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UEFA Champions League final ambassador Gary Lineker tells UEFA.com his favourite Wembley moments and explains what makes the stadium unique as he looks ahead to the showpiece match in London next May. Having scored 25 goals at the famous old ground and won the FA Cup there with Tottenham Hotspur FC, the former England international is certainly well qualified on the subject.
UEFA.com: What makes Wembley so special?
Gary Lineker: It's got so much history. The original stadium had so much history going right back to FA Cup finals, the [FIFA] World Cup final, European Cup finals. All the players I think aspired, right around the world, to actually play there. I don't think that has changed with the new stadium. What you have now is the same environment, which is on the same site, but you've also got a beautiful stadium. The new Wembley is magnificent.
UEFA.com: And the memories are still there ...
Lineker: Very much so, it's still got the same sort of feel. Clearly that comes from the fact that it's on the same plot of land, really. Players will still dream of playing at Wembley and certainly they'll dream of playing the Champions League final at Wembley.
UEFA.com. What is your favourite Wembley memory?
Lineker: My favourite memory has to be the 1991 FA Cup final for Spurs. I played in two cup finals – one in 1986, which was the first all-Merseyside final, between Everton and Liverpool and even though I scored on that occasion, I ended up on the losing side. But I was determined to get back there one day and lift the cup and did it with Spurs.
UEFA.com: You had scored twice in the semi-final against Arsenal that season ...
Lineker: Yes, and that was the first-ever semi-final to be played at Wembley as well, which was almost as special a memory as the final, because it was such an important game. Arsenal were so strong – nobody fancied Tottenham to win on that occasion. But against the odds we did. I got two goals and Gazza [Paul Gascoigne] scored an unbelievable free-kick. But without winning the final, the semi-final would not have meant so much.
UEFA.com: Can you describe the feeling of walking up the steps to receive the trophy?
Walking up those steps to receive a trophy is just about as special a feeling as you can get. It's great they have kept that, it's really important. It's really hard walking up there when you have lost. Those steps seem very tiring. But when you've won, they don't seem to affect you at all.
UEFA.com: How does it feel to be the UEFA Champions League ambassador this season?
Lineker: It makes me feel proud. I think the Champions League is a wonderful competition, with the best teams in Europe, the best club competition in the world. And the fact it's coming to London as well, to Wembley – a long time since it's been in London. So it's great, and it's nice to be part and parcel of both the Champions League and the fact it's at Wembley.
UEFA.com: The last time a final was held at Wembley was in 1992 when your former club Barcelona beat Sampdoria ...
Lineker: I was at that game, I went along to watch. I had finished at Barcelona a few years previously, so I was desperately keen that they won it and they thoroughly deserved to. It was [Ronald] Koeman who knocked it away for the winner. It was a very emotional occasion and a terrific atmosphere, as there always was at Wembley and still is.
UEFA.com: It would be great to have another memorable goal like Koeman's perhaps this May ...
Lineker: Yes, terrific strike. Not many players can hit it as well as he used to do. Let's hope there's more than just one in this final. And it would also be nice perhaps to see an English team in the final. The fact it's in London, you've got three London teams as well, so there's probably more chance than you would normally have in the Champions League of actually getting a 'home-ish' team in the final.
UEFA.com: If you could play alongside a current UEFA Champions League striker, who would it be?
Lineker: I pick Messi all day long. It would be a dream to play with him as a striker – because not only does he beat people and score wonderful goals himself, he's also unselfish and a brilliant little passer of the ball around the box. I always love watching Lionel Messi play, he's just such a fabulous talent. He's one of those players that when you're watching a football match, you're desperate for him to have the ball, because he lights up any stadium.
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