Famous faces, fantastic football and a great atmosphere. Saint-Etienne gave a taste of what to expect next summer as it hosted the Match Against Poverty – but maybe not the 9-7 score.
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Zinédine Zidane and Ronaldo had top billing when a host of football legends graced the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard as passionate fans at the UEFA EURO 2016 venue gave a mouthwatering taste of what teams may experience there next year.
France played their recent friendly with Denmark at AS Saint-Étienne's legendary home, and it again provided the stage for an international fixture with the 12th Match Against Poverty organised by Zidane and his former Real Madrid CF team-mate.
An enthusiastic capacity crowd of nearly 34,000 saw global household names like Clarence Seedorf, Fabien Barthez, Youri Djorkaeff and Edwin van der Sar lose an entertaining encounter 9-7. Their opponents were a St-Étienne all-star side peppered with former and current players given the sort of rapturous welcome visiting sides can expect when they arrive in this football-mad city as one of 24 EURO contenders.
"It's a mythical stadium, one of the best in France with one of the best atmospheres. It would have been a shame if this stadium hadn't been chosen," said local-born Loïc Perrin, the current St-Étienne captain, who was deprived of a place on the pitch due to an injury sustained in his team's Ligue 1 draw with Olympique Lyonnais only 24 hours earlier.
"It's one of the best atmospheres in France. I have played all over the country and there is no competition. We have extraordinary fans. The Stade Geoffroy-Guichard is a wonderful stadium, it has been renovated, it's beautiful."
While Le Chaudron — the Cauldron — as the stadium is nicknamed lived up to its reputation, former St-Étienne players, such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kurt Zouma, were given a chance to see first-hand the facelift this iconic venue has undergone in preparation for the final tournament. The four corners of the ground, one of ten across France that will host EURO games, have been filled in, lifting its capacity to 42,000 come the final tournament.
"Hosting EURO 2016 has enabled clubs to renovate stadiums, such as the Geoffroy-Guichard. It looks great, I think it's a success. It'll remind me of a few things. I played here in '84, and there'll be matches here. It'll be great," 1984 UEFA European Championship winner and former St-Étienne player Dominique Rocheteau, who is now vice-president of Les Verts' Supervisory Board, told UEFA.com.
"We call the Geoffroy-Guichard 'Le Chaudron', and it's no coïncidence. It's because there's a great atmosphere. I compare this stadium to the ones in England where the fans are very close to the players, that's why there's a great atmosphere."
That feel-good vibe will extend beyond the confines of the stadium come the EURO, Jérémie Janot, former St-Étienne goalkeeper and UEFA EURO 2016 ambassador, told UEFA.com, meaning that while players can expect to be given vocal backing, fans will also receive the warmest of welcomes in this unassuming, unpretentious city.
"The thing you notice most is the warmth of the people here," said Janot, whose name resonated round the stadium before kick-off, lustily yelled out by fans who took him into their hearts during his 16-year-long spell at the club. "You're really warmly welcomed. When you come here to study or play football, for example, it's very difficult to leave."