Friday, June 8

By Nick Ames in Kharkiv

Behind my new lodgings in Kharkiv lies a nightclub named ‘Cinderella’. Today, I shall go to the (foot)ball.

My first assignment of this European Championship will take in a Netherlands training session late this afternoon. Managers are only obliged to allow media to watch the first 15 minutes of their training drills on the eve of a game, but Bert van Marwijk has opened up the entire session – perhaps an indicator of the Dutch coach’s confidence that preparations for tomorrow’s match with Denmark are on track.

It means that I’ll get the chance to run the rule over Robin van Persie at first hand. Fresh from his stellar season with the Gunners, he’s under genuine pressure for his place from the equally-prolific Schalke 04 striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – so there’s bound to be a competitive edge among a squad that lacks neither characters nor credible attacking options.

It would be an exaggeration to say that Kharkiv is turning orange, but the Dutch fans are certainly making their presence felt. Without the throng of ‘Oranje’ at Kiev’s Boryspil Airport yesterday evening, joining me on my short transfer to Kharkiv, it would have been hard to sense that this was the eve of a major tournament.

Most of them headed straight to a ‘Dutch Invasion’ campsite just outside town - although a handful have appeared at my hostel which, despite being one of the cheaper options on a badly overpriced local accommodation scene, has a surprising number of vacant beds.

Also staying here is a lone Bolivian, who has travelled to Ukraine from his homeland especially for Euro 2012. He told me that tickets for tomorrow’s game were still readily available around the city yesterday afternoon.

The usual long, wide streets and vast, awesome pieces of Soviet architecture seem the order of the day in Ukraine’s second-largest city, which lies just 20 miles from the Russian border. Adding to the aesthetic is Ploschad Svobody (‘Freedom Square’), one of the largest city-centre squares in the world. Kharkiv’s ‘Fan Fest’ is situated there, and I’ll take a walk there later to watch the tournament’s opening games.

From an Arsenal perspective, Poland v Greece and Russia v Czech Republic could make compelling viewing. It’s arguable that Wojciech Szczesny, Tomas Rosicky and Andrey Arshavin bear the greatest weights of responsibility of all Arsenal’s Euro 2012 representatives. The former marshals the posts for an increasingly expectant co-host, while the latter two captain sides that represent famous, underachieving football nations.

Qualifying from Group A is a realistic aim for all and I’d back Wojciech and his energetic Poland side, containing three German title winners from Borussia Dortmund, to get off to a more than satisfactory start tonight.

Now I’m off to Kharkiv’s Metalist Stadium for my first glimpse of a Euro 2012 venue. I’ll be picking up my media accreditation for the weeks ahead – something that sends a tingle of anticipation through even the most seasoned of journalists. Come back tomorrow morning for the latest news of Robin and the Dutch camp.


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8 Jun 2012