"Seeing loyal fans who watch the UEFA Champions League every week makes me proud to be here," said Ruud van Nistelrooy as Europe's top club prize visited Vietnam.
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The biggest prize in club football, accompanied by Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robert Pirès, was given an outstanding reception on its first visit to Vietnam as the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour – presented by Heineken – rolled into Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
Former Manchester United FC and Real Madrid CF striker Van Nistelrooy kicked off proceedings at a press conference in Vietnam's tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City – the Bitexco Tower – where he spoke of his pride at seeing such passionate, fanatical supporters. "It's great to be here," said the three-time UEFA Champions League top scorer. "I'm really enjoying Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City. I was really delighted by the warm welcome: not only the weather but the people too. They received me with open arms and I really enjoyed their kindness.
"The atmosphere is great and the city is beautiful. Seeing loyal fans who watch the UEFA Champions League every week makes me proud to be here. I am grateful to Heineken for bringing me here and for giving the Vietnamese people the chance to see the trophy. I hope to come back in the future."
Fans turned out in numbers for a glimpse of 'Old Big Ears' at the two-day public event on the banks of the Saigon river, where Van Nistelrooy was joined by fellow trophy tour ambassador Pirès. The pair arrived in style on a boat, with the silverware in tow, and were frequently available to sign autographs and pose for photos.
"It's fantastic to see the trophy here and to see so many fans with a real passion for the UEFA Champions League," said Pirès, who won the 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2000 with France. "I did not get the chance to lift the cup during my career as we lost against Barcelona in the final in 2006, but it is a beautiful trophy. Its shape and image is so distinctive."
Van Nistelrooy and Pires also took time out to answers users' questions in exclusive Q&A sessions on the official UEFA Champions League Facebook page. The ex-Arsenal FC winger revealed his favourite goal against rivals Tottenham Hotspur FC, while the former Dutch international explained what it takes to become a prolific striker.
On Sunday, the trophy tour moved 1160km north to Hanoi, where the reaction of supporters was similarly enthusiastic. Pirès was on hand to greet the fans and bring the trophy's inaugural visit to Vietnam to a successful conclusion.