Spain, Portugal ready for showdown
Holders Spain and rivals Portugal added the last touches to preparations for their Uefa Euro 2012™ semifinal on Wednesday (1845 GMT) as the tournament headed towards its climax amidst more political controversy.
A diplomat told Interfax that Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, a pariah in many European countries, will attend the final of the soccer championship in Kiev on Sunday.
The move would make Lukashenko the only foreign state leader to attend a match in Ukraine at the Euros - with the exception of Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, whose country is co-hosting Eastern Europe's biggest ever football event.
A number of European politicians have boycotted games in Ukraine in protest against the jailing of Yulia Tymoshenko, a key opponent of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel - whose country could make the Kiev showpiece game if they beat Italy in Thursday's second semifinal - has likened Yanukovich to Lukashenko.
Merkel said last month that "in Ukraine and Belarus people are still suffering under dictatorship and repression".
On the pitch, Spain coach Vincente del Bosque brought forward Alvaro Negredo into his starting team to face Portugal in place of attacking midfielder Cesc Fabregas as he abandoned his much-criticised policy of playing without a main forward.
Spain's defence must try to stop the threat from the world's most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo who is joint top scorer at the finals. He is joined in a three-pronged attack by Nani and Hugo Almeida who replaces the injured Helder Postiga.
The last great Portugal attacker, 1966 World Cup semifinalist Eusebio, has been transferred from a Polish hospital to the intensive care ward of a Lisbon clinic after the 70-year-old underwent a heart procedure while in Poland for Euro 2012.
"Eusebio wanted to go home, said he felt well, had a good trip and that is a good sign," Luz hospital's clinical director Jose Roquette told reporters.
What has generally been an engaging tournament on the field has suffered from a few dark moments off it including fan violence and racism, while France midfielder Samir Nasri caused a storm with a foul-mouthed rant at a reporter.
He apologised on Wednesday, four days after his outburst following France's 2-0 defeat by Spain in the last eight.
"Too many untruths circulate at the moment. May the fans, and the children in particular, know that I regret sincerely that my words may have shocked," Nasri said on his Twitter feed.
Italian daily Gazzetta dello Sport also had to make an apology over its decision to print a cartoon depicting black Italy striker Mario Balotelli as King Kong, criticism continued to pour in across the web.
The cartoon was meant to positively show Balotelli as a giant of the game but it backfired.
Balotelli, the victim of racist abuse by fans during the three-week tournament, was in Warsaw with his teammates getting ready for Thursday's encounter with three-times winners Germany - who have never beaten Italy in a major tournament.
German soccer federation president Wolfgang Niersbach told a closing news conference at their base in Gdansk: "Reaching the last four for the fourth tournament in a row is a sign of continuity and stability.
"It is the federation's wish - it is not a demand but specifically a wish - that we finally reach the very top once."