UEFA chief Michel Platini held crunch talks with Poland's leaders Wednesday, amid concerns over slack preparations for Euro 2012 by the Poles and their Ukrainian co-hosts and snowballing rumours that they could be stripped of the championships.
Platini sat down in Warsaw for one-on-one discussions with football-mad Prime Minister Donald Tusk, then President Lech Kaczynski, before travelling to Kiev on Thursday for similar meetings with their Ukrainian counterparts Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko.
After their hour-long discussion behind closed doors, Tusk said Platini had assured him Poland was a “solid, reliable partner”.
“Everything is coming together according to plan. I have assured him we will succeed,” Tusk said alongside Platini, who did not speak to waiting reporters.
Kaczynski, meanwhile, told AFP he was equally optimistic.
“In this part of Europe, people are used to being ready in time, even if it looks impossible,” he said.
UEFA's 10-strong delegation also held talks with other Polish ministers and football federation leaders, ahead of a repeat performance in Ukraine the next day.
Poland's Sports Minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki said it was time to halt the rumour mill.
“It can't be said that preparations need to be stepped up, because it's simply not true. Everything is being done to deadline,” he affirmed.
Alarm bells have, however, been ringing for months at European football's governing body, amid fears that Poland and Ukraine are failing to tackle the mammoth challenge of getting ready for the showcase tournament.
French football legend Platini has been issuing repeated warnings to Poland and Ukraine, who in April 2007 were UEFA's surprise pick to host the 2012 edition of the quadrennial, 16-nation championships, beating Italy and joint bidders Hungary and Croatia.
On Saturday, Platini stepped up the pressure by giving them a September deadline to prove they are on target.
Platini recalled that after a meeting on January 29, UEFA's executive had already told them to “wake up” and given them four months to prove their mettle.
“In September in Bordeaux we will make a final decision,” said Platini, referring to the executive's next session in the southern French city on September 25-26.
“We will do everything we can to ensure Poland and Ukraine host it and there is no backup plan.
“The only reason for us to decide not to have the tournament in Poland and Ukraine would be if there were no stadiums in the two capitals,” where there have been major construction headaches, he said.
Neither Poland nor Ukraine has ever hosted a high-level tournament.
In addition, after the Alpine efficiency of well-heeled Euro 2008 hosts Austria and Switzerland, the 2012 choice marks UEFA's first major foray into the former communist bloc, where the infrastructure challenges are massive.
Besides needing new stadiums, Poland and Ukraine have to bring their air, rail and road transport services up to scratch and upgrade their hotel sector to cope with the influx of fans.
In April, the head of Ukraine's football federation, Grigory Surkis warned of a “crisis” because of the “constant breach” of the schedule agreed with UEFA.
A survey last week found that 77 percent of Poles doubted all the pieces would fall into place in time.
Amid concerns about Poland and Ukraine's capability, other nations have begun pitching themselves as alternative hosts.
The Scottish Football Association – which lost in a joint bid with Ireland to host Euro 2008 – has already said it is ready to step in.
Newly-crowned European champions Spain and Euro 2008 runners up Germany have also been tipped as possible alternatives, but UEFA have dismissed the rumours as baseless.
Analysts say one of the reasons for UEFA to stick with their choice is the business side of things.
Jacek Bochenek, who monitors Euro 2012 plans for the consultancy firm Deloitte, told the Polish daily Puls Biznesu that the combined 85 million-strong population of Poland and Ukraine was too important an advertising market, with huge potential for the tournament's sponsors.
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