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April 20, 2007

Building 'a new country' for soccer championships

CARDIFF, WALES

European soccer may have just taken its biggest gamble as the 2012 European Championship is going behind the old Iron Curtain to Poland and Ukraine without even one of the 12 proposed venues completed.

“Within five years we will build a new country,” Ukraine soccer federation president Hrihoriy Surkis said Wednesday after the joint bid won the right to host the tournament. “We won’t have a better opportunity to do so.”

The former eastern bloc hasn’t hosted the continental championship since Yugoslavia in 1976. The 12 members of UEFA’s executive committee could have opted for Italy. It would have been a safe choice, given its world-class stadiums and infrastructure.

In the last year, though, Italian soccer has been tainted by a match-fixing scandal and hooliganism. When the 12 members of UEFA’s executive committee voted Wednesday, the Italians collected just four votes. The joint bid from Croatia and Hungary failed to win a single vote and Poland and Ukraine won in the first round of balloting.

It is a major fulfillment of UEFA president Michel Platini’s desire to shift the power in European soccer away from the powerhouse nations.

“They are surely a worthy winner,” Platini said at Cardiff City Hall.

Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kyiv and Lviv in Ukraine, and Gdansk, Krakow, Poznan, Warsaw, Wroclaw and Chorzow in Poland have been lined up as venues for Euro 2012.

The opening match is scheduled to be staged at the new 70,000-capacity National Stadium in Warsaw when construction work is completed in 2009 at a cost of 400 million euros (C$613 million). The final will be held at Kiev’s redeveloped Olympic Stadium.

The bid by Poland and Ukraine had to overcome some problems.

Poland’s national soccer team just avoided suspension after FIFA said the federation had done little to stop corruption, and a match-fixing scandal in the domestic leagues that led to about 70 people being arrested. Yushchenko swept to power in a 2005 revolution that was also considered a possible negative factor.

Neither country has hosted a major sporting event and concerns still remain about the shortage of high-quality hotels and poor transport infrastructure in both Poland and Ukraine.

The proposed semifinal venues are in Donetsk, Kiev and Warsaw, and fans may have to travel 30 hours by train to attend both games, although there are plans to expand the highway linking the nations.

Italy, which has hosted two European Championships and two World Cups, also had its campaign tainted by a series of off-field problems.

A match-fixing scandal in Italy last year was followed by the death of policeman when soccer fans rioted in Catania. Earlier this month, accusations of brutality were leveled at Rome police after clashes with Manchester United fans at a Champions League match against AS Roma.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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