UEFA EURO 2016 moved a step closer on Sunday when the Stade de Nice, one of ten venues for the final tournament, was officially opened.
The latest of four stadiums built from scratch for the finals to be completed, the ecofriendly arena with a capacity of 35,000 threw open its doors for OGC Nice's Ligue 1 encounter with Valenciennes FC.
The crowds descended on the stadium over four hours before kick-off, with the entertainment beginning outside the ground and the four stands – Garibaldi, Ray, Ségurane and Sud – being officially inaugurated with a spectacular pyrotechnic display.
A video depicted the road to construction, from conception to realisation, with young mascot Mattéo and an eagle as its protagonists, both arriving in the stadium together to complete a journey which started at the city's Stade du Ray, symbolising the handover from one venue to another – old to new, the past to the future.
The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, explained to UEFA.com the significance of Mattéo's path. "He's the future and this is the passage to a new stadium from one which has known its moments of glory," Estrosi said. "Mattéo symbolises the passage from an old generation of stadium, of players, and embodies the future generation. The people of Nice regard Mattéo as their son or grandson, keeping the memory [of the Stade du Ray] alive in this transition to the future."
In the present, Nice's Dario Cvitanich scored the stadium's first goal from the penalty spot before Éric Bautheac doubled the home team's advantage ahead of the interval, by which time the sell-out crowd was already warmed up to witness the unveiling of the city's own UEFA EURO 2016 logo, an adaptation of the official tournament logo.
The half-time break was also the moment for 15 individuals in the crowd to win places at the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying draw, which will take place in the French Riviera city on 23 February 2014. Fourteen were drawn by lot and the final lucky winner danced her way to a ticket as the whole stadium struck up a rhythm.
Further goals from Christian Brüls and Alexy Bosetti ensured the on-field fare was to the fans' liking too as the host club and the Métropole Nice Côte d'Azur shared, with an obligatory Mexican wave, in the first of what promises to be many incandescent occasions in the new arena, rounded off by a superb firework display.
The 15th edition of the UEFA European Championship will celebrate the coming together, for the first time, of 24 different nations. It will also be a meeting with history and, as a video beamed onto the stadium's two giant screens detailed, a meeting with French culture – when stadiums become theatres and pitches become canvases. The Stade de Nice set the tone on Sunday.
Designed and conceived by Wilmotte & Associés SA, the stadium replaces the Stade du Ray, Nice's home since 1927, and is not only currently the most modern arena in Europe, but also a pioneering venue in terms of sustainability.
Drawing over three times its own energy requirements from more than 4,000 solar panels, and with its own geothermal installation for heating, it uses rain water channelled from the stadium roof into four collection reservoirs for pitch watering. The ecofriendly stadium makes maximum use of natural and renewable resources to have a minimal impact on the environment.
The sixth largest football stadium in France will also house the Musée National du Sport (National Sport Museum), which will move to the Côte d'Azur from Paris in 2014. The arena will likewise host rugby games, concerts and various other events with congress facilities also available to ensure 24/7 exploitation of the premises, located just 6km from France's fifth-biggest city's airport and within a 15-minute drive of the city centre.
Its official opening on Sunday marks another milestone on the road to UEFA EURO 2016, with fewer than 1,000 days now to go before the tournament commences on 10 June 2016.
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