Chance for England to lay foundations for the future
England supporters arriving in the centre of sun-baked Donetsk on Monday morning might have expected to find themselves immediately under siege.
Even before the BBC's Panorama report two weeks ago, Ukraine was getting a very bad press. For a group of fans who were once more feared than fearful, it's had a big impact. Some of the supporters who have made the journey here admitted they thought twice about coming.
So far it's clear they had little to worry about. It is true that the hotels are poor and extortionate, and getting here has been a nightmare. One supporter spoke of a 13-hour train journey from Kiev, while there have been horrendous flight delays from European connecting airports. Many are flying in and straight out again.
This mining city (it was actually founded by a Welshman) is the most eastern outpost of Euro 2012. Its wide roads are lined by drab Soviet apartment blocks while in the main square a giant statue of Lenin provides a jolting reminder of this country's past. This city was once known as Stalino.
France have acclimatised to the heat of Donetsk while England have been in Krakow. Photo: AFP
But Lenin Square also reveals how far Ukraine and the Eastern Bloc have travelled. To the left of Lenin's statue is a giant McDonald's - without question the biggest attraction in the area.
It's certainly a culture shock. But it is worth remembering England started their last major tournament in Bafokeng, an isolated territory in the South African Highveld which had its own tribal king.
For Roy Hodgson's new-look England the preparations for Euro 2012 have swung in completely the opposite direction - a corrective reaction to the disaster of Fabio Capello's World Cup campaign.
Based in the bustling old market square of Krakow, south Poland, Hodgson's England are determined to win hearts and minds by being more open and accessible. It's gone down well. But there is a danger that they have swapped the "golden cage" - as Hodgson described the Rustenburg situation for England in South Africa - for the tourist trap.
If things go really badly there will be few places for his players to hide.
Then there is the heat. Krakow might not have been as cool as England right now, but the climate there is far more moderate. Here in Donetsk the mercury will touch 90 degrees by the time the game against France kicks off.
Captain Steven Gerrard said it was the same for both teams, but the French have been staying nearby and will have acclimatised. It must make a difference.
I asked Hodgson on Sunday if he would have done it this way. He replied he was very happy with the arrangements. He could hardly say anything else but Capello's legacy has not made life easy for his successor.
Despite that, a gentle optimism and confidence have been rising in the camp. Both Hodgson and Gerrard exuded it on Sunday. A quiet and subtle defiance.
The truth is no-one has a clue what to expect. And it is worth just re-stating how badly things have gone for England since Capello guided the team smoothly to these finals.
First the most important member of the team, Wayne Rooney, got himself suspended with a badly judged tackle in the final qualifier against Montenegro.
Then John Terry was accused of racially abusing the brother of Rio Ferdinand. After dithering in the autumn, the Football Association acted decisively in the winter, stripping him of the captaincy.
That in turn provoked Capello to challenge the FA's authority, leading to that dramatic and unexpected parting of the ways in February. If there is a worse template for preparing for a major tournament I would like to see it.
All of which has given Hodgson, just 40 days in the job, the unusual luxury of time and low expectations. FA chairman David Bernstein is so certain he has found the right man in Hodgson that he is unlikely to panic even if England were hammered in their three Group D matches. Bernstein is determined to see out his long-term vision and has already struck up a good rapport with the former Liverpool manager.
So what will be a measure of success at this tournament?
In any other situation, looking at a group which includes France, Sweden and Ukraine, the quarter-finals would be the bare minimum. But this time that will be viewed as a major achievement.
Harry Redknapp believes England have one of the best defensive units in the world game and who knows what might happen if Rooney finally gets the chance to show what he is capable of at a big tournament.
Hodgson will also want to see the younger players - Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - take advantage of the benevolent atmosphere to soak up the experience of a big tournament.
The World Cup in Brazil in 2014 (assuming England qualify of course) will feel very, very different. Hodgson and England know they mustn't miss this chance to start laying the foundations for the future.