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As the race to reach the final of the 2010/11 UEFA Champions League gathers pace, thousands of fans in Asia have been able to do what two teams will be doing at Wembley Stadium in London on 28 May – fix their eyes on the trophy that the world's great players all want to win.
The 2011 UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour was presented by Heineken, and the journey of 28,814km across Asia proved to be a resounding success. From the handover event in Switzerland, the trophy went to Kuala Lumpur and Penang (Malaysia) in February. It then moved on to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Kon Kaen (Thailand) and Seoul (South Korea) in March, and Hong Kong (China) in mid-April, before coming back to Europe and London for the UEFA Champions League final.
UEFA and Heineken are established partners for the Trophy Tour having previously organised four tours together across the world. The tour's second visit to Asia once again showed that fans yearn to get close up to European club football's most prestigious prize. Almost 60,000 visitors came to the various legs, and more than 30,000 photos were taken with the trophy.
Six UEFA Trophy Tour Ambassadors were on hand at several venues – Graeme Le Saux, Christian Karembeu, Steve McManaman, Gianfranco Zola, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Jay-Jay Okocha. They met the visitors for photos and autograph sessions, as well as to recount their experiences. The Trophy Tour attracted widespread interest, with nearly 600 media representatives in total attending the legs.
UEFA is of the view that touring the trophy outside Europe helps bring the past and present of the UEFA Champions League story to supporters on different continents – many of whom in Asia, for example, watch the action unfolding in the middle of the night. "The games are at three or four o'clock in the morning, so it's a big thing to wake up and watch the games and go to work after," said Van Bronckhorst – who won the trophy with FC Barcelona in 2006 – at the Seoul leg. "So to be able to bring the trophy here, really up close, for them to see it and feel it, I think it is just a way of saying thanks for all the support the fans are giving the tournament over here."
The fans also find out about UEFA's values and the rich competition history through a vast array of memorabilia, photography and videos on display and are perhaps encouraged to play the game themselves. The enthusiasm of Asian fans for the UEFA Champions League was not only demonstrated by the queues to see the trophy– it was also reflected in their enthusiasm for the event, with many local fans proudly wearing the colours of their favourite team.
Fans were delighted to be part of the occasion. "This is definitely a moment to remember, meeting Gianfranco Zola was fantastic," said one in Kuala Lumpur, while another in Bangkok explained: "I'm so excited, because if I get to see the real trophy, then it will be a great experience. And I believe that some soccer players never even get to see that."
Karembeu held the UEFA Champions League trophy twice as a winner in 1998 and 2000. "To have won it twice with Real Madrid was the highlight of my career," said the Frenchman, "and at the same time a revelation because when you get a taste of the Champions League, you catch a virus, you cannot get over it." With a memorable journey through Asia behind it, the trophy now awaits the jubilant winning captain at what is sure to be a fantastic final at Wembley in May.
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