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Poles call off first match in new national stadium

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WARSAW: The much-awaited footballing debut of Poland’s Euro 2012 stadium has been pushed back after league authorities called off Saturday’s Super Cup match between Legia Warsaw and Wisla Krakow for security reasons.

“With a heavy heart but with the security of fans in mind, we have decided to cancel the Super Cup match after taking advice from the police,” said Andrzej Rusko, boss of Poland’s Ekstraklasa premier league.

“It was the only possible decision,” he told Poland’s PAP news agency. Fans hoping to see a game at the stadium — venue for the first match on Euro 2012 in June— will have to wait until a friendly between Poland and Portugal on February 29.

“I can guarantee that the Portugal game will definitely take place there,” said ex-international Grzegorz Lato, head of the Polish football association. Speculation had raged for days about the chances of the Super Cup going ahead in the brand-new, 58,000-capacity ground in the heart of the capital Warsaw.

But despite the dissipation of concerns over the pitch, and a police decision to drop objections over the lack of barriers to separate rival supporters, they still underlined potential logistical hurdles to security.

With hooliganism a top concern as Poland gears up to host the European championships along with neighbouring Ukraine, the authorities are edgy about matches pitting big names like 2011 league winners Wisla and cupholders Legia.

The decision to cancel Saturday’s match is the latest chapter in a long-running saga concerning the stadium, built at a cost of 1.9 billion zloty (450 million euros, $593 million).

It was due to be inaugurated last July, but that was put off after construction headaches, and organisers of its January 29 rock-concert opening faced last-minute nerves until safety officials gave a green light two days beforehand.

The delays, and similar backsliding in Ukraine, have embarrassed the two hosts countries, keen to prove their organisational mettle as the quadrennial European football championships move behind the former Iron Curtain for the first time.

On June 8, the Warsaw stadium will host the Euro 2012 opening ceremony and the tournament’s first match, Poland against Greece. Poland’s other Euro 2012 stadia are in the Baltic port of Gdansk, the western city of Poznan, and Wroclaw in the southwest, which opened in 2010 and 2011 and have all hosted games. Ukraine’s quartet are in its capital Kiev, plus Lviv, Donetsk and Kharkiv.