, advance to the quarterfinals, which start June 19.

The semifinals are June 25 and 26, and the final is June 29.

For a complete schedule and results, visit to www.uefa.com.

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