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Countdown To Euro 2012 Begins As Ukraine, Poland Prepare To Play Host

Poland's new National Stadium in Warsaw was built especially for the tournament and is the site of the June 8 opener. The official in charge of its construction was fired after it was found to be six months behind schedule and lacking adequate security.
Football fans will get their first taste of Euro 2012 excitement as 20 teams slated to appear in the European Football Championship this summer square off on February 29 in a series of friendly matches.

Two of the teams participating in the matches include the tournament's first-time hosts, Ukraine, with a match against Israel, and Poland, which will compete against Portugal.

In the case of both host countries, there is perhaps as much anticipation about the state of their facilities as the quality of their teams.

With 100 days left until the tournament's June 8 opening match in Warsaw between Poland and Greece, UEFA officials are still expressing worry that the hosts have not done enough to address issues like inflated prices and poor service.

In a televised news conference in Kyiv on February 17, the operations director for Euro 2012, Martin Kallen, said preparations for the tournament by both host nations were "under control."

But he warned Ukraine was putting its historic opportunity at risk by failing to provide affordable options for the hundreds of thousands of fans expected to pour into the country during the nearly monthlong tournament.

Paying The Price

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnikov, who as minister of infrastructure is heading the country's preparations for Euro 2012, has trumpeted the country's building and modernization of four stadiums and four airports, as well as improvements to the nation's road system.
The Arena Lviv stadium in Lviv, Ukraine, one of the Euro 2012 venues.
The Arena Lviv stadium in Lviv, Ukraine, one of the Euro 2012 venues.
But Kolesnikov has acknowledged that not all visitors may appreciate the prices in Ukraine, where a room in a two-star hotel in Donetsk can cost $278 a night and a round-trip plane ticket between London and Lviv can go for as much as $830.

"Prices are definitely a problem," he said. "But we warned our hotels that Europe isn't so big and that there are lots of affordable travel companies these days. From May 15-July 15, we will have an 'open sky' program [easing access to airspace] for any airline that has the proper licensing. In addition, we're wrapping up talks with one of the low-cost airlines, and I think that we'll succeed in getting some cheap flights already at the start of the championship. So expensive hotels may find themselves half empty."

EU member Poland is likely to prove the more alluring of the two host countries in terms of creature comforts.

England's team has already sparked controversy with its decision to make its base in the picturesque Polish city of Krakow, despite the fact that all three of its group games will be played in Ukraine.

State Of The Stadium

But in terms of tournament infrastructure, Poland remains a worry.

Officials there say work is under way to ensure better facilitation of passport and customs procedures on the border with Ukraine.

And perhaps the greatest source of concern is the state of Warsaw's National Stadium, built especially for Euro 2012 and the site of the June 8 opener.

The stadium hosts its first-ever match on February 29, with 55,000 people expected to attend the friendly between Poland and Portugal.

A Polish Super Cup match at the stadium was canceled in early February and the official in charge of its construction fired after the stadium was found to be six months behind schedule and lacking in basic communication systems.

Marta Marek, a sports journalist with the Polish news agency PAP, says enough progress has been made to allow for the high-profile match. But with the 100-day countdown under way, she acknowledges that organizers can't relax just yet.

"Actually, they are still working on this. It has improved, because the police gave the safety permit so they can organize the match with Portugal today (February 29)," Marek said. "But there are still some things to be done and they will be done before the end of April. Something still has to be done about this communication system at the National Stadium.

"Of course, there are some skeptics. Some people say that it may not be as good as they say. But [officials] are rather calm about it. They think everything will go OK."

Natalka Kovalenko contributed to this report from Kyiv