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Poles get up close to Euro trophy
As Euro 2012 looms, Poland fans got a chance on Friday to get up close to the tournament trophy, though few here expect their team to lift it in the final.
Along with tournament co-hosts Poland and Ukraine, European football's governing body UEFA has organised a five-week trophy tour in cities across the two countries.
Bolted to a car roof, the iconic Henri Delaunay trophy started its trip in the Polish capital Warsaw, escorted by two vintage London buses carrying officials and cheerleaders.
Later, it was put on public display to enable fans to have their pictures taken with it.
"The trophy is something special for all the players," said Martin Kallen, UEFA's Euro boss. "This is the point where we give people that opportunity too."
The trophy is named after the French mastermind of the European championships, who died five years before the quadrennial tournament's 1960 debut edition.
It is expected to pull in crowds in Warsaw over the weekend, before being taken to other Polish cities, and will move on to Ukraine in May.
"I hope this will give us a taste of the atmosphere of victory," Warsaw's mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz told reporters.
The 16-nation tournament kicks off in Warsaw on June 8, when Poland face Greece, while the final is in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on July 1.
But while Poland fans dream of glory, they are painfully aware that the golden era is long gone.
"We have to be realistic. Maybe we'll manage to reach the quarter-finals, but there's a big question mark hanging over that," Radoslaw Janiak, 29, told AFP as he took a breather from unloading his truck and watched the trophy procession.
Poland's footballers won Olympic gold in 1972, silver in 1976, and finished third at the World Cup in 1974 and 1982.
But the decades since a second Olympic silver in 1992 have been lean, with solid World Cup qualifying runs turning into lacklustre finals performances in 2002 and 2006, just like their European championships debut in 2008.
Former France midfielder Christian Karembeu, who lifted the trophy with 'Les Bleus' at Euro 2000, was in Warsaw as a tournament ambassador.
Clearly aware of his guest status, he said Poland shouldn't be written off.
"You're going to be playing at home, so you have that advantage against the others. You have had great talent, with great performances. I hope the new generation is going to try to make the same steps."
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