"This stadium will encourage players to perform and improve," said Romania's most capped player Dorinel Munteanu as the National Arena in Bucharest hosted its first major fixture.
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Some of the most important Romanian players of the past decades gathered in Bucharest on Tuesday as the new National Arena, the venue for the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League final, was officially opened.
The four players capped more than 100 times for Romania were the star guests at the ceremony, which preceded Romania's 0-0 UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying draw against France; László Bölöni (108 caps, now coach of PAOK FC), Gheorghe Popescu (115 caps), Gheorghe Hagi (125 caps) and Dorinel Munteanu (134 caps, now coach of Romanian champions FC Oţelul Galaţi).
All four players have fond memories of the old Stadionul 23 August – later National Stadium – which stood on the site of the new arena, which is Romania's first ever elite-standard venue. "This stadium will encourage players to perform and improve," said Munteanu, who will lead Oţelul in the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time next season.
Meanwhile, UEFA Europa League final ambassador Miodrag Belodedici, capped 53 times for Romania, added: "It is a very beautiful stadium, very elegant; something we have not had in Romania before. People in Romania are very keen to see new stadiums, to see infrastructural improvements in sport, and I hope it will be a great success."
Demolition work on the old stadium began immediately after a UEFA EURO 2008 qualifier against Albania on 21 November 2007. The new National Arena took four years to build and boasts a capacity of nearly 55,000, including 42 executive boxes with space for 504 VIP guests. The roof spans 29,600 square metres with the whole site covering 108,420 square metres.
When the original Stadionul 23 August was built to host the 4th World Festival of Youth and Students in 1953, it lay in a village at the edge of Bucharest. The same site is now one of the capital's most thriving districts, just 10 minutes from the city centre, with the new home of the Romanian national team now a badge of honour for a modern, developing Bucharest.
It is also a sign of what is to come for Romanian football; this year two other showcase stadiums are expected to be opened – the Cluj Arena and the Stadionul Ilie Oană in Ploiesti.