World Football's 10 Most Iconic Stadiums

Tony MabertContributor IOctober 22, 2012

World Football's 10 Most Iconic Stadiums

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    There are almost too many football stadiums around the world to count, but there are a select few which are truly iconic.

    They may be instantly recognisable just from their silhouette or by seeing only a small, distinctive feature of them, or merely the name may be evocative of great teams playing on grand nights.

    This is a selection of 10 grounds which are not necessarily those with the greatest history or which house the biggest teams, but each is instantly recognisable and iconic in its own way.

    Feel free to add your own selections below.

Wembley

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    We could be referring to the old Wembley stadium which, underneath its famous twin towers, played host to dozens of FA Cup finals, five European Cup finals, England's only World Cup triumph in 1966 and their European Championship semifinal heartbreak.

    Or we could be talking about the new Wembley. The final cost came in way over budget at around £800 million by the time it opened in 2007, but its giant, load-bearing arch can be seen from points all across London and will play host to its second Champions League final in three years at the end of the current season.

    Either way, this giant stadium in the otherwise unassuming borough of Brent has been one of the most famous sporting venues in the world for almost a century.

Maracana

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    Brazil's iconic home of football is little more than a building site at the moment, as it is being reconstructed from the ground up in time for the 2014 World Cup.

    While work is currently well-behind schedule, the rest of the football world can only hope that it is ready in time.

    If the finished article is anything like the original, which held more than 170,000 people for the infamous 1950 match which saw Uruguay shock the hosts with a 2-1 win, then it will be something very special indeed.

Estadio Monumental

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    The 1978 World Cup is not really one remembered with too much affection by anyone outside of fans of the host nation and the champions of that year, Argentina and Scotland, who get all misty-eyed as they remember Archie Gemmill's goal against Netherlands.

    But the Buenos Aires ground the Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti did provide one of the most memorable venues for a final ever seen in the history of the competition.

    Home of Argentina's most successful club, River Plate, the sight of the air being filled with blue and white ticker tape—which inevitably landed on the field—inside the giant arena is truly an enduring and iconic image.

Azteca

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    There are many reasons to love the Azteca. 

    It is the only ground to play host to two World Cup finals. 

    It was the venue for both Diego Maradona's infamous "Hand of God" goal and his mesmerising solo effort in the same quarterfinal against England in 1986.  

    It was the place in which the incredible 4-3 win for Italy over West Germany in a 1970 semifinal—dubbed the "Game of the Century"—took place.

    Even in the modern era, it still packs in 105,000 fans, making it the largest purpose-built football stadium in the world.

    If that's not enough reasons for you, you're in the wrong place.

San Siro

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    The inside may be dilapidated and crumbling with little hope of a much-needed renovation any time soon, but Milan's San Siro remains one of Europe's most famous and instantly recognisable football grounds.

    The joint home of Inter Milan—who call it by it's official name of the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza—and AC Milan is a must-see for any self-respecting European football fanatic.

    The four round concrete towers—one in each corner of the ground—lend a distinctive mark to the home of two of the continent's grand old clubs, who boast 10 European Cups between them.

Bird's Nest

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    This is another stadium which is not exactly steeped in decades of foot alloy tradition, but the arena built for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing is certainly one of the most iconic anywhere in the world.

    Designed in part by renowned artist Ai Weiwei, the place officially known by the rather prosaic name of National Stadium is an arresting sight which helped define the first Games to be held in China. 

    The reason it qualifies here is that, for three of the past four years, Serie A has held it's traditional season-opening Supercoppa Italiana there.

Camp Nou

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    Europe's biggest sports arena is also one of Barcelona's biggest tourist attractions.

    No visit to the Catalan capital is complete without a trip west to see the 99,000-capacity stadium which is home to this era's greatest side and played host to one of the most improbable comebacks in European Cup history: Manchester United's injury-time win over Bayern Munich in the 1999 final that completed their treble.

    Half the ground is sunk into a basin below street level, so those entering the ground walk in already planted right in the middle of the passionate local crowd who have come to supply their 'national' team.

Soccer City

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    It's hardly the most prestigious stadium, but Soccer City is certainly a fine recent addition to the pantheon of iconic football stadiums around the world.

    The arena, built out to the west of Johannesburg, was built specifically to host the final of the 2010 World Cup.

    The terracotta mosaic pattern outside the ground is based on a traditional calabash cooking pot; so far the cliche of a stadium having a cauldron atmosphere seems particularly apt.

Westfalenstadion

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    When German champions Borussia Dortmund hosted Schalke 04 in the Ruhr derby last weekend there were 80,645 fans in attendance at Signal Iduna Park.

    The ground more affectionately known as the Westfalenstadion is a true beast of a ground, holding as it does the infamous Subtribune which, at a capacity of 24,500, is the largest standing area of any football ground in Europe.

    The locals make good use of it too, and they are famous for their pre-match choreographic displays which make the ground such an intimidating place for even the most illustrious visitors.

Santiago Bernabeu

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    The home of the European Cup's most successful side, Real Madrid, is not a picturesque ground by any means, but it is hard to mistake it for any other.

    Built in the 1940s in what has become the Spanish capital's financial district, the 85,000-capacity ground has hosted four European Cup finals, a European Championship final and a World Cup final, as well as too many unveilings of stellar signings and trophy parades to count.

    The ground's absurdly steep sides mean that those in the nosebleeds could be forgiven for thinking that one slip could see them tumble all the way down the pitch.