Children from the McDonald's Player Escort Programme met former English international Owen Hargreaves and his Swedish counterpart Freddie Ljungberg in Kyiv on the morning of the countries' Group D match at the Olympic Stadium.
The event took place at a McDonald's restaurant on Khreshchatyk Street, site of the UEFA EURO 2012 fan zone. As well as famous former footballers one of Ukraine's favourite sporting sons, Serhiy Bubka, was also in attendance. Bubka, the six-time world pole vault champion and 1988 Olympic gold medallist, is Ukraine's Player Escort ambassador.
The McDonald's Player Escort Programme gives children from across Europe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk on to the pitch hand-in-hand with those they look up to. It dates back to the 2002 FIFA World Cup and made its UEFA European Championship debut in Portugal two years later. The initiative has afforded almost 4,000 children the chance to play an important symbolic role at the world's best football tournaments.
Official Player Escorts were selected through a range of activities, including promotions encouraging them to be active in local grassroots schemes, as well as projects that inspired children creatively, such as essay-writing, reporting and video contests. In total, 682 Official Player Escorts from 34 countries are part of proceedings in Poland and Ukraine.
Pierre Woreczek, senior vice president of brand and strategy at McDonald's Europe, said: "It is a fun way to inspire children to get involved in sport and an incredible experience they will never forget." Bubka, who helped with the selection process, added: "Looking at the boys and girls you can see how much happiness and joy is there in their eyes."
After spending time with some of the children, Hargreaves and Ljungberg then went head-to-head on the pitch − just like they did during the 2-2 draw between England and Sweden at the 2002 World Cup – managing two teams of Player Escorts in a friendly and taking part in a penalty shoot-out.
Hargreaves, a UEFA Champions League winner with FC Bayern München and Manchester United FC in 2001 and 2008 respectively, said: "Not many players are lucky enough to go to a European Championship so for these youngsters to come over and take part is something that will stay with them forever. You can see how thrilled they are to be here and it was great to coach them in the match."
Ljungberg, who captained his country in Austria and Switzerland four years ago, explained: "It was really good fun managing the team of youngsters and I wish them lots of luck for the big match tonight."
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