Former Republic of Ireland midfielder Ronnie Whelan said his countrymen are "delighted" to be hosting the UEFA Europa League final in Dublin after he was unveiled as ambassador.
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Former Liverpool FC and Republic of Ireland midfielder Ronnie Whelan will serve as the UEFA Europa League final ambassador for his home city Dublin, which stages this season's showpiece on 18 May next year.
Whelan, who won 53 caps for Ireland, fulfilled the first of his duties as final ambassador by participating in Friday's UEFA Europa League group stage draw at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. "I'm really, really proud to be doing this," the 48-year-old said. "It's absolutely brilliant."
This season's UEFA Europa League final will be held at the new 50,000-seat Dublin Arena, which was converted from the old Lansdowne Road stadium. The revamped venue opened for business with this month's friendly between Ireland and Argentina, a game Whelan attended. "I went for the first time then and was very impressed by the new stadium – the surface is magnificent and everything else is very state of the art.
"There was a great atmosphere; the shouting from the crowd goes right out on to the pitch," added Whelan, who in his club career helped Liverpool capture the 1984 European Champion Clubs' Cup as well as winning six English championships, two FA Cups and three League Cups. "The stadium is brilliant. It wouldn't matter who got through to the final – the biggest clubs in Europe: the stadium itself is fit for a big, big final."
The 2010/11 UEFA Europa League showpiece will be the first major final hosted by the Republic of Ireland, and Whelan is predicting an occasion to remember. "I don't think the people of Ireland ever dreamed of having a European final," he added. "Dubliners are very knowledgeable about their football. They will be delighted to see two big European teams come to their city to play a big European final. Everybody will be made welcome – it's an Irish thing: everyone who visits will be blown away by the Irish people and their warm welcome."