Visiting the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium, which will host the UEFA Cup final on May 20, European football’s top man Michel Platini said Istanbul is ready for the big day.
The president of the UEFA, European football’s governing body, was in Istanbul yesterday to make the final checks and to hand over the trophy to city Mayor Kadir Topbaş.
Speaking at the hand-over ceremony, which was organized a few hours after his visit to the stadium, Platini said Istanbul will host a great final.
"The final will be played on a country with a huge passion for football," Platini said. "I see that interest is immense. It is going to be a fantastic final and will be much talked about."
Platini is right that the final match will be a memorable one, as it will be the last ever UEFA Cup game as the competition will be replaced by the Europa League next year.
"That was the only trophy that I could not win," the French football legend jokingly said. "But the changes will make this important cup better. The new format will boost this organization." Topbaş echoed his excitement for Istanbul to host such an important match.
"Istanbul hosted the Champions League final in 2005, and now we relish the same honor with the UEFA Cup," he said. "This is the biggest chance that can happen to a mayor."
The UEFA Cup was brought to the city by holding champion Zenit St. Petersburg. Captain of the Russian club Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Vladislav Radimov, who lifted the trophy last year as the captain and now works as a manager, were present at the ceremony.
Tymoschuk will not be lifting the trophy this year; his side was knocked out of the competition, but there is a good chance that his fellow Ukrainians may win it. There are four teams left in the cup, with two Ukrainians and two Germans. Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk will play one of the two semifinal ties, while Hamburg and Werder Bremen will match up for the other.
Turkish Football Federation Chairman Mahmut Özgener said Istanbul will host a great final after its long preparations.
"Istanbul was the capital city of the Ottoman Empire for many years, and now it is on its way to be the capital city of football organizations," he said. "I am sure there will be a unique hosting for this event."
As Turkey is one of the candidate countries for the 2016 European Football Championship, there is little doubt that a successful hosting for the UEFA Cup final will look very good on Turkey’s portfolio. During the news conference, the UEFA chief was asked about Turkey’s chances for the Euro 2016 and he replied with a joke, saying that France is one of the candidates as well.
"You see, the UEFA president is French, but the vice president [Şenes Erzik] is Turkish," he said, smiling and recalling that they will not be voting.
Then a reporter asked Şenes Erzik if another Turkish city might do the honors, after Istanbul.
"We should be aware that hosting two big events in such a small time of four years is extremely important for a country," Erzik said. "So we may think that it is Istanbul and Turkey’s time to leave the honors to some other countries for a while."