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UEFA EURO 2012 burst into bloom in advance of the opening game, with a spectacular ceremony symbolising unity, rivalry and passion, as well as showcasing the tournament's elegant floral motifs.
With 20 minutes to go before kick-off between Poland and Greece, here was a grand statement of national-team football's great virtues; the ability to inspire the young, to bring people of all nations together, and in the best possible way, its ability to startle and confound. UEFA President Michel Platini asked the players at the tournament to "make us dream", and here was something straight from wonderland.
The opening ceremony kicked off with the ringing of six giant bells lowered from the stadium roof, then a throng of dancers decked out in national colours took to the field before two children – dressed as flesh-and-blood incarnations of tournament mascots Slavek and Slavko – came on. Their arrival prompted another transformation: the dancers whirled across the turf, with the half-ball in the centre circle cracking open to reveal Hungarian concert pianist Ádám György, who treated the stadium to a burst of Chopin's Étude in A minor (Op.25 Nr.11).
With a flood of musical notes being carried out on to the pitch, the scene took a marked leap from the 19th century to the 21st, with DJ Karmatronic planting his decks on György's grand piano. The eight half-footballs that had been carried on to the pitch burst open to reveal replicas of the eight UEFA EURO 2012 stadiums, and the pianist then gave a demonstration of his not-insubstantial freestyling skills.
Fans lifted cards around the stadium, producing massive flags of all the competing nations, flipping them over to reveal the key UEFA principle 'Respect' at both ends of the stadium. The unique wycianka design that defines the look of UEFA EURO 2012 crept on to the field, with green tendrils linking the stadia together, as the grand tableau of the tournament logo gradually came together, with an inflatable replica of the bloom design rising from György's piano.
With a multi-national team of 1,000 dancers under the control of creative director and executive producer Marco Balich, the ceremony demanded 1,200 costumes, 250 hours of rehearsals, 2,400 litres of water and 22,000 snacks. A phenomenal effort in every respect.
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