Surkis: Ukraine came close to losing Euro 2012

Hrigory Surkis, president of the Ukraine Football Association, revealed on Friday for the first time how close his country came to losing the right to host some, or all, of the 2012 European Championship.

Ukraine and neighbours Poland are co-hosting the finals, the biggest global sports event to be held in eastern Europe since the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and a venture beset by problems since it was awarded to the two countries in April 2007.

Political and economic problems slowed work on the project while the global financial crisis of 2008 also had a huge effect on preparations.

But speaking just hours before the draw for the 16-team finals in Kiev's Palace of the Arts, with a television audience in over 150 countries, Surkis said only the faith and wisdom UEFA maintained in Ukraine meant the event was happening there at all.

"Without the patience of UEFA, I can tell you frankly, we wouldn't be sitting together in this room," he told reporters at a news conference in the impressive newly-built Olympic Stadium where the final will be staged next July.

"It was these people who gave us their experience, together with their professionalism of holding the tournament in other countries, that created the conditions [for us to go ahead].

"I am sure that without their efforts we would not be having this celebration today. Gianni Infantino, the secretary general of UEFA. sustained a huge burden. What if Ukraine was not able to fulfil the guarantees we undertook?

"One and a half years ago we were facing the gap. On April 8 [UEFA President] Michel Platini met our newly-elected president Viktor Yanukovych and the president said the government would do everything it could for the tournament to be held. Platini was not convinced it could be done.

"Finally in September of this year he visited Poland and Ukraine and said there are no big problems, only small minor problems which can be resolved."

He added that if Ukraine had failed to recover from that low point, it would have damaged the country's image not only in the sporting world but in terms of its ambitions for European integration and ultimately European Union membership.

"We appreciate the patience and wisdom of UEFA in its approach towards the problems involved, especially towards Ukraine because we had to create a new infrastructure not only for sport but for all the other segments - airports, runways, new motorways," said Surkis.

"We had to modernise the entire country and without UEFA's patience we couldn't have been where we are sitting here today."

BAD SITUATION

He said the situation was so worrying for UEFA by May 2009 that they were considering using six venues in Poland and only two in Ukraine.

Surkis said the former Soviet Union had produced remarkable achievements by using five-year plans but Ukraine had managed an 18-month plan.

He added: "Never in the past 20 or 30 years had there been such pressure to upgrade a country's entire infrastructure in so short a time.

"In 2008 (European Championships co-hosts) Switzerland and Austria just had to adapt existing facilities but we had to create practically an entire new national infrastructure"

Surkis said if Ukraine had be