Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Tirana ready for Europa Conference League final

TIRANA, Albania ( Associated Press) — Thousands of football fans are expected to flock to the Albanian capital Tirana for the Europa Conference League final between Dutch club Feyenoord and Italian team Roma on Wednesday.

Tirana airport is preparing to welcome more than 300 flights over two days, the largest number ever. Other fans plan to land in neighboring Kosovo and Montenegro and drive to Tirana.

Albanian Prime Minister Eddie Rama, a former professional basketball player, addressed the tourists, saying, “Come in, come in.”

Many Italians, Dutch and other foreigners have been roaming the streets of Tirana in recent times. The city expects 100,000 football fans, despite each club being allocated only 4,000 tickets for the inaugural final of the third-tier European tournament, which was designed to give smaller clubs a shot at continental competition.

The capacity in the national sector is about 21,000. There are expected to be 650 stewards inside the stadium and thousands of police officers outside for the match.

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The Albanian authorities have taken several precautionary measures for the “festival day”. Wednesday was declared a public holiday, but police, health and other service workers would work.

Both Feyenoord and Roma are storied clubs with large fan bases. His supporters would gather in different ‘fan zones’ at a distance of about a kilometer.

The party has started, there is dismay among some locals. On Monday, residents of an apartment building in the city of Tirana threw water to silence Dutch fans drinking beer downstairs late at night.

On Tuesday, Albanian police on the main Skanderbeg square pushed away a small group of Italian fans who were throwing water bottles to keep them away from Dutch fans.

“We will not tolerate acts of violence and vandalism,” said Tirana Mayor Ariane Veliaz.

Interior Minister Bledi Kusi has said that downtown Tirana will be a pedestrian-only area as part of measures to “conduct in the most exemplary way one of the biggest events that happened in Albania” on Wednesday.

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Some main roads connecting Tirana to the western city of Durres or the airport will be closed and only those with ticketed fans or those going into the fan zone will be allowed inside.

The Europa Conference League trophy was displayed at Skanderbeg Square, which will also host a “Fan Festival” with music, drinks and games.

European football’s governing body, UEFA, chose Tirana as the host in December 2020, a year after the new stadium officially opened and before any team was eligible to enter the debut competition.

The inaugural final is a higher profile match than many imagined in 2018 when UEFA decided to create a Europa Conference league. The aim was to give more opportunities to clubs from lower-ranked countries.

An even smaller stadium – the Eden Arena in Prague – is set to host the 2023 final.

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