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10 April 2016

UEFA Champions League Final 2016

This month, the curtain falls on what has been both an eventful and dramatic season of European club football. As always, marking the send-off to the campaign will be the match to determine the best team on the continent; the UEFA Champions League Final.

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Ibrahim Mustapha is a multimedia journalist having covered news, sport and the BBC since 2008. He also writes his own football blog: www.elevenmanteam.com 

Since its inception in 1955, the competition founded as the European Champions Clubs’ Cup and then simply the European Cup, has morphed into the behemoth that remains unchallenged as European football’s most prestigious prize. Of the 78 teams to have participated in this year’s competition since the qualifying rounds began last July, only one will raise the famous trophy in triumph come May 28th.

The destination for this year’s final will be Italy, taking place in the country’s largest and arguably most famous football stadium. The San Siro stadium in Milan’s North Western district will welcome two teams and 80,015 fans, to see who will be crowned 2016’s kings of European football.

San-Siro

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Naturally, an arena capable of accommodating so many supporters, officials and dignitaries is necessary for such an occasion. The stadium and the city’s rich and extensive footballing history make it the ideal setting for a match as grand as the Champions League final.

In 1899, ‘Milan Cricket and Football Club’ was established by English businessman Alfred Edwards. It would later discard the cricket and adopt the Association Calcio Milan name we are familiar with today. However, less than a decade later in 1908, internal disagreements saw the club split, leading to the formation of Football Club Internazionale Milano and a rivalry for the ages was born.

Built in 1926, the stadium was designed specifically for football and became the permanent home of AC Milan who had been playing at a number of local venues up until that point. Following the sale of the ground to the council in 1935, Inter Milan eventually moved in to share the venue in 1947 – having previously played 5 kilometres east at the multi-purpose Arena Civica. The ground has seen a number of redevelopments over the years and has even hosted other sports such as boxing and rugby, as well as music concerts.

AC-Milan

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The two clubs are instantly recognisable thanks to their distinctive home shirts. AC Milan’s famous Red and Black stripes (Rossoneri), contrast Inter’s Nerazzurri (Black and Blue) jerseys. The Milan derby is known locally as the Derby Della Madonnina – ‘Madonnina’ translated from ‘little Madonna’ in honour of the Virgin Mary statue that sits atop the world famous ‘Duomo’ –  Milan’s eminent city centre cathedral.

Inter-Milan

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Having traded blows for over a century, the two are currently tied on 18 domestic Serie A league titles apiece. AC Milan has the upper hand in Europe however with seven Champions League wins to Inter’s three. The former’s last success came following a 2-1 win over Liverpool in Athens back in 2007, while Inter’s most recent triumph was in 2010 after they beat Bayern Munich 2-0 in Madrid, securing the club an unprecedented treble in the process alongside the league title and the Coppa Italia.

Curiously, despite their rich history and status as two of Italy’s biggest clubs, both teams currently find themselves in something of a rut. Both failed to qualify for this season’s competition so there will be no hometown fairy-tale climax for either team this year. A contrast to the first time the San Siro hosted a European Cup final back in 1965. That year, Inter defeated Benfica 1-0 on home soil to lift the trophy for a second consecutive season. This also completed a unique hat-trick of wins for the Milan clubs after the Rosonerri’s triumph two years prior.

Five years later in 1970, the final would be held at the San Siro again. However, AC Milan were denied the opportunity to replicate the feat of their rivals of successfully defending the trophy at home. Following their success in the 1969 final against Ajax in Madrid, they would come a cropper at the hands of another Dutch side in Feyenoord, who would eliminate them in the second round before going on to win the competition in Milan against Celtic 6 months on.

Officially, the San Siro is known as the ‘Stadio Giuseppe Meazza’ in recognition of the free-scoring striker who spent 13 years at Inter from 1927 to 1940 before bridging the divide by moving directly to AC Milan for a brief spell. Meazza also starred in Italy’s first two World Cup wins in 1934 and 1938 respectively and was immortalised when the stadium was renamed in his honour in 1980 – a year after his death. The European Championships were held in Italy that same year and the stadium hosted three group stage matches.

San-Siro-snip

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A number of World Cup games during Italia 90 were also played at the San Siro, including the shock defeat of defending World Champions Argentina to Cameroon in the tournament’s opener. West Germany also played five of their seven matches at the stadium en route to winning the competition.

Perhaps that same good fortune transferred to German club sides in the subsequent years as Schalke beat Inter on penalties at the San Siro in the second leg of the 1997 UEFA Cup final, before Bayern Munich defeated Valencia by the same method in the 2001 Champions League final – the third time the final was held in Milan.

milan-duomo

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In the days leading up to the game, UEFA will take over the host city as they hold their very own annual ‘Champions Festival’ event. This year, the Festival will be held from May 26th-29th at the Piazza del Duomo outside the famed cathedral. The festival features a number of football-themed activities including competitions, a ‘museum of champions’, a chance to see the trophy and appearances from football legends and past tournament winners. Even without a match ticket, the free festival provides an opportunity for anybody who is in the area to get into the spirit of the final and soak up the unrivalled atmosphere of one of football’s great spectacles.

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