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By ESPN Staff
Jun 30, 2006

Blokhin invites Ukraine president to match

KIEV, June 30 (Reuters) - President Viktor Yushchenko will be in the stands backing Ukraine in their World Cup match with Italy on Friday after receiving a plea from soccer dignitaries to boost a joint bid to host the 2012 European Championship.

'During a match of this nature, the president must be alongside his team to tell our boys on behalf of millions of fans that they have already made major accomplishments,' presidential spokeswoman Iryna Gerashchenko told Reuters.

Yushchenko had been asked to attend the quarter-final in Hamburg by Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin, leading striker Andriy Shevchenko and the country's top soccer official to 'inspire and strengthen our belief in our own strength.

'We believe that your presence would also clearly contribute to our joint bid with Poland to host Euro 2012,' said the letter on the presidential Web site, also signed by Ukrainian soccer federation president Hrihory Surkis.

PUBLIC SUPPORT

The three men praised Yushchenko's public support for Ukraine's World Cup campaign in Germany and said the team's success would 'provide a great stimulus for advancing Ukrainian soccer and boosting the country's image'.

Yushchenko decided to fly to Hamburg after tensions declined in a row shutting down parliament as parties making up a new coalition government offered to hold talks with the opposition.

Yushchenko has shown considerable public enthusiasm for Ukraine's first participation as an independent state in a major soccer competition. He has also given prominent support to a joint bid with Poland to host Euro 2012.

The bid was a surprise inclusion last year in a shortlist of three proposed sites. Also in the running are Italy and a joint bid by Hungary and Croatia.

Despite shortcomings in the ex-Soviet state's facilities, officials are increasingly optimistic about the bid, saying Italy's match-rigging scandal has hurt that country's chances.

But a local controversy about whether construction of a nearby shopping complex will make Kiev's main stadium unfit for a major competition could still weigh on the Ukrainian-Poland bid.