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Lechia give lift-off to Arena Gdansk

UEFA EURO 2012 felt a little closer in Gdansk as KS Lechia Gdańsk hosted the first competitive match at the city's new stadium, drawing 1-1 with MKS Cracovia Kraków.

Over 34,000 spectators took in the opening game at the Municipal Stadium Gdansk
Over 34,000 spectators took in the opening game at the Municipal Stadium Gdansk ©Cyfrasport

Poland's preparations for UEFA EURO 2012 took another major step forward on Sunday as the new Arena Gdansk hosted its first match, a 1-1 Polish First Division draw between resident side KS Lechia Gdańsk and MKS Cracovia Kraków.

A total of 34,444 spectators got their first feel of the venue, which will stage three group games and a quarter-final at next summer's UEFA European Championship, co-hosted by Ukraine. "Today, we are taking football in Gdansk to a new level," said the city's mayor, Paweł Adamowicz, who unveiled two commemorative plaques before the match along with the vice-chairman of the Gdansk Support Committee, Zbigniew Canowiecki.

"This stadium came into being thanks to all the citizens of Gdansk. They can all feel like co-owners because they all funded this construction. I would also like to thank the prime minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, for the Polish government's financial support."

The stadium has been built specifically for UEFA EURO 2012, with the designs drawn up by the architects behind the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen and Hannover 96's home ground. Located in Gdansk's Letnica neighbourhood, the venue is situated in the middle of a triangle formed by the Old Town, the famous shipyards and the airport, and its curved exterior consists of 18,000 plates designed to resemble amber, which has long been extracted along the Baltic coast.

"This is a great day for us," added Canowiecki, whose support committee were a driving force behind the project. "From now on we can enjoy this huge and amazing stadium, the most beautiful in Europe. Today is a beautiful day for the whole city."

After the archbishop of Gdansk, Sławoj Leszek Głódź, blessed the new stadium, it was time for football to take centre stage, with Lechia president Maciej Turnowiecki telling his players before kick-off: "For the majority of people in northern Poland, Lechia are something special. Today we can be even prouder because, now we have this arena, Gdansk is no longer the same city and Lechia no longer the same club. Make yourselves at home – you're the hosts here."

His side clearly took those words to heart as they attacked from the start, and the honour of scoring the first goal at the ground fell to Lechia forward Fred Benson on 25 minutes. Visitors Cracovia wanted to play their own part in the festivities, however, and drew level through Aleksejs Višņakovs midway through the second period.

"Our dream is that this stadium will be sold out every match," said Adamowicz, with plans to use the arena for music concerts, congresses, conferences and various other events. It even boasts a roller-skate track, which runs around the stadium and is connected to bicycle paths along the Baltic coast.

"I believe that today we are witnessing the birth of a new tradition of people spending time not by going to shopping centres but by coming to stadiums with their whole family. Long live Gdansk, long live Lechia Gdańsk – and may football progress here in a sporting atmosphere."