Polish national stadium rocks on its inauguration
Poland cleared a crucial hurdle Sunday in its closely-watched preparations for Euro 2012, as thousands braved bone-chilling temperatures at the rock'n'roll inauguration of its new national stadium.
"This is the cherry on the cake," Mikolaj Piotrowski, spokesman of Poland's tournament organisers PL.2012, told AFP. "Come June 2012, we'll share our cake with Europe."
Huge crowds flocked for a chance to look around the brand-new stadium and get warm by dancing to the sounds of A-list Polish groups including Zakopower and T.Love, before a fireworks show.
On June 8, the 58,000-capacity ground will host the opening ceremony of Euro 2012, as well as the tournament's first match, pitting hosts Poland against Greece.
Built at a cost of 1.9 billion zloty (450 million euros, $593 million), the basket-shaped stadium in the Polish national colours of white and red is one of eight Euro 2012 venues, with four each in Poland and fellow host country Ukraine.
Euro 2012 marks the first-ever time the quadrennial football championships will have taken place behind the former Iron Curtain, in a region where the infrastructure challenges outweigh anything in previous Western European host nations.
Poland and Ukraine are anxious to prove their organisational mettle, having been plagued by doubters ever since European football's governing body UEFA picked them as hosts in April 2007, ahead of much-fancied Italy.
Poland's other stadia are in the Baltic port of Gdansk, the western city of Poznan, and Wroclaw in the southwest, opened in 2010 and 2011.
Ukraine's quartet are in Kiev, plus Lviv, Donetsk and Kharkiv.
The Warsaw inauguration was due last July, but was put off after construction headaches, and organisers faced last-minute nerves as safety officials only gave a green light on Friday.
The stadium sits on the right bank of the River Vistula which cuts through the centre of the Polish capital, and lies opposite the historical Old Town which like most of the city was razed by Nazi Germany during World War II.
It lies on the site of stadium which was constructed by Poland's post-war communist regime by piling up war rubble and carving out a bowl.
After the regime fell in 1989, the stadium became a symbol of the cowboy capitalism of the post-communist years, hosting a huge open-air bazaar which was closed in September 2007.
Work remains to be done on the new stadium, with the turf yet to be laid.
The first football match - the Polish SuperCup between Legia Warsaw and Wisla Krakow - is scheduled for February 11, provided the pitch passes muster and the police approve security measures.
Poland are scheduled to play their first match there on February 29, a friendly against fellow Euro 2012 qualifiers Portugal.
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