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Football 'cathedral' prepares for final

From Pedro Pinto, CNN
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Wembley: 'A cathedral of football'
  • Wembley Stadium is hosting its first Champions League final since being rebuilt in 2007
  • Both Manchester United and Barcelona won their first European Cups at Wembley
  • A total of 86,000 fans will pack the stands for Saturday's final

London -- In the world of football, Wembley is more than a stadium. It's a shrine.

The soccer community is delighted to see it stage this season's Champions League final.

Luis Figo, who won the Champions League with Real Madrid in 2002 says it is "beautiful to play the best club competition in a cathedral of sport," such as Wembley.

While England legend Geoff Hurst, who scored a hat-trick at the stadium in the 1966 World Cup final, describes it as "a fantastic venue for a fantastic game in prospect."

This is the sixth time Wembley has hosted a European Cup final, but the first since the stadium was rebuilt in 2007.

"We have had some big events held here but the Champions League final is the most important football game on the planet. We are ready and really looking forward to it," Wembley Stadium's managing director Roger Maslin said.

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For both teams competing on Saturday it holds some magical memories. It was here that both teams won their first ever European Cups -- Manchester United in 1968, Barcelona in 1992.

Forty-three years ago, United beat Benfica 4-1 after extra time with Bobby Charlton the star that day, scoring twice as the Red Devils reigned victorious.

Twenty-four years later it was Barca's turn -- Dutch international Ronald Koeman scoring the only goal against Sampdoria.

To keep with tradition, the new stadium was rebuilt on exactly the same spot as the old one, but it has its own identity.

The famous twin towers may be gone, but they have been replaced by the Wembley Arch -- the longest single roof structure in the world.

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The royal box is also a lot higher. At the old Wembley players had to walk up 39 steps to receive the trophy. Now, that journey is three times longer but worth it for the winning team, who this year will receive the trophy from UEFA president Michel Platini.

Capacity for the final will be 86,000 with both clubs being allocated 25,000 tickets, with a further 11,000 going on general sale.

The atmosphere should be electric, and there is no doubt players will feed off that energy when they leave the dressing room and walk onto the pitch.

It's a place United know well. On Saturday they will play at the new Wembley for a record 10th time.

For Barcelona and Pep Guardiola, it's all about remembering their glorious night at the old Wembley when they were crowned kings of Europe for the first time.