"Make us dream" is the message from UEFA President Michel Platini and millions of football fans across the globe to the players of 16 expectant teams as the start of UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine draws ever closer.
Two days before European national-team football's blue-riband competition kicks off, the UEFA President spoke of his excitement at the footballing feast that lies ahead – and thanked the co-hosts for their outstanding efforts in bringing five years of preparations to fruition.
"We are ready," said Mr Platini in Warsaw on Wednesday. "It has been a long, hard challenge, but I hope that it will be a great party. I am happy to be here. It was long ago now – in April 2007 – that Poland and Ukraine were awarded the right to stage this EURO. Since then, a lot of things have been said and done.
"Poland and Ukraine have worked with considerable passion since 2007," he added. "It is a great challenge for both countries, and for UEFA. In all modesty, I think that this challenge is being met. I am very happy – a few days ahead of EURO, the two countries made enormous efforts and a great amount of work to enable [the competition] to succeed.
"We have done many things to ensure that this will be a great football festival, and I would like to thank the governments of Poland and Ukraine, and the UEFA administration for the fact that we will be able to enjoy three weeks of euphoria. From Friday, the journalists will talk about players and coaches – finally we will be talking about football."
Mr Platini emphasised that the unstinting work carried out in Poland and Ukraine to create the infrastructure for UEFA EURO 2012 will leave a considerable legacy for the two countries when the tournament ends, with the winners being crowned in Kyiv on 1 July.
"We are leaving a very important legacy for Poland and Ukraine in terms of how they will live, thanks to the EURO," the UEFA President explained. "When countries organise a EURO, or a World Cup, or an Olympic Games, it makes life easier for the people, and a lot of things remain afterwards. What will also remain – which is also important – is the memory of the matches, the players, the incidents and the emotions.
"It has been an immense project – neither country has ever organised a major tournament like this. I am very satisfied to see where we are today. The two countries have worked with all their hearts and I would like to congratulate them and thank them on behalf of football. We are in the final metres of this long race, and now it is a question of putting in the final nails."
As for the identity of the eventual European champions, Mr Platini said that he did not have a crystal ball in front of him. "All I know is that eight teams will go on to the quarter-finals, then four, and then two, and then I will give the trophy to the winners," he reflected. "It will be a very open competition. There will be a lot of surprises. Who would have bet on Denmark winning in 1992, or Greece in 2004? As always, football is irrational – and that makes its beauty."
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