Preparations for UEFA EURO 2012 are on track, with diligent work continuing apace to ensure that the final round in Poland and Ukraine in two summers' time is a memorable event.
The work being undertaken in advance of the tournament was one of the key items on the agenda for the UEFA Executive Committee meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, on Thursday. The 2012 final round will be played at eight venues – Gdansk, Poznan, Warsaw and Wroclaw (Poland), and Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kyiv and Lviv (Ukraine) – between 8 June and 1 July 2012.
"A report was given [to the committee] on EURO 2012," said UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino. "Work is in progress. In Ukraine, two stadiums are basically finished – Kharkiv and Donetsk – Kyiv and Lviv are on track. Airports are being renovated and the first inaugurations are taking place. We are confident that everything will be done in time.
"As far as Poland is concerned," Mr Infantino added, "all stadiums will be finished for June 2011, which gives us one year to test them.
"What we have now started," the UEFA general secretary went on, "is the whole process of practical implementation, including security, transportation concepts, logistics and so on. We are confident, together with the federations and governments in Poland and Ukraine, that everything will be done in time for a great EURO."
Turning to the UEFA Champions League, the group stage is now complete, with 16 teams going through to the round of 16 in the spring and next week's draw in Nyon promising to throw up some intriguing ties.
UEFA president Michel Platini said that changes to the access system, which give clubs from more national associations the chance to reach the group stage, were continuing on a positive path. "FC København, who came through this new system, are the great surprise [this season] – it is the first time that a Danish club is in the last 16. I think that this is positive – [the system] allows for the development of football, and a goal of UEFA is to develop football.
"Sometimes the group stage is finished after the fifth matchday, and some times not. If you have a championship system with six matches, it's always the best teams who emerge. In a knockout tie there can be a surprise, but over six matches the best teams win out in the end. It's not the name of a club which counts – it's the players who are in this club who are important."
In Prague, Mr Platini and his colleagues met and dined with some of the great names of Czech football. In addition to the president of the Football Association of the Czech Republic (ČMFS) and former international Ivan Hašek, other guests included the legendary Josef Masopust and Czech heroes of a more recent vintage such as Karel Poborský, Vladimír Šmicer and Pavel Nedvěd.
The presence of Masopust – 1962 European Footballer of the Year – struck a particular note with the UEFA president. "We passed a really nice football moment together," he reflected. "When you're young, you live in football, through the newspapers, radio and television, you're excited by the game. I was born in 1955 and Masopust reminds me of players such as Ladislav Kubala, Flórián Albert, Lev Yashin – players who I grew up with. Masopust remains a name within the firmament of world football."
The UEFA Executive Committee also approved the agenda for the XXXV Ordinary UEFA Congress in Paris on 22 March next year. The latest annual meeting of Europe's football parliament will see delegates from the 53 UEFA member associations asked to vote on several items. These include the election of the UEFA president, seven Executive Committee members, one FIFA Executive Committee vice-president and one FIFA Executive Committee member.
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