Barcelona v Manchester United

Stadio Olimpico - A storied stadium

May 26, 2009
By Phil Holland
(Archive)

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The culmination of the 2008-09 UEFA Champions League season will be staged at the 72,689-seat Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

EmpicsAn external view of Rome's Stadio Olimpico

The traditional home to the Italian national team, and the shared ground for both AS Roma and SS Lazio, the Stadio Olimpico has played host to the final of Europe's foremost club competition on three previous occasions; with the event on Wednesday, May 27th marking the second time the Champions League finale has been held there since the competition's rebranding in 1992.

Rome first played host to the European Cup final in 1977, when Liverpool lifted the trophy for the first time after beating Borussia Mönchengladbach. Liverpool were back in the Eternal City in 1984 when Bruce Grobbelaar and his ''spaghetti legs'' triumphed in a penalty shootout against hometown side Roma.

The third occasion Rome staged the final came in 1996 when the last great Ajax side of the modern era lost out to Juventus on penalties after a tight game.

The stadium owes its genesis to the darkest period of European history, having been conceived as a propaganda tool to rival Berlin's Olympiastadion.

Jealous of Hitler's 1936 Olympic Games, Italian fascist dictator Mussolini called for the creation of facilities to host the 1944 edition of the Games. London won the race to stage the Olympics but construction of the venue in Rome went ahead regardless.

The Stadio dei Cipressi was opened in 1938 and formed the centrepiece of the Foro Mussolini sports complex. After the Second World War the facility was renamed the Foro Italico and, in 1953, the stadium itself was renovated and renamed the Stadio Olimpico after finally winning the right to stage the 1960 Olympics.

After staging the finals of both the 1968 and 1980 UEFA European Championships, as well as Liverpool's European Cup victories in '77 and '84, the stadium was completely razed and rebuilt ahead of the 1990 FIFA World Cup.

The stadium hosted the dour 1990 World Cup final, but came close to losing that privilege as arguments over FIFA's demands that its new capacity be 80,000 and a roof be built to cover two thirds of supporters led to delays and spiralling costs.

Just 13 months ahead of the finals the venue was nowhere near ready and it took the threat of the showpiece final being moved to Milan to force through completion.

Thankfully, no such dramas marred the Stadio Olimpico's most recent refit which was completed in 2008 ahead of the 2009 Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United.