As eyes turn to Bucharest for the UEFA EURO 2020 draw, we look at how the tournament has already left a lasting impact on Romanian football.
Article top media content
Selecting Bucharest as one of UEFA EURO 2020's 12 host cities confirms UEFA's commitment to marking the tournament's 60th anniversary with a Europe-wide celebration. It is also a huge boost to the efforts of the Romanian Football Federation (FRF) to strengthen the national game – from the National Arena Bucharest in the capital city to remote rural communities participating in the Village Cup.
"This is a unique opportunity to develop the game that will not return any time soon," said FRF president Răzvan Burleanu. "If you count all the countries to have hosted the EUROs until now, you reach 14. EURO 2020 brings a different story with 12 host cities."
Why is Bucharest's selection as a host city so significant for Romania?
While Romania has already staged the 2011 UEFA European Under-19 Championship and the 2012 UEFA Europa League final, the country has never hosted a major international sporting event. Doing so now is a source of national pride.
"More than 85% of Romanians support and are proud to host the final tournament," said Mr Burleanu. "Our most important objective is organising the matches scheduled to take place in Bucharest. Then we want to develop our national infrastructure to host many other international football tournaments."
UEFA EURO 2020 has already brought this long-term goal closer by ensuring the local organising committee is trained in specialist football management skills.
Where will the matches take place?
Bucharest's distinctive boulevards, based on their Parisian equivalents, will lead fans to the 54,000-capacity National Arena Bucharest – the setting for three group matches and a round of 16 fixture at UEFA EURO 2020.
Rebuilt between 2007 and 2011, the stadium's facilities have been further improved for EURO 2020, providing easier access for people with disabilities and dedicated spaces for the visually impaired.
The old stadium had been famous for hosting one of Romania's biggest achievements in the UEFA European Championship – a single-goal defeat of then world champions Italy in a 1983 qualifier. Next summer's tournament will create history-making moments for the new ground's rollcall of memories.
How are both city and country gearing up for next summer?
More than 2,000 volunteers from all over the country have applied to work at the tournament, underlining national enthusiasm for EURO 2020. They range from teenagers to grandparents, and even include former professional footballers.
Many of the volunteers will work at fan zones spread around Bucharest city centre, with the most important fan zone located in Constitution Square in the shadow of the Palace of the Parliament – one of the world's largest buildings. "Our partners at the City Hall of Bucharest will build fabulous fans zones," said Mr Burleanu. "It will be the longest-running street festival ever held in Romania."
In a demonstration of its support for the tournament, Bucharest's city council this week opened the traditional Christmas Fair early – ready to welcome participants in the EURO 2020 draw.
Meanwhile, the FRF has selected national sporting heroes to act as its EURO 2020 ambassadors. Miodrag Belodedici, Gabriela Szabo and Dorinel Munteanu will use their status to help raise public awareness both of the tournament and the opportunities to play football in Romania, regardless of age, gender or ability.
How will UEFA EURO 2020 contribute to the development of Romanian football?
Before a ball has even been kicked at EURO 2020, the UEFA European Championship has already helped lay foundations for the current surge in participation across youth, men's and women's football in Romania. Since 2004, UEFA has channelled revenue from past EURO tournaments into supporting associations' own investments towards modernising the sporting infrastructure.
Most of UEFA's funding to the FRF is distributed via UEFA's HatTrick assistance programme, launched in 2004 to redistribute a significant proportion of UEFA European Championship revenue to Europe's 55 national associations. Now one of the largest solidarity and development initiatives in sport, HatTrick targets three goals:
- investment funding
In Romania, HatTrick funding has contributed to new facilities at all levels of football, from the elite national training centre in Mogosaia on the outskirts of Bucharest to new football pitches and mini-pitches for grassroots football. In total, the FRF plans to build 400 new pitches in local communities with the first 11 due for completion by spring 2020.
Last October, UEFA allocated more HatTrick funding to support the creation of additional artificial pitches to ensure Romania's clubs can play all year round. The country's harsh winters historically rule out using grass pitches for up to four months of the year.
What is the FRF doing to sustain its success?
The FRF hopes that Romania's front-line role in EURO 2020 will increase the total number of footballers across the nation to 300,000 – three times more than in 2014. "This is a unique opportunity to inspire hundreds and hundreds of boys and girls to play football," said Mr Burleanu.
The FRF has certainly put in the groundwork to capitalise on heightened interest in the beautiful game, introducing school tournaments throughout the country – both to boost participation for boys and girls and to identify hidden talent.
The inaugural edition of the Village Cup, launched at Under-13 level this year, ensures these efforts stretch to even the poorest rural areas, where children are inspired by the experience of Laurențiu Brănescu. Within a few years of being scouted playing for his local village team, the goalkeeper had signed for Juventus.
What else you need to know for Saturday's draw
A full guide to the UEFA EURO 2020 draw, detailing all the teams, who plays where and who can meet who, can be found here.
You can find out more about Bucharest, the stadium and travelling to Romania during the tournament here.
You can also learn more about UEFA's HatTrick scheme and how it is helping football development here.