The Uefa president, Michel Platini, said yesterday that the Euro 2012 co-hosts, Poland and Ukraine, had "already won the European Championship" for the legacy it will leave, despite the fact that Poland have been knocked out of the tournament and Ukraine face an uphill task to qualify for the quarter-finals when they play England in Donetsk tonight.
Platini said that both countries could be proud of what they had delivered after problematic preparations, mainly involving infrastructure. "It's not been perfect but I'm very, very happy," said Platini. "Poland and Ukraine have delivered. People [of Poland and Ukraine] are saying thanks that you had confidence and trust in us. They have already won the Euros. The Championship can bring lots of very important things for the development of these countries."
With the group stage reaching its climax today, Platini, speaking in Warsaw's Lazienki Park, hailed the tournament a big success, characterised by plenty of goals, good matches, consistently good refereeing and only "one or two" problems. "The atmosphere in the stadiums has been 99.9 per cent fantastic," said Platini, picking out the Poland v Russia and Ukraine v Sweden games as "extraordinary" to be present at. "It's difficult to do better than we have done. But doing better would mean perfection."
Platini's relaxed demeanour changed when he was asked to address the problem of racism during the tournament, with Croatia's Football Federation facing a Uefa charge for racist chants by the team's fans in the Group C match against Italy in Poznan last Thursday.
Platini said he had held talks with Croatian government ministers a year ago, in which he expressed his concerns over the behaviour of their fans. "How can you manage stupid people?" he asked, referring to the fans who chanted obscenities at Italy striker Mario Balotelli. "It's a matter of society and education. It's not just in eastern Europe, there is nationalism in all countries. But one case [of racism] is one too many."
Turning back to the subject of matches during Euro 2012, Platini scoffed at pre-tournament suggestions in some quarters that the European champions, Spain, bidding to become the first side to win three successive international titles, could be tired.
"The ball is tired, not the [Spanish] players," Platini joked, referring to the ceaseless passing of Vicente del Bosque's side which drove the Republic of Ireland to distraction in a 4-0 thrashing last week. "They have a style and a system where tiredness is not a problem." Casting his eyes over the other teams, Platini said he had been "surprised" by Italy's more expansive game. "[Coach Cesare] Prandelli has made Italy play. It's beautiful," he said.
While the Netherlands, who were eliminated on Sunday after finishing bottom of Group B with three defeats, had been a "disappointment", Platini pointed to the demise of the Dutch, who were World Cup finalists in South Africa in 2010, as a sign that the European Championship was a "more difficult" competition than the World Cup finals.
In Ukraine yesterday, a senior cleric offered a contrasting viewpoint to that of Platini when he criticised supporters' attitudes and reactions to the tournament. "The Church does not bless the frenzy and psychosis that a person falls into when they watch these games," said Patriarch Filaret, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
"Just look at these people's faces," he said. "They are no longer human, they look more like monkeys than humans. That's because they lose [emotional] balance. It is a sinful state when a man does not control himself. That is when they drink and fight. We are against that." Patriarch Filaret said he was not following the games in 2012 or rooting for the Ukrainian national team. "I have nothing to do with football," he said. "Thus I do not support football [teams] but I support Ukraine. Football means nothing at all to me but I am paying attention to what it means for Ukraine."