The countdown to the UEFA Champions League final at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium continues apace after one of the stars of the show – the trophy itself – was handed over to the city of Madrid at a special ceremony in the Spanish capital.
With spring sunshine shining through the glass roof of the magnificent Palacio de Comunicaciones in the Plaza de Cibeles, footballing dignitaries joined players past and present to witness the arrival of one of sport's most coveted prizes: the UEFA Champions League Trophy.
In a symbolic act heralding Madrid's role as host city, last season's trophy winners FC Barcelona – represented by honorary president Johan Cruyff and club president Joan Laporta – handed the celebrated silverware to the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president, Ángel María Villar Llona, who in turn presented it to Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, mayor of Madrid.
"This city feels deeply honoured and moved at being given the responsibility of hosting the final," said Alberto Ruiz Gallardón. "It is a final that will take place in a magnificent stadium belonging to a team [Real Madrid CF] that has won this competition nine times, so we hope to see an unforgettable game."
The showpiece occasion on Saturday 22 May will the fourth time Madrid has staged a European Champion Clubs' Cup final – the last was the 1980 edition between Nottingham Forest FC and Hamburger SV – and the first in the UEFA Champions League era.
Ángel María Villar Llona expressed the RFEF's pride in helping to meet the challenge of organising what is not just a final, but a week-long programme of activities featuring the Champions Festival (15-22 May), UEFA Grassroots Day (19 May), the Under-18 final/Champions Challenge (19 May) and the UEFA Women's Champions League final in Getafe (20 May).
"This marvellous city lives and breathes football," he told an audience that included Real Madrid favourites Raúl González, Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo. With this UEFA Champions League final also being the first played on a Saturday, Villar Llona – a UEFA third vice-president – added: "One of the priorities has been to allow more families and children in particular to see the game, so we are delighted."
Final ambassador Emilio Butragueño highlighted the importance of the pre-match activities, which will make it an exciting build-up to the big event. "The fans are going to have a lot to enjoy between now and the final," the former Spain forward told assembled guests and reporters. "There will be competitions for the public and the chance to have photos taken with the trophy."
The UEFA Champions League Trophy goes on tour in Madrid from Saturday 17 April until Friday 14 May. The tour begins at 12.00CET in the Puerta del Sol, one of the city's most emblematic squares.
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