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Tirana's new stage ready for the spotlight

The new National Arena of Albania, host of the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League final, is benefiting the whole country as much as its teams.

Albania's National Arena is set for its first European club final
Albania's National Arena is set for its first European club final UEFA via Getty Images

Wednesday night will be a career highlight for one of the teams, a day they will never forget. But thanks to community-orientated thinking, the venue for the first ever UEFA Europa Conference League final, the National Arena of Tirana, is something that normal people get to enjoy 365 days a year.

Conference League final venue: Tirana

The stylish, redeveloped stadium, complete with its splendid tower, was officially opened when Albania played world champions France on 17 November 2019.

It has revitalised a once neglected area. Now the 21,690-capacity venue is a symbol of the city and at the service of citizens and tourists. Aside from football, visitors can experience shopping facilities, restaurants, cafes and a hotel. And not any old hotel.

Chief architect Marco Casamonti explains: "The hotel is housed inside the tower on one of the corners of the stadium. You can see across the city, it’s a magnificent view, the tower is a genuine landmark. This arena will be used all year round. Sporting structures that are needed twice or three times a year are simply unsustainable and not environmentally friendly. Inside, the flat side with the VIP seats can double up as a stage area for concerts."

Lorik Cana, former Albania captain and UEFA Europa Conference League final ambassador

"People are going to enjoy the stadium. It was built on the old site, where the former national stadium was. The renovation began after EURO 2016 and was finished about two years ago. It's in the heart of the city – it's part of the city.

"It's not just a great event, it will also give our nation the chance to be excellent hosts. To host the first final of the Conference League, to show the world Albania's natural values – hospitality, warmth – and the quality of our fans. To feel considered and, above all, to feel like we're part of the European and football families. Albania is starting to be put on the map. We're starting to exist on the map of European football and that's a great thing.

"The people who watch on TV will see a great environment, new and modern infrastructure – proper infrastructure for a final, for the first edition of the Europa Conference League. Equally, the people who will have the opportunity to be in Tirana will have the chance to see and try out what we offer: our hospitality as Albanians."

Stylish Italian influence on Albania's National Arena

The stadium was partially funded by UEFA's HatTrick assistance programme, which invests revenue generated by UEFA EURO tournaments back into the game, and its environmental credentials include underground tanks which gather rainwater for irrigation of the playing surface.

What is the UEFA HatTrick programme?

This new marvel sprung up on the site of the old national stadium, which was demolished. That original version was designed by Gherardo Bosio, a native of Florence, around 80 years ago. By coincidence, Casamonti is also from the Tuscan city. "I am incredibly proud to oversee this rebirth. There is an Italian influence across Albania," he explains. "Between 1925 and 1940 architects from my country were responsible for so many buildings there. The square in front of the stadium is called Piazza Italia. We share a long history of sharing our art and culture with Albania."

The National Arena is a visual delight. The outside features 3,200 aluminium columns wrapped in a stunning pattern which resemble the rugs Albania is renowned for. And naturally they are rendered in red and black, the country's national colour scheme.

Once the action starts, fans are much closer to the pitch than before. Casamonti and his team dispensed with the running track and took inspiration from British football where the supporters are much nearer to the turf. The National Arena of Tirana is indubitably a setting fit for a UEFA final. But not only: it is destined to become a treasured part of everyday life in the capital.

A full version of this article appears in the official UEFA Europa Conference League final programme, available to buy online now.

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