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The pride of donetsk.

As Ukraine gears up to co-host Uefa Euro 2012 with Poland, a buzz of excitement among football fans can already be heard at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

"This is a perfect chance for us to showcase our country to all of Europe," said 63-year-old Dimitri Melnechenko as he watched his grandson kick a football around in the gardens outside the Donbass Arena. "Ukraine loves football and we can't wait to see the best teams from the continent play here in our hometown stadium."

The rough and tumble industrial steel and coal mining town in eastern Ukraine is home to FC Shakhtar Donetsk, winners of the last ever Uefa Cup in 2009.

"I don't think many tourists from the rest of Europe would think of coming here if it weren't for the tournament," says Melnechenko. "It's a beautiful green city but most travellers choose Kiev. We're like a hidden diamond."

FC Shakhtar Donetsk were founded in 1936. Originally known as EoACAyStahanovitz', the team was named after the most famous coal miner of the time.

The team's colours are orange and black. "Black represents the riches of the region and the city's proud heritage of coal mining, while orange signifies the colour of the sun as seen by miners after they emerge from a long day at work underground," Olga, one of the Donbass Arena's tour guides, said.

Although initial estimates for the building of the EoACA 51,500-capacity stadium ran at around $250 million (Dh918 million), the complex was completed for a whopping $400 million in 2009. No expense was spared and when you first catch a glimpse of the massive building and its grounds, it's obvious.

Donbass Arena is situated in a park-like setting complete with trees imported from Germany and rolling hills. It was designed by ArupSpor, the same company who made the Beijing National Stadium for the Olympics as well as the home of Manchester City. "We're definitely part of the big-leagues," Olga said.

Graded

It is the first Eastern European stadium to be graded Uefa Elite Five-Star, Olga EoACA added.

The arena has two massive, 92 square metre Philips screens at either end, the third-largest screens in any European stadium, and a sunproof roof that covers 93 per cent of the seating area.

Fans with deep pockets can purchase luxury suites for between $60,000 and $400,000 per year. The suites, which hold between eight and 22 people, are complete with plush leather seats, tables, a stocked fridge and access to a full menu.

Things weren't always so glamourous for the Shakhtar players. Before the new stadium was built in August 2009, around 13,000 fans without tickets used to gather on top of the hill adjacent to the old stadium to watch the match from above. "People were desperate to see their home team in action on the pitch and for many, this was the only way," Melnechenko said.

State-of-the-art

But times have changed. With state-of-the-art facilities, top-quality grass on the pitch imported from Slovakia, and seats that promise to support the weight of fans jumping on them for hours, the city is getting ready to welcome the world.

The stadium will host group stage matches, one quarter-final and one semi-final game next year.

"We are very excited about Euro 2012," Olga said. "The stadium is the pride of the city and we cannot wait to show it off."

European football fans aren't the only ones who will be able to see the action live at Donbass Arena. This September, flydubai is starting direct flights from Dubai to two of the Ukrainian host cities, Donetsk and Kiev.

Impressive arena

The 51,500-capacity Donbass Arena, home of FC Shakhtar Donetsk, will carry several important games at Euro 2012, which the Ukraine is co-hosting with Poland. The $400 million (Dh1.47 billion) stadium was completed in 2009 and was designed by ArupSpor, the company responsible for the Beijing Olympic Stadium.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:4EXUR
Date:Jul 16, 2011
Words:670
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