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NYON, Switzerland (AP) — As UEFA prepares to select the 13 host cities for the 2020 European Championship, Michel Platini's continent-wide project still faces skepticism and question marks.
Is it an innovative response to Europe's financial issues and the escalating cost of sports events, or a major logistical gamble?
The selections made Friday could answer some of those questions.
Instead of selecting a host nation, UEFA will pick 12 cities across the continent that will be awarded three group-stage games in the 24-team tournament, plus a single knockout match from the round of 16 or quarterfinals rounds.
Wembley Stadium in London is the favorite to be chosen by UEFA's executive committee to stage the semifinals and the finals, with rival Germany considering withdrawing Bayern Munich's stadium from the running to help its chances of hosting Euro 2024 outright.
Whichever cities are chosen, fans and organizers alike are sure to face plenty of challenges.
A lasting memory of the World Cup in Brazil will be the tournament's ability to create a party atmosphere for the tens of thousands of visiting fans — from the beaches to the jungle. Euro 2020 will be far more disjointed, with the showpiece matches limited to just one city per country for a few days.
Fans accustomed to basing themselves in one or two countries for a month of football will have to rack up air miles following their team across Europe. While trips to the three group-stage fixtures can be booked in advance, the destinations in the round of 16 and quarterfinals will be unpredictable.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said the multinational plan lacks "soul and heart."
However, by spreading the tournament out, the burden on a single nation's infrastructure — from airports to hotels — will be eased, potentially providing more options for fans that cut travel costs.
UEFA is billing the Euros for Europe as a celebration of the tournament's 60th anniversary, but it was also a response to the Eurozone's financial crisis and the cost of staging sporting spectacles.
Concerns had been raised in Poland and Ukraine about the spending on airport upgrades to cope with Euro 2012, and on new or existing stadiums. With the Euros expanded to 24 teams from 2016 in France, the pool of countries capable of hosting the tournament on their own will be restricted.
The 2020 format favors bids from countries which never hosted a major tournament before, and have less chance of being able to go it alone.
From the east, there are bids from Azerbaijan (Baku), Belarus (Minsk), Bulgaria (Sofia), Hungary (Budapest) all featuring new stadiums. Existing venues have been proposed by Macedonia (Skopje), Romania (Bucharest) and Denmark (Copenhagen).
From the British Isles, Scotland (Hampden Park, Glasgow), Wales (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff) and Ireland (Aviva Stadium, Dublin) have submitted bids but one is likely to end up disappointed.
"Some of the cities seem far more enthusiastic than others — maybe because some haven't hosted major sports events before, while some of the other bidders are more established," UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino told the September edition of Sport Business magazine.
Israel's hopes of bringing games to the 32,000-capacity Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem could be hampered by the fallout from the recent war with Hamas in Gaza, with the outbreak of hostilities an ongoing concern. There is a current UEFA ban on European games being played in Israel.
"The Israeli political situation is described in the bid as complex," said UEFA's Euro 2020 evaluation report.
The situation in Russia was later called "increasingly complex." The new St. Petersburg Stadium, which is due to open in 2016, is bidding at a time when Russia is isolated in Europe after being condemned for its intervention in Ukraine.
Bids were not submitted from the hosts of the last three editions of the Euros — Portugal, Austria-Switzerland and Poland-Ukraine.
But the Netherlands, which co-hosted Euro 2000 with Belgium, proposed Amsterdam and the Belgians are bidding with a planned new stadium in Brussels.
Italy, which has hosted the 1968 and 1980 Euros, is bidding with Rome's Olympic Stadium, the Friends Arena in Stockholm is the entry from 1992 host Sweden, and a new Bilbao stadium is in the running from Spain.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
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