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Pressure on a year before Euro 2012

WARSAW, Poland, June 7- With just a year to go to Euro 2012, co-host nation Poland is under mounting pressure to get ready and is under the microscope on a daily basis, as organisers insist all is on track.

The current focus is on botched stairs at the site of the new national stadium in the capital Warsaw, where the European Championships kick off on June 8, 2012.

The construction firm has received an ultimatum, with top officials stepping in, including Sunday league player Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

After stadium delays in the Baltic port of Gdansk forced Poland to switch Thursday’s friendly with France to a club ground in Warsaw, they do not want a repeat for the national arena’s opener against Germany on September 6.

In gloomy mood, the tabloid Fakt headlined "Could we be stripped of Euro 2012?" and the broadsheet Polska, "Is Euro 2012 beyond our ability?"

Such headlines are off the mark, insists Mikolaj Piotrowski, spokesman of organising body PL.2012.

"With one year to go, we feel quite safe, though of course in the near future there’s a lot of work to do," he told AFP.

"I must underline there is no danger to Euro 2012," he added, noting "very strong safety-buffers".

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Infrastructure has been spotlighted by doubters since 2007, when European football’s governing body UEFA chose joint bidders Poland and Ukraine to host the 16-nation tournament ahead of favourites Italy.

As the first edition behind the ex-Iron Curtain, it is a showcase.

"A couple of billion eyes will be focused on us," said Piotrowski.

Austria and Switzerland hosted Euro 2008, while Euro 2016 will be held in France.

The communist era ended two decades ago, but 2004 European Union entrant Poland still faces challenges way beyond Western hosts, despite bucking the recession.

A 2008 UEFA readiness report gave a yellow card, and the Poles have had to work to repair their image.

Poland’s first Euro 2012 stadium, in the western city of Poznan, opened last September.

Gdansk and Warsaw’s grounds are set to be ready within months. The final arena, in the southwestern city of Wroclaw, is due in October.

"Quality, security and standards are the most important. The Gdansk stadium is not being built specifically for the France game," he said. "These stadiums are being built for Euro 2102 and beyond."

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Martin Kallen, UEFA’s Euro watchdog, told AFP jitters are part of any major event.

"We are satisfied with where we are today. But we are looking every day," he added. "There are still a lot of outstanding issues. But these aren’t alarm bells."

He compared Euro 2004 host Portugal’s preparations. "We were on a similar level, even slightly behind, where Poland is now," he noted.

Euro 2012-related investments in Poland tally 80 billion zloty (20 billion euros, $29 billion), largely on transport.

Ninety percent is public money, almost half of it from EU coffers used to help poorer members of the 27-nation bloc.

Polish holidaymakers face a summer of jams in roadworks and railway overhauls.

Officials note transport needed upgrading anyway to spur the economy, given the lack of a decent highway network in the nation of 38 million.

But only 45 percent of planned highway and 40 percent of train-track look set to be finished in 2012, according Janusz Piechocinski of the parliamentary infrastructure commission.

With qualifying ongoing, organisers must wait until December 2 to see which successful team is drawn to play where in Poland and Ukraine.

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"We’re writing a couple of hundred scenarios," said Piotrowski, noting fans could number 1-1.5 million. "Who, from where, and how they will come to Poland, by train, by car, by plane, or by ferry."

Kallen said UEFA is satisfied they can be accommodated.

Polish authorities have also beefed up measures against the country’s estimated 5,000 hooligans.

They plan fast-track hearings in special stadium courts, and electronic tagging for convicted hooligans.

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