The Leon Štukelj Square in the heart of Maribor was more crowded than usual this morning as hundreds of fans gathered for the latest stop of the UEFA Europa League Truck Tour.
The local side, Slovenian champions NK Maribor, are destined to depart the competition after tonight's Group J meeting with S.S. Lazio, and the town's inhabitants were eager to soak it up while they could. The reflex-testing adidas Buzzertool – a wall studded with official UEFA Europa League match balls which are randomly illuminated – drew a sizeable crowd, but there was no questioning the main attraction: the trophy itself.
"You see, Falcao of Atlético was the last to kiss it," an elderly man explained to his wife as flashbulbs popped around them. Schoolchildren were there in numbers, not sure where to look as the injured Maribor quartet of Martin Milec, Mitja Viler, Rajko Rep and Nejc Mevlja arrived to see what all the fuss was about. They ended up an attraction of their own, signing autographs.
"It's nice, really big and heavy; I hope that next season there will be another trophy here," said Milec, with Maribor – the Slovene First League leaders – setting sights on breaking into the UEFA Champions League group stage next term. Viler added: "At the moment, this [UEFA Europa League] trophy was beyond us but, who knows; maybe in the future we will be so competitive that we can keep the dream alive for longer."
The truck tour, which is organised by UEFA in conjunction with adidas, began this season in Berne, making a different stop each matchday in places such as Trondheim and Lyon. It will end on 15 May in Amsterdam for the final, but before moving on from Maribor it made one more short trip to the Stadion Ljudski vrt. There, a large number of Lazio supporters joined the queue, with music from DJ Lady M helping keep them warm amid plummeting temperatures. The Buzzertool soon warmed them up, too.
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