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Page last updated at 19:46 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 20:46 UK

Ukraine face finals struggle

Jonathan Pearce
By Jonathan Pearce
BBC football commentator

South Africa has 239 days to finalise its preparations for World Cup 2010. Despite gloomy predictions by those who expect mayhem, the actual signs are good.

Flares were thrown on to the pitch during England's match against Ukraine in Dnipropetrovsk
England's defeat by Ukraine was marred by flares thrown on to the pitch

Ukraine has two-and-a-half years to finalise its work for Euro 2012. Despite the lofty predictions by Uefa that the Championships can "act as a vehicle to transform a country", the signs are depressing.

Over lunch this week Gary Mabbutt, the former England and Tottenham defender, who is now working hard on England's 2018 World Cup bid having played a major role in securing the finals for South Africa, reaffirmed his belief that 2010 will be a carnival of football.

My old school pal, who is married to a South African and counts 2010 World Cup chief executive Danny Jordaan among his close friends, is realistic enough to worry about the negative coverage that has blighted the build-up to next summer.

Reports concentrate on the high crime. In 2007/08 the murder rate was 38.6 per 100,000. Few people mention the 40% drop in that rate since 1995.

Much was made of the Egyptian team being robbed at this summer's Confederations Cup. Few words were written about the sheer joy on the faces of hundreds of thousands of fans who watched inside trouble-free stadia.

While every minor incident will be blown up next summer, 1.3bn rand has been invested in security with an additional 41,000 police and 45,000 stewards.

A total of 11bn rand has been spent on new transport links. Five brand new stadia have been built. They are breathtaking.

It won't be a clinically efficient German-style World Cup. It may have the often infuriating but also charming and innocent sense of chaos that comes with "the rainbow nation", but it will be passionately supported by a whole country that will be united for the month. That is the key to its success.

Flares disrupt England defeat in Ukraine

Flares disrupt England defeat in Ukraine

In a survey carried out for Fifa this summer, 94% of South Africans said they're proud to be the hosts while 83% feel their country will be ready.

Only 56% of Ukrainians believe their country will be able to organise Euro 2012 properly according to another research agency. That shows a country deeply divided over the issue. It doesn't bode well.

In 1988 in Germany there were differing views on how to police the Euros. Violence reigned.

In Italy's 1990 World Cup again blood was spilt. Security efficiency varied from venue to venue and co-ordination had been a problem. At Euro 2000 the Dutch police handled fans superbly but the Belgian force was heavy-handed and the tournament failed as a result.

Euro 2012 must be a concerted effort. Governments, security agencies, fans and Uefa must have one common goal - a successful and peaceful tournament.

Precedents have been set. A total of 1.14m tickets were sold for the football in Austria and Switzerland last year while 4.2m people visited the Fan Zones and 150m watched Euro 2008 on TV. Uefa has a duty to all of them to repeat that success in three years.

Given the security issues that arose on England's trip to Dnipropetrovsk, there have to be major doubts that the Ukraine government can help its Football Association satisfy the demands placed on host nations by Uefa.

In April 2007 when Poland and Ukraine were announced as joint hosts amidst roaring celebrations in Cardiff, Uefa hoped that the decision would aid the development of football infrastructure in central and eastern Europe where it isn't as developed as in the west but where the passion for the game is equally strong.

The hosts had to agree to work on "three thorough action plans" in the areas of:

1 - Stadia

2 - General Infrastructure (airports, accommodation and ground transport)

3 - Telecommunications

Poland is succeeding. In May, Uefa confirmed that Warsaw's 55,000-capacity National Stadium, Poznan's 46,000-capacity Municipal Stadium, Wroclaw's 44,000-capacity Maslice and the Gdansk Baltic Arena, which holds 47,000 fans, would host half the games.

But they could get more. Although Uefa president Michel Platini told reporters last month that, 'Ukraine has made sudden progress in their efforts to stage the tournament', he still has the same concerns that were expressed in the 2007/08 report of the Uefa President and Executive Committee which warned that "the political instability in these countries and the delays in work being carried out mean that the preparations require constant scrutiny".

There would have been astonishment at Uefa level that Fifa allowed England's qualifier to be held in Dnipropetrovsk.

FOOTBALL BLOG
BBC Sport's Phil McNulty

In May that city and Odessa were dropped as possible Euro 2012 venues because of "shortcomings with regard to the stadiums, airport, infrastructure, regional transport and accommodation".

At the same time Donetsk, Lviv and Kharkiv were given a final 30 November deadline to meet the standards required and Kiev was told it would lose the final itself if it didn't come up to scratch by the end of next month.

There were reports of thousands of Ukrainian fans being drunk inside the stadium last weekend. The whole world saw potentially lethal flares raining down on the pitch. That is wholly unacceptable in this day and age.

The fear of racist chanting was very real. Poland has also had that curse in recent years.

In both countries there must be worries of rival hooligan fans clashing in the stadia. I've witnessed it personally on England trips to Chorzow and Katowice and with Arsenal in Kiev.

Poland has worked tirelessly to improve though and I've thoroughly enjoyed football trips to Poznan and Warsaw. Around half the 67bn Euro European Union structural fund allocation to the country is being spent on road development, sanitation and environmental improvements.

But can the Ukraine put up a united front after so much domestic in-fighting? There has been bitter acrimony between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko who've accused each other of treason and corruption.

The Ukraine economy was expected to contract by at least 6% this year. In April the Eurasia group risk consultancy feared that the deepening political divisions would stall reforms and anger would spill onto the streets.

It's against that background that Euro 2012 is being constructed. The foundations, at this stage, look frail.

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk has shown solidarity with their neighbours insisting that they want to stick with the original four-plus-four host city formula.

But Uefa must follow through with their 13 May declaration of the 30 November deadline. If Ukrainian cities aren't ready, then more matches have to be passed to Poland.

It would be a great shame and I hope it doesn't come to that.

On visits to Kiev I've experienced an open, friendly people who've fought to survive terrible hardship in the past. But 32% of them in that July poll feared their own country would fail to stage a good European Championships. That is a damning indictment.

Uefa must not shirk its responsibilities here for the sake of a politically-correct gesture.




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see also
FA reports flare incident to Fifa
12 Oct 09 |  Internationals
Ukraine 1-0 England
10 Oct 09 |  Internationals
Ukraine handed Euro 2012 deadline
13 May 09 |  Internationals
Ukraine given Euro 2012 assurance
15 Apr 09 |  Europe
Ukrainian football's dark side
01 Apr 09 |  Europe
Poland and Ukraine host Euro 2012
18 Apr 07 |  Europe
Jubilation in Poland and Ukraine
18 Apr 07 |  Europe
How to watch Match of the Day
01 Oct 08 |  Match of the Day


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