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Albania declares holiday for Europa Conference League final

May 18, 2022 GMT
Roma supporters celebrate at the end of a Conference League semifinal second leg soccer match between Roma and Leicester City, at Rome's Olympic Stadium, Thursday, May 5, 2022. Roma won 1-0. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Roma supporters celebrate at the end of a Conference League semifinal second leg soccer match between Roma and Leicester City, at Rome's Olympic Stadium, Thursday, May 5, 2022. Roma won 1-0. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Roma supporters celebrate at the end of a Conference League semifinal second leg soccer match between Roma and Leicester City, at Rome's Olympic Stadium, Thursday, May 5, 2022. Roma won 1-0. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
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Roma supporters celebrate at the end of a Conference League semifinal second leg soccer match between Roma and Leicester City, at Rome's Olympic Stadium, Thursday, May 5, 2022. Roma won 1-0. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
1 of 4
Roma supporters celebrate at the end of a Conference League semifinal second leg soccer match between Roma and Leicester City, at Rome's Olympic Stadium, Thursday, May 5, 2022. Roma won 1-0. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The Albanian government has declared a public holiday in Tirana for next Wednesday when the capital city hosts the Europa Conference League final between Roma and Feyenoord.

There will be a pedestrian-only zone as part of measures “to organize in the most exemplary way one of the most major events that have occurred in Albania,” Interior Minister Bledi Cuci said Wednesday.

Up to 100,000 Italian and Dutch soccer fans are expected in Tirana even though each side has been allocated only 4,000 tickets for the inaugural final of the third-tier European club competition.

Capacity at the National Arena is only about 20,000.

“We are undertaking all the measures to make the day festive for everyone, not only for Italian and Dutch fans,” Cuci said.

UEFA picked Tirana as host in December 2020, one year after the new stadium officially opened and before any team qualified to enter the debut competition.

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The final is a higher-profile match than was envisioned by many in 2018 when UEFA decided to create the Europa Conference League. Its aim was to give more opportunities for clubs in lower-ranked countries to stay involved in European competitions beyond December.

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

Roma coach Jose Mourinho said that he was looking forward to visiting Albania for the first time.

“It’s one of the few countries in Europe that I’ve never played in,” Mourinho said. “The fact that the stadium is too small for two clubs like Roma and Feyenoord is the only negative point about the game.

“But if it was a 50,000- or 70,000-seat stadium it would still be small,” Mourinho added. “If we played at (Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium) that would still be small.”

About 88% of the remaining tickets have been bought by Albanian fans and Mourinho said local spectators should support Roma because of the squad has Albania defender Marash Kumbulla.

“If Roma wins the cup, an Albanian wins the cup, an Albanian raises the cup in Tirana,” Mourinho said. “That should be more than sufficient for the Albanian people to support Roma.”

There are violence concerns for the match after Feyenoord fans clashed with Italian police and damaged a historic fountain by the Spanish Steps ahead of a Europa League game at Roma in 2015.

UEFA, the Albanian soccer federation and law enforcement authorities have taken precautionary measures toward holding the final safely.

About 650 stewards will be inside the stadium and 2,000 police officers outside.

“Countries like Albania deserve this opportunity,” Mourinho said. “I remember playing the European Super Cup between Manchester United and Real Madrid in North Macedonia (in 2017) and it was a fantastic event.”

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AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf in Rome contributed to this report.

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