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The Stade de France: a stage suited to champions

The breath-taking Stade de France has hosted some of the biggest events in world sport since a certain Zinédine Zidane got the ball rolling in 1998.

UEFA via Getty Images

If you could pick the first player to score at your new stadium, Zinédine Zidane would be a pretty enviable choice. There was much excitement when the Stade de France opened in January 1998, giving the country its biggest sporting arena and a futuristic venue to be proud of – and that was before kick-off in the opening match between the home nation and Spain.

"France finally has a stadium worthy of the name," announced the commentator on French television, introducing a friendly contest that featured ice on the pitch and hair on a young Zidane’s head, as he blasted the only goal of the game past Andoni Zubizarreta.

The Stade de France had been built to serve as the showpiece venue of the FIFA World Cup later that year, and the fans present that cold January night were given a first glimpse of an arena worthy of staging the world’s biggest sporting events. It would soon emerge as one of the stars of the tournament– along with Zizou, of course. The legendary playmaker further cemented his place in the stadium’s lore with two goals in the final, as France beat Brazil to claim their maiden World Cup title.

Match winner Zinédine Zidane lifts the trophy after victory in the 1998 World Cup final against Brazil at the Stade de France
Match winner Zinédine Zidane lifts the trophy after victory in the 1998 World Cup final against Brazil at the Stade de FranceGetty Images

More than two decades on, the Stade de France can still take the breath away whenever supporters make the trip to Saint-Denis.

With seating for 80,000 fans (capacity at Saturday's Champions League final will be 75,000), it is big and bold – the largest stadium built in Europe for over 40 years when it first opened its doors. And perhaps most eye-catching of all is its giant, elliptical roof, supported by 18 steel masts.

A long line of unforgettable occasions

 Portugal's Eder scores the winning goal in the UEFA EURO 2016 final
Portugal's Eder scores the winning goal in the UEFA EURO 2016 finalGetty Images

The Stade de France was the first arena to feature seating that can be moved to reveal an athletics track and is set to stage track and field events at the 2024 Summer Olympics. It became the first venue to hold World Cup finals in both football and rugby when South Africa beat England in the climax of the latter competition in 2007.

Back to the football, it was here too that Portugal pipped France to the EURO 2016 title, denying France coach Didier Deschamps another glorious Saint-Denis night after he had captained Les Bleus in 1998. And it was on this same pitch that Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively won the Stade de France’s two previous Champions League finals.

When it was decided to relocate the 2022 final, there was no more obvious choice.

Five nights in Paris

This isn’t the first time European club football's elite competition has been decided in the French capital. 2022 will mark its sixth final and here, we detail the previous five, which includes a meeting between these two very sides:

Real Madrid 4-3 Stade De Reims
Seven goals, several legends and a spectacular way to get the ball rolling. The European Cup had been launched just nine months earlier and, as the brainchild of French sports daily L’Équipe, it was fitting that the first final should be held at the Parc des Princes – at the time, the city's leading stadium.

Bayern München 2-0 Leeds United
The second of Bayern’s hat-trick of titles in the mid-1970s so nearly never happened. To mark the 20th anniversary of the European Cup, the final returned to the Parc des Princes.

Liverpool 1-0 Real Madrid
Six-time winners Madrid were back in Paris to chase an elusive first European title since 1966, but Liverpool claimed their third in five years and a record third for manager Bob Paisley.

Real Madrid 3-0 Valencia
The first final between two teams from the same nation could hardly have merited a grander stage. Opened just two years before, the Stade de France provided an ultramodern backdrop for a showpiece ringing in the 21st century, and it was Madrid who swaggered to the title to banish memories of their last final in the French capital.

Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal
The 10-man Gunners had reached this stage without conceding for a record ten games, but having gone in front in the first half, they were pegged back with 15 minutes remaining before conceding a late winner as Barcelona claimed their second title in the competition.

A full version of this article appears in the official UEFA Champions League final programme.

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