France already have good memories of Donetsk having won a friendly against Ukraine 4-1 here last summer – and I have a feeling they are going to enjoy their stay again this time around.
I was not quite sure what to expect of Donetsk before I arrived. I knew it was famed for being the country's industrial hub, that it is situated about 700km east of Kyiv, that it hosts one of Europe's finest stadiums as well as an exciting, rapidly growing football club. Beyond that I knew very little. So far, I have to say I have very much liked what I have seen since I flew in on Friday.
Not everyone speaks English, and I don't speak Ukrainian or Russian, so communication has sometimes been tricky. But everyone I have come across has been welcoming and everyone has tried to help. As UEFA EURO 2012 edges closes, the buzz of anticipation on the streets and on the terraces of the many sun-drenched cafes on Puchkin Street in the city centre is becoming increasingly noticeable.
This is not the grey, industrial town some people had told me about. It is green, spacious, young and vibrant. Monday being a public holiday, the town's leafy, tree-lined boulevards have admittedly been quiet, but the calm will not last.
Fans from France, England and around the world will soon be pouring in – and from what I have seen the city is very much ready for them. Yuliya works in the Sun City cafe, where large televisions have been installed all around the expansive garden area. "We expect to be very busy here on match nights," she told me in perfect French. "I have told my staff to get as much rest as possible in the coming days because during the tournament we will work non-stop."
Not many speak French like Yuliya but Laurent Blanc's players should nevertheless feel at home in Donetsk. There are, after all, two French hypermarket chains, plus several Ukranian versions of other French supermarkets dotted around town. Croissants and baguettes should be easy to locate.
Les Bleus will also benefit from the superb training facilities at Shakhtar's training ground – situated about a 25-minute drive from the centrally located Donbass Arena – when they arrive on Wednesday. They may be the only squad who have decided to stay in Donetsk, but my guess is that the French will quickly realise they have made a sound choice.
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