Poland's Euro 2012 football drive right on track

30 November 2011 04:16

While the clock ticks down to the Euro 2012 draw in Ukraine, organisers in fellow host country Poland say they are ready for anything as they wait to learn which qualified nations will play where.

"We're really coming down to the very practical moment," said Marcin Herra, boss of PL.2012, the body supervising 300 interlinked projects for the European Championships, from stadiums to hotels and road and rail networks to airports.

Friday's draw in the Ukrainian capital Kiev will end months of speculation over who among the 16 qualified teams will play in which of eight cities.

The hosts will be watching like hawks -- and not only to see who their on-pitch adversaries are, because match location is a top issue at the quadrennial showcase.

Fan-magnets England, Ireland, Sweden, Germany and Holland all qualified. A team's support level impacts accommodation, transport and security.

Besides Warsaw, Poland's venues are Gdansk on the Baltic, Poznan in the west, and Wroclaw in the southwest.

"I can't wait until Friday, when all the question marks will be answered," said Rafal Kapler, head of Warsaw's National Stadium, due to open next month.

Poland know they kick off Euro 2012 in the capital on June 8, play their second match there on June 12, and wrap up Group A on June 16 in Wroclaw.

Ukraine will play on home turf in Group D.

The other given is that top seeds Holland and reigning champions Spain will play either in Group C in Gdansk or Group B in Ukraine.

"We're working on the scenario that if we have Holland in Gdansk -- and there's a 50 percent chance -- then we'll have more supporters coming by car, bus and train," said Herra.

"But if we have the second option, Spain, then we'll have the demand on the air side."

Planning has intensified for months.

"Three or four years ago we were talking about six months or a quarter. Now we're moving to operational readiness, talking about hours or minutes."

European football's governing body UEFA caught pundits out in 2007 by picking Poland and Ukraine over hosting favourites Italy and joint bidders Hungary and Croatia.

It marks the first edition behind the former Iron Curtain.

The communist era ended two decades ago, but Poland and to a greater extent Ukraine faced challenges beyond those of Western hosts and have been dogged by doubters.

"Criticism is part of the game," said UEFA's Euro watchdog Martin Kallen.

He noted that Euro 2008 hosts Austria and Switzerland, Euro 2004's Portugal, and Germany and South Africa, which staged the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, faced pressure too.

The Polish state of preparation is good, he said.

"It's very close to Portugal in terms of infrastructure and a little bit further behind Switzerland and Austria. But it's not critical."

"The next six months is a full-on operation," he added. "But I think I'm quite calm."

Herra said he relished the chance to show that "impossible is possible".

"Everything is planned. Everything has a timescale. We know the risks and we're managing the risks."

"The stadiums are close to 100 percent ready. The airports, 90 percent. The overall transport infrastructure in the cities is 80-85 percent."

Euro 2012 means more for Poland than hosting an estimated one million fans over a three-week tournament.

Most projects are not directly sport-linked -- under five percent of funds are for stadiums -- and are seen as crucial to the economy.

Poland's Euro 2012-related investment tallies 90 billion zloty (20 billion euros, $26.5 billion).

Ninety percent is state funding, with around half of that in turn from the European Union -- 2004 entrant Poland can tap coffers that help poorer members catch up.

"Euro 2012 is a great occasion. Firstly to improve our infrastructure -- not only stadiums but also roads, railways and hotels. And then to improve our image on the international market," said Katarzyna Sobierajska, deputy sports and tourism minister.

Source: AFP