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Anticipation levels are rising as the qualifying draw for UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine approaches with tournament ambassador Zbigniew Boniek stating that this is the "real beginning of the EURO".
Boniek made 80 appearances for Poland during a glittering international career, but despite appearing at three FIFA World Cups he never took part in a UEFA European Championship final tournament. With the qualifying draw for the 2012 edition set to take place at the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw at 12.00CET on Sunday, he is looking forward to experiencing the competition at close hand on home soil.
"In my opinion this is the real beginning of the EURO," Boniek told UEFA.com. "The draw is exciting for people all over Europe as they discover who is playing who, which teams are favourites and so on. It is also a fantastic opportunity for Poland. We are a great country and the draw and then the EURO itself gives us a chance to show that to the world. I am convinced that everyone who came to Warsaw for the draw will leave the country happier than they expected.
"Until now Poland and co-hosts Ukraine have mainly been focused on off-field jobs, such as building the stadiums and highways and getting the infrastructure ready. The draw marks the start of the sporting part of this huge event. Knowing the groups and who will play who makes the EURO more real. The fans can start to speculate about qualifying and who will reach the final tournament. The draw means: 'Here we go.' The EURO is close."
Boniek is a tournament ambassador for Poland alongside compatriot Andrzej Szarmach, while Oleg Blokhin and Andriy Shevchenko are ambassadors for Ukraine. All four will be helping UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino conduct Sunday's draw and, though Poland and Ukraine will not be directly involved – as co-hosts they qualify automatically – former FC Dynamo Kyiv great Blokhin said "pressure is rising".
"For us and for Poland this draw is not necessarily the most significant moment, but I'm sure the pressure is rising for all the teams," Blokhin told UEFA.com. "Personally I will be excited too, because the draw can be favorable for one and cruel to others and much here depends on me at the ceremony. The more time passes, the more you feel the tension rising and during the draw it will be at its peak."
Blokhin is not the only one to confess to a little pre-draw nerves as the big event approaches. "When you're driving to the draw and when it starts I think there will be a certain nervousness," Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld told UEFA.com. "That is also enjoyable. The tension rises and you hope you get a group which is not too difficult. That's why I'm looking forward to the draw."
Denmark coach Morten Olsen, meanwhile, was in confident mood. "I'm feeling good," he told UEFA.com. "There are so many good teams so I say: bring them on." He did, however, see one big obstacle on the horizon. "Spain are maybe the best team in the world. I don't know if we will get Spain, but for the rest they are all good teams."
Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz told UEFA.com: "What we feel is pride and great honour to be here at this draw and we feel that because we will be participating at another European Championship. We're calm, with a lot of serenity, accepting the destiny of the draw, but above all, with that feeling of pride and honour at Portuguese football being important in European competitions."
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