Youth and grassroots football took centre stage on the eve of the UEFA Europa League final as UEFA President Michel Platini helped usher in a new dawn for one part of Bucharest.
An area of scrub in District 2 was perhaps not among the Romanian capital's many fine attractions but on Tuesday a sizeable crowd descended for the inauguration of a new maxi-pitch. Funded by UEFA's grassroots programme to mark the final and next week's Grassroots Day, it has changed the landscape in this part of town, as a graphic before-and-after photo exhibition demonstrated.
The pitch was unveiled by UEFA President Michel Platini together with Romanian Football Federation (FRF) President Mircea Sandu, UEFA Europa League final ambassador Miodrag Belodedici and Nicolae Ontanu, the mayor of District 2. Several lucky children from the district were the first to try out the new surface and they were so engrossed that they barely noticed as the dignitaries slipped away.
They made the short journey south to the stunning Tineretului Park and the conclusion of a major grassroots programme organised by the FRF. The four-day festival has involved 5,000 children, with 216 of them contesting the final round. After watching the last of the action played out across three pitches, Mr Platini, Mr Sandu and Bucharest mayor Dr Sorin Oprescu presented medals to the players and linked up with each winning team for a group photo.
"When I was a little boy I played football on the streets but back then there weren't so many cars," said Mr Platini. "Children can't play on the streets any more because of the traffic and that's why we have to create facilities for them to play football. I hope that some of the beneficiaries of this maxi-pitch will be future members of the Romanian national team. We want to help our national associations to improve their facilities."
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