UEFA President Michel Platini has praised Poland and Ukraine for the work being undertaken to make UEFA EURO 2012 a memorable tournament – and is eagerly anticipating next summer's final round together with the entire European football family.
Speaking at the official dinner to herald Friday's finals draw in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Mr Platini spoke of the qualities that European football displays – and congratulated the Football Federation of Ukraine (FFU) on its 20th anniversary this year.
"I am confident that EURO 2012 will be a spectacular and wide open tournament," said the UEFA President. "Both Poland and Ukraine have made outstanding efforts in order to be ready at kick-off time. They deserve our congratulations.
"It gives me great joy to welcome here the 53 national associations that competed to qualify for the final tournament," he added. "New stars are rising in the sky of European football. Competitive balance is a reality in European national team football and this is positive for the game."
Mr Platini reflected on the excitement ahead of the draw at the Palace of Arts. "I can already see on your faces that the tension is building up," he said. "The different baskets are well balanced, danger lurks everywhere. All the top teams, the tournament favourites are there. This is a rare phenomenon for a final tournament. Usually you have a couple of so-called heavyweights falling by the wayside in the qualifiers."
Of the FFU, which was founded in 1991 and joined UEFA in 1992, the UEFA President added: "Twenty years old – or should I say 20 years young! And yet the Football Federation of Ukraine has already left a strong historical trace in the firmament of world football."
Mr Platini recalled that, in addition to co-hosting UEFA EURO 2012, Ukraine had reached the 2006 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals. "Ukraine has already built up a legacy that many older federations would dream of," he said. "[FFU president and UEFA Executive Committee member] Grigoriy Surkis has accomplished a lot for this country's football, and the success of the national association has paved the way for the blossoming of Ukraine's image in the world at large."
Mr Platini remembered how Ukraine first made the football headlines in the 1970s and 1980s with an outstanding run of performances by Valeriy Lobanovskiy's FC Dynamo Kyiv, who lifted the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1986.
"Today, [FC] Shakhtar Donetsk, [FC Dnipro] Dnipropetrovsk and [FC] Metalist Kharkiv have become household names for all football fans in Europe. At the same time, the aura of Blokhin, Belanov, Zavarov, Mykhaylychenko and Shevchenko still brightly shines over the horizon of this country's football.
"There is no doubt, " the UEFA President concluded, "that the upcoming EURO will be a tremendous boost for this country's reputation and perhaps the beginning of a trend that will bring millions of visitors to a land with a proud and rich heritage. When you celebrate a 20-year-old's birthday, you usually talk about the future, but the future of Ukraine has deep roots in a glorious past that will make it strong, prosperous and joyful."
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