As the clock ticks down to Euro 2012, the buzz is building in host nations Poland and Ukraine, though a section of the population of both countries seems immune to soccer frenzy.
Opinion is split between those relishing the party mood that surrounds sporting showcases such as the European championships and those far from enthused.
The 16-nation tournament kicks off in Warsaw on Friday next week and ends with the final in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on July 1.
“It’s going to be crazy and loud,” said student Monika Kowalska, 19, sitting in the sun at the foot of Warsaw’s city center Palace of Culture.
The lofty, Stalinist-kitsch “gift” from the Soviets, now a landmark, is to be the hub of a fanzone for 100,000 people, the largest in Poland or Ukraine.
“The atmosphere’s going to be great the whole time, even if Poland get knocked out early,” said Kowalska’s boyfriend, Rafal Szmit, also 19.
Over the nearby River Vistula lies Warsaw’s brand new National Stadium, venue for the first match of Euro 2012, Poland against Euro 2004 champions Greece.
To stoke the atmosphere, Warsaw’s refurbished railway station has been decked out with flag-painted faces of fans of the Euro 2012 teams, while a salon nearby is offering to dye hair and paint nails in their colors.
Slowly but surely, the Euro 2012 logo and spiky-haired mascots Slavek and Slavko are invading shop windows and shelves, on anything from chocolate to sportswear.
Slavek in Poland’s white and red, and Slavko in Ukraine’s yellow and blue, line the lampposts of Warsaw’s main Nowy Swiat street.
In 2007, Ukraine and neighboring Poland were surprise winners of the race to host the quadrennial championship, beating favorites Italy.
It marks the first time European soccer’s governing body UEFA has opted to hold the top tournament behind the former Iron Curtain, meaning it is a crucial showcase of the hosts.
The infrastructure challenges have been massive, with the Polish and Ukrainian states funding the bulk, albeit mostly for much-needed transport projects.
The host cities have been vast building sites, leading to grumbling from some residents, who also feel soccer is taking over.
“It’s going to be great for restaurateurs and hotels, but for ordinary people, much of a muchness,” retired engineer Darek Sikora, 73, said in a Warsaw park. “It’s going to be an inconvenience. Getting around won’t be easy.”
Surveys in both countries show the public is far from gung-ho.
A study in Poland showed that 44 percent were happy to host Euro 2012, 6 percent were unhappy and 49 percent were indifferent.
A similar poll in Ukraine found 50 percent support, while 32 percent were critical.
“I’m indifferent to football and I don’t see that the tournament gives our city anything,” teacher Maria Stefanovych, 39, said in Lviv, western Ukraine. “The only thing is that some roads were repaired, but it had to be done without this Euro 2012. We live in the center, where the fanzone is set up, so I don’t want to listen to the thousands of drunkards screaming. Perhaps some businessmen will earn something, but ordinary people won’t get anything.”
By contrast, journalist Oleksandr Peremot, 23, in Donestk in eastern Ukraine, was upbeat.
“It’s a great event, which will have a positive impact on Ukraine’s relations with European countries,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for ordinary Ukrainians to communicate with foreign supporters who will come to Ukraine, as not many ordinary inhabitants of Donetsk can afford to travel abroad.”