The European football family and its guests gathered together at Warsaw's Royal Castle on Thursday night to herald the much-anticipated start of UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, with all eyes turning eagerly towards what everyone hopes will be a celebration of football's beauty and values in the weeks to come.
Speaking to government ministers, representatives of the eight host cities, members of European national football associations, and sporting and business guests from throughout Europe and beyond, UEFA President Michel Platini encapsulated the anticipation that is now at fever pitch for the tournament.
"We are finally there! The people of Poland and Ukraine have been waiting for more than five years for this moment," said Mr Platini. "This magic moment is at our fingertips.
"In less than 24 hours, the EURO will kick off and the whole of Europe will finally be able to breathe football, be stirred by football and live football non-stop for more than three weeks," he added. "This kick-off will be like a liberation for all of us, as well as for the players, who are only waiting for one thing – to be on the pitch and show that they can go down in history.
"The three weeks which lie ahead must be an immense festival, a popular celebration of the most beautiful sport in the world, because football is just one thing – happiness in its purest form.
"Above all there will be emotions – joy, tears, and exchanges between supporters," the UEFA President continued. "Passionate fans from throughout Europe – or even further away – who will return home with their heads full of images after having lived through a unique experience."
Mr Platini thanked the governments of Poland and Ukraine, as well as the presidents of the two national associations, Grzegorz Lato (Poland) and Gregoriy Surkis (Ukraine), for the work undertaken since they were awarded UEFA EURO 2012 in 2007. "It is a unique and exceptional opportunity for your countries," he said. "This is an opportunity to be seized. It is an historic opening. Anyone who has not understood this is mistaken, and you are going to show them just how."
The UEFA President welcomed the presidents of the 16 participating associations on stage, and presented them with a symbolic gift – a hand-crafted silver football boot. "Good luck to you all," he said. "I hope all your players will behave in an exemplary manner on the pitch, and hope especially that they will succeed in making us dream during this EURO."
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