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Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane believes his native city is now home to one of the best stadiums in the world as international football comes to the Dublin Arena this week.
Lansdowne Road was one of the oldest stadiums in world sport, having hosted international rugby as far back as 1878, but the venue has been completely rebuilt at a cost of €410m with a new capacity of 50,000.
The Arena is preparing to welcome Argentina for an international friendly on Wednesday, and will also stage Ireland's UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers against Andorra (September), Russia (October) and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (March) before the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League concludes at the stadium in leafy Ballsbridge.
"It's a magnificent stadium – as a Dubliner I am very proud to see it in my own city and it's great for Irish football to have our own home," Keane told UEFA.com. "It's every footballer's dream to play in a stadium like this, with the facilities we have, and it's even better for me as it's in Dublin. I think it's up there with the best stadiums anywhere in European or world football. The pitch is excellent and the facilities for players are world-class."
A game against England in 1900 marked Lansdowne Road's first football fixture, and the stadium was effectively Ireland's home ground from 1972 until 2006, including an unbeaten run between 1986 and 1993 under manager Jack Charlton. Ireland's final outing drew a 34,000-capacity crowd for a 5-0 victory over San Marino in 2006. The stadium formally closed for business on 31 December that year with demolition work beginning the following May.
The project cost €410m, with the construction funded jointly by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and the Irish government. The Dublin Arena held its first football match last Wednesday, Manchester United FC defeating a representative team from the FAI League of Ireland 7-1.
"It means a lot to me – I went to Lansdowne Road as a kid to watch Ireland play, I made my home debut for Ireland there when I was only a kid myself, against Argentina in 1998," added Keane, who scored 22 of his 43 international goals at the old ground.
I have great memories of the stadium as a fan and as a player. We had some great days in the old Lansdowne Road but in life you need to move on, the stadium needed to be rebuilt and now it looks superb.
It was one of the highlights of my career to make my home debut against Argentina, so to win my 100th cap in the first international at the Dublin Arena, against Argentina, I don't think you could ask for better."
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