Ukraine Stadiums Still Behind Construction Schedule As 1 Year Countdown To Euro 2012 Begins

KIEV, Ukraine -- Despite continual assurances that Ukraine will have everything ready in time to co-host next year's European Championship, visits to stadiums in Lviv and Kyiv tell a story of their own.

A view of soccer stadium, Donbass Arena, in Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, June 6, 2011. Donetsk is one of Ukraine's four host cities for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament.

With exactly a year to go until the opening match of Euro 2012, construction on two of Ukraine's stadiums is still sluggish.

So much so that plans to open Lviv's new 30,000-seat stadium with a friendly against Austria on Nov. 15 may have to be changed.

If that's the case, it would be the second venue change for a friendly involving a tournament co-host.

Poland switched its friendly against France on Thursday to Warsaw from Gdansk because the stadium wasn't ready to host the match.

There are reportedly 1,000 builders at Lviv's stadium working seven days a week around the clock after the city mayor said deadlines would be met, but a visit to the ground clearly showed much work still needs to be done.

"I admit the Lviv stadium is a challenge," Euro 2012 director Martin Kallen said.

"It may be the Austria game has to be switched to somewhere else, but the stadium will definitely be ready by the finals. I would say certainly by the New Year, at the latest."

Although switching the friendly from Lviv would be a blow to Ukraine, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino is not yet overly concerned.

"If it shouldn't be ready for that game, it's also not a big problem," Infantino said during a UEFA visit to the two countries.

"Poland wanted to play their friendly in Gdansk and now they moved it to Warsaw. It's more important to have the stadium finished than to inaugurate it."

European football's governing body remains confident in Ukraine's ability to host the tournament.

There is a clear sense of relief at how far Ukraine and Poland have come since receiving several stern rebukes from UEFA President Michel Platini after being awarded co-hosting rights in 2007.

"You should have gone one year ago when I went to Lviv. It was looking like Easter Island," Infantino said. "I think today it looks already very much like a stadium. It is not the most complicated of the stadiums (to build)."

To the naked eye, however, the stadium's skeleton shell and the brown layer of dirt where a pristine playing field should be paint a fairly depressing picture.

During a visit Monday morning, it also looked like there were little more than 100 workers in force.

A friendly is also scheduled for November against Germany in Kyiv's refurbished Olympic Stadium, but that may also be in doubt considering there is currently only a handful of seats in place.

"I wish they were a bit further advanced, but we can live with it at the moment," Kallen said. "Poland and Ukraine are ahead of Portugal 2004 at the same stage but behind Austria and Switzerland 2008. I'd say they were around seven out of 10, they are a bit behind what they promised, but they are making great progress."

Optimism is higher across in Kharkiv and Donetsk.

The magnificent, glitzy 50,000-seater Donbass arena, home to Ukrainian champion Shakhtar Donetsk, rivals many of the world's best stadiums.

In Kharkiv, home of Metalist and the club's billionaire chairman, Oleksandr Yaroslavsky, the city is benefiting from his largesse.

With a personal wealth estimated at $3.5 billion, Yaroslavsky is building a 2.5-kilometre airport runway, a new terminal, and a training academy for Metalist that will run football and educational programs for 100 children.

"Ukraine is ready, there is no chance it will not be ready," he said.

"I wake up five o'clock every morning, and don't go to sleep until 12 o'clock at night. I am checking all the time. Not only for my projects, but for Kyiv, Lviv, Donetsk.

"We have a very powerful team now working on the project, from the president of Ukraine, everybody."

Source: AP