Warsaw: The beer is weak, but the party has started. EURO 2012 Schedule (JPN/Agencies)
After years of sober preparations to co-host the European Championship, enthusiasm exploded on Friday in Warsaw hours before the opening match between Poland and Greece.
Fans dressed in the white and red national colors began filling a 100,000-capacity fan zone in Warsaw, some sipping on beer that by official decree has an alcohol content of just 3.4 percent.
"I am really happy and excited because this is the first time we've ever had the European Championship in Poland," said Filip Przybylski, a 25-year-old wearing a wig in the Polish colors. He had traveled six hours by train from the western city of Pila to watch the game with a group of friends.
The Poles were sharing the streets with Greek fans in blue jerseys who said they are hoping for a win to lift their spirits amid unending crisis at home - and, of course, because they love their team.
Lambros Zoumbos, 40, a bank employee from Florina, Greece, said he knows a Greek victory won't do anything to end the turmoil in his country. "But maybe it will give us some pleasure," he said.
Added Theodosios Stefanakis, from Rhodes: "Football can make us happy."
The Poles, who unlike the Greeks are enjoying years of economic growth, say they feel for the Greeks, but that's no reason to let them win.
"Let them beat the Russians, but not us," 22-year-old Lukasz Bargiel said.
The Polish fans were decked out in all manner of white and red clothes and accessories, from caps and clown wigs to scarves and T-shirts. Some used the flag as a cape.
Many expressed hope in their team, saying they feel it is stronger than it has been in a long time.
"We have a very good team with some European stars, so we think we can play some good games," 21-year-old Tomasz Blazej said.
In the fan zone, entertainers were trying to give people something to focus on as they faced hours of wait before the 1600 GMT kickoff. Girls in skimpy dresses performed dance routines. A young Polish man got a foreigner on the stage and tried - with mixed success - to teach him a phrase in consonant-rich Polish: "Polish girls are the most beautiful."
In the huge square below - the weather sunny and warmer than of late - people were paying 8 zlotys ((euro) 1.85) for a half liter of beer. Since Polish beer usually has an alcohol content closer to 5 or 6 percent, some had fruit flavoring added to jazz it up.
"There's a huge feeling of excitement here," said Monika Misiuda, who traveled from Krakow and was sipping on raspberry-infused beer in the fan zone. "It's great."
Warsaw: The beer is weak, but the party has started.
EURO 2012 Schedule