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Beguiling Bucharest

How the Romanian capital plans to charm Europe and build a EURO legacy.

Arena Națională Bucharest
Arena Națională Bucharest ©FRF

Set on the banks of the Dâmbovița river, and north of the Danube, Bucharest is also home to the best of the country’s cultural and architectural attractions. But when the EURO comes to town, all eyes will be on football.

“By playing its part in the biggest EURO to date, Romania hopes to carve out a lasting legacy,” says Răzvan Burleanu, the president of the Romanian Football Federation (FRF). For the country’s football-loving population, on the other hand, it will also be an unmissable opportunity to see some of the continent’s best teams at the National Arena.

“The event will benefit all those who are passionate about football,” says Burleanu. “We expect it to encourage a much higher number of children to play the game, give many Romanian supporters their first opportunity to attend a EURO, but also inspire our own players. I don’t know how often they will be able to play such highly competitive matches in a final tournament on their home turf.”

Operation enchantment
Bucharest’s successful hosting of the UEFA Europa League final in 2012 helped to highlight the city as a flourishing European capital. With the EURO, Romania is keen to enchant Europe once again, and plans to throw a party all supporters will be sure to enjoy.

Bucharest's Palace of the Parliament is an iconic building
Bucharest's Palace of the Parliament is an iconic building©Getty Images

“We aim to offer all fans a unique experience and have formed a strategic partnership with the Bucharest municipality that’s running smoothly. Supporters will savour a unique atmosphere in the stadium and the fan zones,” says the FRF president. “Visitors to Bucharest will discover a city once called Little Paris, in a country surrounded by Slavic peoples that is Europe’s gateway to the Orient. It’s a cultural melting pot you can’t find anywhere else! And, of course, we guarantee the joy of Latin-style football!”

Infrastructure and inspiration
In turn, Burleanu anticipates a lasting positive impact on the capital’s facilities. “I think hosting the European Championship will help us a lot. Firstly, with regard to infrastructure, as the last public investments in Romanian infrastructure were made during the 1970s and 80s. But also football development, as we expect an increase in attendance figures and the number of children playing football in Romania.”

Promoting the game among the younger generation is a priority for the FRF, Burleanu says. “It’s what we have been doing since 2015, through our generic ‘Together we are football’ programme. We have started 23 new competitions and we are pursuing this course.

“It will certainly be a great inspiration for young players to see their idols in the flesh in Bucharest. Most often, their idols are foreign,” he says. “So, this time we want their idols to be our national team players. We are so excited, even proud, to have a highly competitive national youth set-up. What certainly counts the most when you take part in an event of this scale is the transfer of know-how from UEFA to the national federation. It will surely make a difference as that know-how will then be applied to other final tournaments we host in Romania. That’s also why we would like to apply to host a UEFA youth or women’s football championship, for example.”

Volunteer mentality
The FRF has also been working hard to launch its volunteer programme. Volunteer commitment and enthusiasm are highly valued by the federation, and Burleanu hopes the event will set the tone for future volunteering in Romania.

Răzvan Burleanu with UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin
Răzvan Burleanu with UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin©FRF

“It will involve a new concept for Romania that we plan on developing very soon, namely volunteering,” he says. “For a country marked by the trauma of communism, when ‘volunteerism’ was imposed by the communist party as so-called patriotic labour, it is a great challenge to attract 2,000 volunteers. But we are targeting young people, whose mentality is different.”

Once known as Little Paris, down to the Arcul de Triumf based on its French namesake, the Romanian capital is once again a booming economic hub and a dynamic city. The renewed vitality has brought a surge in visitors keen to explore Bucharest’s eclectic charms, with this city of contrasts offering a spectacular array of Orthodox churches and reputedly the heaviest building in the world, the vast Palace of Parliament. Football remains a local passion too, appropriately enough for the home of 1986 European champions FC Steaua București. The National Arena is of a newer vintage, inaugurated in 2011, but is no stranger to high-profile matches, having hosted the 2012 UEFA Europa League final.

National Arena Bucharest
Capacity: 54,000

14 June: Group C match
18 June: Group C match
22 June: Group C match
29 June: Round of 16

This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct 183