While 48 clubs prepare for tonight's opening UEFA Europa League group matches, excitement is building in Bucharest where final ambassador Miodrag Belodedici has expressed pride in the new National Arena which stages the showpiece next May.
European finals are nothing new to Belodedici, who became the first player to win the European Champion Clubs' Cup with two different teams when his FK Crvena zvezda side overcame Olympique de Marseille in 1991. Yet for the city of Bucharest, hosting the UEFA Europa League final will be an unprecedented event, and the 53-cap former Romania defender is particularly proud to see the European focus return to his homeland for the first time in 25 years.
"The people of Bucharest and Romania are looking forward to watching a Europa League final in Bucharest," Belodedici told UEFA.com. "It is something very important, especially as this year they have finished a very nice stadium, a five-star arena. It is a very beautiful stadium, very elegant, and something we have not had in Romania before, so this UEFA Europa League final is very welcome – it will be well received."
Not since 1986 have a Romanian club scaled the summit of the continent's most coveted competition, when Belodedici marshalled a defence that kept FC Barcelona at bay and helped FC Steaua Bucureşti become European champions for the first and only time. Indeed, neither Steaua nor city rivals FC Dinamo Bucureşti and FC Rapid Bucureşti have so much as mustered a domestic trophy since Dinamo's 2007 title win.
However, Belodedici hopes the new 55,200-seat National Arena, erected on the site where he lifted six Romanian league championships as an elegant sweeper and which opened last week for a UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier between Romania and France, will inspire a return to form for the capital giants.
"In recent years football in Bucharest has become weaker," he said. "The teams with a reputation, like Steaua, Dinamo and Rapid, have vanished in the last three years. They have not managed to win championships, cups or qualify for the Champions League group stage.
"This year Oţelul Galaţi are representing us [in the UEFA Champions League] – a team from the country. This is very unusual but I believe after this event, with this newly built stadium, people will turn to the city and think differently. Bucharest's clubs will start thinking they need to build more modern stadiums too, in order to attract more people."
In the meantime, spectators will get the chance to flock to the National Arena for a UEFA Europa League final that fans of Steaua, Rapid and FC Vaslui still harbour hopes of reaching on 9 May.
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