Thu, Apr 19, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Poland, Ukraine selected to host soccer's Euro 2012

AFP , CARDIFF

Gregory Surkis, left, president of the Ukrainian Football Federation, and Michael Listkiewicz of the Polish Football Association celebrate after they were chosen to co-host the 2012 European Championships at a ceremony in Cardiff, Wales, yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Poland and Ukraine were chosen in a shock vote by European soccer's governing body UEFA yesterday to jointly host the Euro 2012 championships.

They won the fight to host the quadrennial tournament involving the continent's top nations ahead of Italy and another joint bid from Hungary/Croatia.

It will be the first time that either Poland or Ukraine have hosted a major soccer championship and will be seen as major boost to the sport in eastern Europe in the face of decades of domination from wealthy Western countries.

Next year's Euro 2008 finals will be jointly held by Austria and Switzerland.

The decision, announced by new UEFA president Michel Platini, was a huge shock as world champions Italy had been hot favorites, while the Polish/Ukraine bid was seen as the rank outsider.

The Italians had been calling for a fresh start following concerns over the match-fixing scandal that rocked their domestic soccer last year and the crowd violence that halted all play earlier this year.

They boasted the best existing infrastructure and the experience of hosting two previous European championships in 1968 and 1980, the 1990 World Cup finals and last year's Winter Olympics in Turin.

The quadrennial tournament was jointly hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands in 2000 and will be shared between Austria and Switzerland next year, but organizational problems were raised in the cases of Poland/Ukraine and Hungary/Croatia.

But UEFA officials pushed these concerns aside and instead grabbed the chance to award the finals to former Eastern Bloc countries for the first time since Yugoslavia hosted the 1976 finals.

Much had been made about the long distances involved for teams if UEFA awarded the finals to Poland and Ukraine, the poor state of the roads linking the two countries and the lack of proper stadiums.

But the joint bid had enthusiastic backing from the Polish government and such as former leader Lech Walesa who called on UEFA to grab the opportunity to spread its boundaries and recognize the politial and social changes that have swept across eastern Europe in the last 15 years.

The winning bid featured eight venues for the finals in seven years time, four in Poland and four in Ukraine.

The UEFA decision brought immediate praise from Ukraine's top soccer official Grigory Surkis.

"We are grateful to all of the UEFA executive council members for their decision to accord us the right to host the championship," Surkis told Ukrainian television.

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