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Gavin HamiltonA sea of yellow in Kiev’s Olympic stadium provided the backdrop for Ukraine’s opening match against Sweden and reminded everyone here in Poland that they are watching a completely different tournament. 

The size of the two countries (it’s 2000km between Gdansk and Donetsk), combined with a lack of regular flights, makes travel between the two countries on successive days impossible for all but those with access to private jets. Only oligarchs and UEFA’s top brass – strange bedfellows for this tournament – can realistically attend live games on successive days through the group stages.

Everyone else has to settle for watching games in one or other of the two countries. Humble hacks in hire cars, as I noted on Saturday, are forbidden from driving into Ukraine from Poland. A remarkable state of affairs, but another example of how UEFA has turned a blind eye to Ukraine’s limitations as a host nation.

Co-hosting, by its very nature, is a political compromise. And compromise, inevitably, dilutes the essence of a tournament.

The situation is set to get worse in the future, with the European Championship expanding to 24 teams from 2016, although France are one of the few members of UEFA who can cope with hosting an expanded finals. For 2020, UEFA has done nothing to discourage a “Celtic” bid from Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland – as a rival bid to early frontrunners Turkey.

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Spain’s 4-6-0 formation against Italy sparked a great deal of discussion but it was not a new idea from coach Vicente Del Bosque.

Scotland manager Craig Levein will no doubt reflect on the criticism he faced when Scotland lost to the Czech Republic in Prague in a Euro 2012 qualifier last year. The Scots lined up without a striker in an ultra-cautious formation that bore little resemblance to the football played by Spain.

Actually, Roma under Luciano Spalletti were the first the play such a system, as far back as 2009. Francesco Totti played as the withdrawn striker, the so-called false number nine role that Cesc Fabregas played yesterday.

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I flew out of Gdansk airport this morning, from a swanky new terminal building that was officially opened in April, a matter of weeks before Euro 2012 kicked off.

When I visited Gdansk this time last year, the local media expressed serious reservations about whether the new terminal and surrounding roads would be completed in time. But a mixture of government and European cash, combined with Polish sweat, ensured everything was all right on the night. Italian and Spanish fans started heading to the airport straight after the match, with charter flights leaving through the night.

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Ukraine’s opening match against Sweden took place against a backdrop of political tension in the host country, with the British government the latest to say they will not be sending representatives to matches.

Swedish TV reporter Johanna Franden staged her own protest against the Ukrainian government by appearing on screen with her hair in the style of jailed opposition leader Yulia Timoshenko. 

 

 

 

 

  • TorontoMike

    Just one comment – the correct spelling of Ukraine’s capital is Kyiv not “Kiev”. Otherwise nice work on the article.