It's happening on the other side of the world and no Americans are directly involved, but those facts will hardly deter some Utah sports fans from tuning into today's European Championship final.

They'll have plenty of company around the seven continents. This isn't the World Cup, which alternates every two years with the Euro Cup, but it's close enough to make soccer fans giddy — from the Ukraine to Utah.

Many soccer diehards in the Beehive State have followed almost religiously — some not even missing a televised game on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC — to watch a bunch of the globe's top soccer countries duke it out the past three weeks for Old World pride in the every-four-years event.

So, you can bet your bottom Euro that they'll be fixated on the pixelated pitch to see how the grand finale plays out. Spain, hoping to win the country's first title since the 1964 Euros, will take on three-time champion Germany at 12:45 p.m. on Ch. 4.

Jose Huerta, a former Westminster College player and manager of Soccer International, is pulling for his adopted team, Spain. Though raised in Mexico — until moving here 11 years ago — Huerta's family has Spanish roots, so he always roots for the Spaniards.

But he even has more incentive this year. He picked Spain to win it all in his soccer store's Euro 2008 bracket.

"I'm surprised that my Spanish boys made it that far," said Huerta, who says the country has a history of underachieving in big tournaments. "I don't think they're going to win, but I would love to be wrong."

Huerta, who will watch the championship with 10 or so friends at his home this afternoon, has enjoyed his sport's recent popularity rise in an area where a different type of football is considered the most beautiful sport.

"Soccer's definitely picking up," he said.

He really noticed that at the Utah Arts Festival this weekend, when he saw people sporting "probably 50 different soccer jerseys" and thought, "Wow, people are definitely getting into the sport." Another sign for him is that kids as young as 11 have filled him in on Euro scores.

"That never would have happened four years ago," Huerta said. "You've definitely seen it grow."

Just ask Ben Vandenhazel, a Holland native and U.S. citizen who founded the Sparta United Soccer Club in Utah 27 years ago when he swears only people with non-American accents played the sport here.

"When I came over here, there wasn't any soccer except for a bunch of foreigners," he said. "We got a bunch of Americans started on it... The word slowly spread around and now it's spread around like crazy."

It does his heart well to know that soccer is now a blossoming youth sport here and that Utahns, including a lot of his club members, intently follow the Europeans' top tournament. Though Vandenhazel would prefer if Holland hadn't been beaten in the quarterfinals by Russia, that won't stop him from watching today.

"The main thing is," he said, "I want to see an exciting game."


E-mail: jody@desnews.com