The UEFA EURO 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine may be just a distant speck on the horizon for many football fans but for Polish Football Federation (PZPN) president Grzegorz Lato, they have already begun creating a significant legacy.
Lato, a former Polish international, believes the projects undertaken to prepare his country to co-host the first major football tournament in eastern Europe have "accelerated the development of Poland" and will provide long-term benefits.
Speaking to UEFA.com, Lato, who took the reins of the PZPN in 2008, said: "Personally I'm very happy that this event will take place on Polish and Ukrainian soil. I won't hide that it's a great thing for my people. I hope it will be a great success. I have to say that because of the preparations for EURO 2012, the world crisis is less visible here, because there's a lot of work to do, and that's pushing our country in the right direction.
"New highways are being built, for which we would otherwise have had to wait. New airports and train stations are being erected, as well as wonderful sport facilities and stadiums which Poland hasn't had before."
Four Polish cities will host matches in the competition – Gdansk, Poznan, Warsaw and Wroclaw – and each will be left with a modern stadium together with improved transport infrastructure. "I acknowledge that EURO 2012 has accelerated the development of Poland, my homeland, in the right direction," Lato added. "Not to mention that excellent, well-equipped training facilities will remain in place, with great training pitches. So there will be a lot in place after the tournament and Poland will benefit greatly."
Lato represented Poland at three FIFA World Cups, helping his country to third place at the tournaments in 1974 – where his seven goals won him the Golden Shoe – and 1982. Poland have less history on the European stage, having qualified for their first finals only in 2008, when they were eliminated in the first round.
Lato hopes the Polish team, who missed out on the 2010 World Cup, will fare better on home soil in 2012. "A minimum expectation would be qualifying from the group stage – and after that, aiming for the trophy. That also depends on who the opposition are," he said.
"I think we can build up a good team and compete. We have a tradition in the World Cup. I've been to three World Cups, and got good results – I've been third twice – so there are great hopes and expectations among our people. Furthermore, we expect a lot of fans, not only from Europe, but from all over the world, and I hope that they'll see another side of Poland, as a country which is worth visiting, not only during the EURO, but also afterwards."
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