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The UEFA Champions League trophy went on its maiden world tour this spring, covering Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania and China – allowing around 100,000 fans to get close to European club football's most coveted silverware.
The 2012 UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, presented by Heineken, covered almost 30,000km. It was joined by a distinguished team of ambassadors, former favourites who graced the competition; some even hoisted the trophy in triumph at some stage during their career. They greeted the media, talked with fans, posed for photos, joined in games and gave the whole tour an added touch of charisma.
This year's ambassadors were Christian Karembeu (won UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid CF in 1998 and 2000), Celestine Babayaro (won UEFA Cup Winners' Cup with Chelsea FC in 1998), and Ronald de Boer (won UEFA Champions League with AFC Ajax in 1995). They were joined by Heineken ambassadors Edwin van der Sar (won UEFA Champions League with AFC Ajax in 1995 and Manchester United FC in 2008) and Ruud Gullit (European Champion Clubs' Cup winner with AC Milan in 1989 and 1990).
The tour – which travelled to Guadalajara and Mexico City (Mexico), Nairobi and Mombasa (Kenya), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Shanghai (China) – provided a unique experience for fans to come close to the illustrious silverware. They also got to learn more about the competition, the stars that have graced it over the years and the fantastic games and goals that everyone remembers. A special exhibition gave visitors the chance to walk through the history of the European Cup.
The tour had its own memorable journey, kicking off in Guadalajara at half-time in the top-flight match between CD Guadalajara and Cruz Azul FC. Almost 40,000 spectators watched a spectacular ceremony inspired by a Mesoamerican ball game, complete with lights, music and fireworks and featuring more than 30 acrobats simulating a footballing battle for the trophy. It eventually ended up in the hands of Karembeu and Van der Sar, who duly officially opened the first intercontinental trophy tour.
In Africa, the trophy was greeted by heads of state and fans alike. The President of Kenya and Prime Minister of Tanzania both welcomed the famous cup to their respective countries after it had made a brief pit stop at the scenic setting of Mt Kilimanjaro. The supporters' reaction in Africa to the UEFA Champions League and its illustrious prize was remarkable. Equally, with local football enthusiasts eager to gather as much information as possible, the press coverage in Tanzania and Kenya was phenomenal – as it was throughout the tour.
The on-site football carnival was a great success in Shanghai, in particular. The UEFA Champions League has a massive following in China, with passionate fans waking up in the middle of the night to watch games throughout the season. Fans in Shanghai relished the opportunity to meet the ambassadors, as well as try their own football skills in a series of football challenges, or even get their hair cut in the style of famous players.
The UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour grows in prestige every year – and the next edition will doubtless bring out the fans again to revel in the atmosphere created by one of football's most popular attractions.
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