The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) have promised that the newest stadium in international football will be a fitting host venue for one of the newest competitions in the UEFA calendar after the 50,000 capacity Dublin Arena was opened on the site of the former Lansdowne Road stadium.
Beginning life as a rugby ground way back in 1872, Lansdowne Road was the traditional home of Irish rugby and was also the home stadium for the Republic of Ireland's football team from 1972 until it was demolished in 2007.
A project costing €410m and co-funded by the FAI, the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Irish government to completely renovate the old stadium has been completed and the new Dublin Arena was officially unveiled today.
International football returns to the stadium on 11 August 2010 with a friendly game between the Republic of Ireland and Argentina. The Irish rugby team will also play their home games there while non-sport events, such as concerts, will also go ahead.
The eyes of the world will be on the venue in Ballsbridge on 18 May 2011 when it hosts the UEFA Europa League final. "I know it will be a great success when the Europa League comes to Dublin," FAI chief executive John Delaney said at the stadium's opening ceremony. "I was in Hamburg on Wednesday for the 2010 final, it was a great night, and I am very happy we can showcase a stadium of this stature to Europe and the world. It's a proud day, Irish football has waited 90 years for a day like this, it's been a long journey."
After he was given a tour of the ground, former Republic of Ireland hero Ray Houghton admitted he was jealous of the current crop of players who will get to play there. "I would love the chance to to go out just one more time so I could play on that pitch, it's a place we can be proud of," said Houghton, who won many of his 73 caps at the old Lansdowne Road. "I think the old stadium was to our advantage as it was very old and the opposition never liked playing there. You could see that opposing players just didn't fancy it, but the best players in the world will now relish the chance to play here."
The Republic of Ireland played their competitive home games at Croke Park, home of Gaelic games, while the Dublin Arena was being built, and Delaney says that Republic coach Giovanni Trapattoni is eager to lead out the Irish side at the new venue. "One of the first things Giovanni said when he signed his new contract last year was that he was looking forward to his first game here, and the players have had an input into the stadium in terms of dressing rooms and other facilities," said Delaney.
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