Return to Eden nears for Slavia

After a long exile, UEFA Champions League debutants SK Slavia Praha are counting down to a return home as their brand new Eden Stadion nears completion.

SK Slavia Praha supporters have already had much to celebrate this season. With their side through to the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time, things are falling into place nicely for Karel Jarolím's team.

Nomadic existence
The biggest reason for cheer, though, may be yet to come. Slavia kick off their UEFA Champions League campaign on Tuesday at home to FC Steaua Bucureşti at the unpopular Evzena Rošického national stadium in the Strahov district of Prague. Should all go to plan, they will complete their European odyssey at a home of their own, finally ending their nomadic existence after seven years in exile.

Strahov snub
Slavia's old Eden Stadion, with its creaking wooden stands, has been ineligible for European matches since 1996. Slavia continued to play league games there until 2000, when they were eventually forced to move to Strahov on a full-time basis. The national stadium, however, is unpopular among players and fans alike and in recent years, even the Czech Republic national side have preferred to play at AC Sparta Praha's ground.

Declining attendances
Slavia's average attendance has steadily declined since they left the Eden Stadion. It is now under 5,000, half Sparta's average crowd, although support for the two clubs is split equally in Prague. The absence of any real home advantage is considered one of the reasons why Slavia have won only one 1. Liga title since they were banished from Eden.

€36m arena
That could be about to change, however, as the new Eden Stadion takes shape on the same plot as the old ground in Vrsovice. The foundation stone was laid last October and already the stands and roof are in place. The €36m arena is on course to be finished by 11 March with a derby against rivals Sparta penned in for its inaugural fixture.

New Eden
The new Eden will have an all-seater capacity of 21,000, all covered, and will boast a heated pitch, restaurants, a sizeable car park, giant screens, as well as a new station called Slavia. For the time being, three points is all that matters against Steaua, yet as Slavia suporters contemplate a return to Eden next spring, they will surely agree there is no place like home.

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