Full speed ahead
Aigner: Euro 2004 preparations well on trackPosted: Monday March 31, 2003 9:40 PM
NYON, Switzerland (Reuters) -- UEFA chief executive Gerhard Aigner has said he is happy with the progress of preparations for the 2004 European Championships in Portugal.
Speaking in his editorial column of the UEFA Direct publication, Aigner also confirmed that the quarterfinals of next year's tournament will be played over four days.
"I am happy to report that, with Euro 2004 only 15 months away, preparations are well advanced, and the joint operation set up by UEFA and the Portuguese Football Federation is running at full speed," Aigner wrote.
"Work on the stadiums is progressing at a good rate and all the other elements needed to guarantee a successful event are gradually being put into place, from the broadcasting of the matches to arrangements for taking care of the supporters and ticket sales."
Aigner, who will step down as chief executive at the end of the year, believes Euro 2004 promises to be one of the best tournaments in history.
"In another important step, the match calendar for the tournament has been established, breaking new ground by scheduling the four quarterfinals over as many days," Aigner said.
"The event might be over a year away but, it promises to be a great summer of football in Portugal next year."
Official: Big worry is access to stadiums
LISBON (Reuters) -- Fans' access to stadiums is the major worry for organizers of the 2004 European soccer championships in Portugal, a top official said.
Martin Kallen, chief operating officer for the Euro 2004 finals, said late on Sunday that tens of millions of euros was being spent on roads, railways, parking and subways to be sure the estimated 1.2 million fans expected for the event could make it to games easily.
"That is our main concern," he said during a press tour of nine of the tournament's 10 stadiums. "We want to get to a level where you get to a stadium in a quick way."
The challenge facing organizers was clear on Saturday at Portugal's international friendly against Brazil at Antas stadium in the northern city of Oporto. Antas and Oporto's Bessa stadium will host eight of the 31 tournament games.
Traffic jams around the stadium converted what was normally a 15-minute trip from one hotel into a two-hour ordeal. Some frustrated spectators had to walk from vehicles stuck on the motorway leading to the stadium in order to reach it in time for the game's start.
"Antas is the worst at the moment, no question," Kallen said. The stadium is being replaced by a 50,000-seat structure that will have improved traffic access and subway service.
Portugal, one of the poorest countries in the European Union, already is grappling with traffic woes arising from a 10-fold increase in the number of vehicles since the early 1970s.
Game-day traffic and parking around Benfica's Luz stadium in Lisbon, for example, is so problematic that parked cars line motorways for hundreds of meters around the site.
Luz stadium is being torn down and replaced by a new 65,000-seat venue that will hold the tournament finals in July 2004.
Kallen said potential access headaches at the Benfica site would be eased by its two nearby subway stops, improved parking and police oversight.
Portugal's central government is contributing 75 million euros to improve access for the stadiums and another 10 million on parking, Kallen said.
With construction at stadiums set to be completed at the end of September, organizers also are focusing on stadium security, including hiring and training stewards, Kallen said.
A new system using professional and volunteer stewards instead of police will get its first test during the next premiership season.
The stadiums will cost about 640 million euros when such features as shopping centres, clinics and gyms built into them are included.
Wreckers start on Benfica's 'Stadium of Light'
LISBON (Reuters) -- Demolition began at Benfica's Stadium of Light on Monday, bringing to an end half a century of glorious football at one of the world's greatest arenas.
Dubbed both the "cathedral" and "inferno" for the fervor of its fans, the stadium was home to Portugal's most successful club and its greatest player Eusebio and was the launch pad for George Best's rocket to stardom in the 1960s.
The new Luz stadium, being built next door, will host the final of next year's European championship.
"I have a lot of nostalgia for the old stadium because there were so many great victories here," vice-chairman Mario Dias said during a tour of the 65,000-seat new site.
"However, we're replacing it with one that's better. ... This was a great challenge for the club," he said against a backdrop of whining power tools and spitting welders' torches.
Eusebio said he had wept at Benfica's last game in the old stadium, a 1-0 win over Santa Clara on March 22. A capacity crowd of 55,000 roared their approval as winger Simao Sabrosa scored the final goal in Luz, the Portuguese word for light.
"I couldn't hold back the tears even knowing that this 'light' was going out so that the Luz of the 21st century could go on," he said.
Built in 1954 with 30,000 seats, the old stadium was expanded to a maximum of 120,000 seats in 1985 -- Europe's largest stadium. Renovation and the destruction of one end as part of the new building had, however, cut the number of seats.
Benfica won the European Cup twice in the 1960s and still has the country's biggest fan base.
Best, the Manchester United winger, marked one of the greatest moments at Luz with a stunning performance in a European Cup quarterfinal in 1966 that established him as the "fifth Beatle."
Facing Benfica and Eusebio, the 19-year-old Best scored four goals in a 5-1 rout of the Lisbon side just hours after Eusebio had been handed the trophy as Europe's top player.
Brazil's Pele also outdueled Eusebio in 1962 when his Santos side topped Benfica 5-2 in an Intercontinental Cup match. Eusebio scored twice but Pele topped him with a hat trick.
"I can still remember the great excitement surrounding that game," Pele told A Bola newspaper. Eusebio had a statue in his honor raised at the stadium's entrance.
Luz was the site of one of Portugal's finest international moments in 1991 when its "golden generation" of young players, including Luis Figo, beat Brazil to take the world junior title.
However, the cheers have faded in recent years with Benfica failing to win a title since 1994. The club hit a low point in November with a loss to second division squad Gondomar in the Portuguese Cup.
Under Jose Antonio Camacho, who coached Spain in last year's World Cup, Benfica now lie second in the premier leagues.
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