From playing with Steven Gerrard in a UEFA Champions League-winning Liverpool FC side to helping lead Poland out of the international wilderness and to the FIFA World Cup, Jerzy Dudek has a store of precious memories from his football career. Yet it is the future, not the past, that excited the Real Madrid CF goalkeeper when he met UEFA.com to look forward to UEFA EURO 2012 which begins in less than 500 days' time.
Dudek, now understudying Iker Casillas at the Santiago Bernabéu, earned 59 caps for his country and is thrilled at the prospect of Poland – co-hosts along with Ukraine – staging such a major event for the first time. "It's a great opportunity for the Polish nation to have a big tournament like this," Dudek told UEFA.com. "Everyone is happy, ready and working really hard to prepare a top-class event. Because we know the question everybody is asking, me included – what is it going to be like?"
Poland will host matches in four cities – Gdansk, Poznan, Warsaw and Wroclaw – and Dudek believes this will allow visitors to "see the best" his country has to offer. "There will be a lot of things to see besides football.
If you go to Gdansk, to Poznan, to Wroclaw or Warsaw, you will see the best of the best in Poland. But you can easily go further, leave the big cities and go to the small towns," explained the 37-year-old, citing the historic city of Krakow and the lake region of Mazury as two other places worth featuring on any tourist agenda.
Of course, the principal sights most visitors to UEFA EURO 2012 will want to see will be on the football pitch and Dudek hopes Poland can put on a good show there too. "We've got a few young players and I hope they will find confidence to perform well," he said.
Having the confidence to perform under pressure is something Dudek knows plenty about. He famously helped Liverpool FC win the 2005 UEFA Champions League final against AC Milan by reprising Bruce Grobbelaar's celebrated 'spaghetti legs' routine from the 1984 final and making two saves in the penalty shoot-out. His favourite ever save – "the most beautiful and the most important as well" – came earlier in that match, in extra time, when he produced an astonishing double stop to deny Andriy Shevchenko what appeared a certain goal.
If that was the high point in club football for Dudek, his "most memorable" game for Poland's national team came in September 2001 with the 3-0 win against Norway that earned qualification for the following year's World Cup – ending their 16-year exile from final tournaments. Playing for your country, according to the one-time KS Sokół Pniewy and Feyenoord man, brings a unique pressure.
"My old coach would say, when he wanted to motivate us: 'When you play for your club you might have 100,000 supporters or maybe even 200-300,000, but when you play for your national team you get the support of millions and millions of fans.' For example in Poland, that's almost 40 million supporters; 40 million people. That's the big difference."
Dudek is one of the millions wondering just what kind of spectacle their country will be ready to deliver – on and off the field – next summer.
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