A five-day celebration of football kicked off in Rome's historic centre on Saturday, with the official opening of the UEFA Champions Festival.
Fans of all nations are expected to flood to the Arco di Costantino and the neighbouring Parco di Colle Oppio – which staged the opening ceremony on Saturday – in the days leading up to the final on Wednesday 27 May, with an array of exhibitions, competitions and entertainment being laid on in advance of the game between Manchester United FC and FC Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico. The opening ceremony was attended by former Italy goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani and Alessandro Cocchi, responsible for sports matters with the City of Rome. The UEFA Training Ground contains an exclusive video about this annual celebration of football, click here to view it.
Following similar events at the finals in Paris in 2006, Athens in 2007 and Moscow in 2008, the Champions Festival offers a multi-event entertainment programme throughout the day and into the evening, leading up to a few hours before the final kicks off. The UEFA Champions League trophy will be on display, along with the Champions Collection and the Champions Gallery, collections of memorabilia and images reflecting the excitement of Europe's top club competition.
Other highlights include the UEFA Young Champions Tournament, a football competition for boys and girls aged ten to 16, live music and DJs, football pitches, special booths dedicated to each finalist club – which will be visited by each team's final ambassadors (Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Bryan Robson for Manchester United; Hristo Stoitchkov for Barcelona) in the afternoon of Tuesday 26 May – and an array of quizzes and activities courtesy of the UEFA Champions League sponsors.
Wednesday will also see the 'Ultimate Champions' Match, featuring a stellar cast of former players. Kicking off at 14.00CET, a European team coached by Ruud Gullit and captained by Frank Rijkaard will take on an all-Italian selection which includes final ambassador Bruno Conti. Pierluigi Collina will be on hand to maintain order. To see the lineup in full, click here.
"The kids and supporters have a great time and there is a party atmosphere prior to the game," said four-time European champion and UEFA ambassador Phil Neal, while former Chelsea FC defender Graeme Le Saux added: "The most important thing is the way it engages not only with the fans but with the local people. It spreads the spirit of the game."
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