World Football: 50 Best Places To Watch The Beautiful Game
A small, round, leather ball. Some goalposts. A handful of players. Football: a simple game turned global phenomenon and a multi-billion dollar industry.
10 years ago, 240 million from 200 countries played football on a regular basis...and then the game really took off!
A staggering 800 million people watched last year's FIFA World Cup final between Holland and Spain.
So just where are the most breathtaking, iconic and important places to watch the world's favourite game?
In the following slide show, I take you through 50 such places, taking into consideration factors such as stadium capacity, cultural importance, historical importance and atmosphere—with one interesting fact about each location.
Enjoy the show.
50: ASEC Mimosas Youth Academy (Abidjan, Ivory Coast)
Africa. One of the world's poorest continents, but also a breeding ground for some of the world's most skilful and athletic footballers such as George Weah and Roger Milla.
The Amicale Sportive des Employés de Commerce Mimosas in Abidjan has produced some of the greatest footballers for the Ivory Coast and Africa as a whole: Gervinho, the Toure brothers and Salomon Kalou amongst others.
Top European scouts have been visiting this academy for a long time now seeking out the latest raw but cheap superstar.
49: Oita Bank Dome (Kyushu Island, Japan)
A stunning stadium whose nickname is the ''Big Eye'' stadium based on the shape of the roof's opening, the Oita Bank Dome opened in 2001 with a capacity of 43,000.
It hosted two group matches and a final-16 encounter in the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
48: Moses Mabhida Stadium (Durban, South Africa)
Despite having its capacity reduced by 8,000 seats after the 2010 FIFA World Cup, this striking home of AmaZulu F.C. has a 350 x 105-metre arch (1,148 ft. x 344 ft.) reminiscent of that which you used to tower above Wembley.
It hosted seven matches in last year's tournament, including Spain's 1-0 semi-final win over Germany.
47: Hackney Marshes (London, England)
English public schools are widely associated with developing the modern game of Association Football.
For many years now, Hackney Marshes—a large area of grassland in East London on the banks of the River Lee—has played host to as many as 80 amateur adult and youth football matches per week.
Recently, World Player of the Year Leo Messi was mobbed by fans on a visit to the ''spiritual home of Sunday League'' football.
46: Abuja National Stadium (Abuja, Nigeria)
Opened in 2003 and with a construction cost of $360 million, the national football stadium in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, holds 63,000 spectators and is crucial to the development of Nigerian football.
Designed by Schlaich Bergermann & Partners, it hosted the All-Africa Games in 2003.
45: Toyota Stadium (Nagoya, Japan)
Built in 2001 and home to J. League side Nagoya Grampus—a club once managed by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger—the Toyota Stadium is an impressive architectural feat as it holds 43,000 people and has a retractable roof.
A great footballing arena in an country whose fortunes in the sport have improved significantly over the last decade.
44: Stade De Gerland (Lyon, France)
L'OL. France's most successful domestic football team of the modern era plays at this 41,000-seater built back in 1914 and expanded most recently 12 years ago.
The stadium has hosted World Cup matches in three sports and concerts by some of the biggest bands and musicians in the world.
Unfortunately, it also witnessed the tragic death of Cameroonian footballer Marc-Vivien Foé.
43: So Kon Po (Hong Kong, China)
A multi-purpose venue used for the Hong Kong rugby union sevens event in particular, this stadium was reconstructed at the start of the 1990s but still sits in a breathtaking location, just in front of many of the wealthy island's biggest skyscrapers.
This shows that football even has the potential to permeate an island which is not famed for its open spaces and a culture which is not historically conducive to sports and the stadium is home to one of Tottenham Hotspur's twin clubs, South China F.C.
42: Sangam Stadium (Seoul, South Korea)
K-League team FC Seoul has played its home matches since 2004 at The Sangam Stadium, which opened in 2001.
It can house more than 68,000 and witnessed one of the biggest shock results in the history of world football, France's defeat to Senegal in the first match of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
41: Le Centre Technique National Fernand Sastre (Clairefontaine, France)
Just south of Paris, Clairefontaine is one of twelve regional football academies situated throughout France, and the headquarter of national football.
World-class players such as Nicolas Anelka, William Gallas and Thierry Henry spent valuable hours honing their skills with the coaching staff at the facility.
40: Estadio Mestalla (Valencia, Spain)
Home to Valencia F.C., the Mestalla is the fifth-largest stadium in Spain and renown for the hostile atmosphere its steep terracing helps create.
Now nearly 90 years old, it is still a beautiful example of a football arena and was used during the Spanish Civil War as a concentration camp and warehouse.
39: Estadio Municipal De Braga (Braga, Portugal)
A truly unique stadium home to Sporting Club de Braga, this relatively small stadium is spectacularly carved into the Monte Castro quarry.
Built in 2003, it cost little more than $80 million but still holds more than 30,000 spectators—an impressive ratio.
38: Fenerbahce Sukru Saracoglu Stadium (Istanbul, Turkey)
Currently under reconstruction to increase the capacity of the stadium and add a retractable roof, the home of Fenerbahce, one of Turkey's most famous football team, is already a mightily impressive sporting arena.
It is named after the sixth prime minister of the country but may soon be usurped by the new home of Galatasaray, the Turk Telecom Arena.
37: Stade Velodrome (Marseille, France)
The stadium of Olympique de Marseille is one of the biggest stadia in Europe as it boasts a capacity of more than 60,000 spectators.
Although the fans do not appreciate the stadium's design and have tried on several occasions to kick-start a redevelopment, they cannot deny that it helps create a formidable and hostile environment for visiting teams, a trick not lost on the French rugby union association.
36: Ibrox (Glasgow, Scotland)
One of the first all-seater grounds in the UK, Ibrox once welcomed more than 110,000 spectators to a showdown league game against big city rivals Celtic.
After structural failures led to two disasters in which a total of 91 spectators died, it was redeveloped numerous times but still boasts a beautiful stand with a Category B listed status.
35: Amsterdam Arena (Amsterdam, Holland)
AFC Ajax is lucky enough to play its matches as this stunning ground which was constructed between 1993 and 1996.
It cost a considerable sum of $200 million at the time but has witnessed some momentous footballing moments as well as hosting concerts and American football games.
34: Parc Des Princes (Paris, France)
Originally a velodrome in which the famous cycling event La Tour de France reached its climax over many years, it is now the home of PSG, the capital's foremost football team and also the rugby union side Stade Francais.
The ''Kop of Boulogne'' is a section of the ground notorious for housing some of the most troublesome and violent football fans in Europe.
33: Millennium Stadium (Cardiff, Wales)
This is one of the more modern stadia in this list but makes up in atmosphere, design and grandeur what it lacks in history.
It cost slightly less than $200 million to construct in 1999 and can host a massive 74,500 spectators.
32: Estadio Magalhaes Pinto (Belo Horizonte, Brazil)
This is the second largest football stadium in Brazil, one of the most important footballing countries in the world.
It hosts nearly 70,000 people and will be one of the key host venues during the next FIFA World Cup.
31: Sapporo Dome (Sapporo, Japan)
A technological masterpiece, this Japanese gem is famed for its ''turf conversion hovering system.'' It floats two different surfaces—one artificial, one grass—between the outdoor and indoor space as the need dictates.
It also hosted three matches during the 2002 FIFA World Cup and can welcome a fantastic 67,000 spectators.
30: Signal Iduna Park (Dortmund, Germany)
Recently elected best football stadium by The Times for the incredible football atmosphere it creates, the Westfalenstadion—which has sold its naming rights for more than a decade to an insurance firm—has an incredible capacity of 80,000 and was built nearly 40 years ago.
Sadly, it witnessed the semi-final exit of the national team at the hands of Italy during the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
29: Imtech Arena (Hamburg, Germany)
Like Dortmund's stadium, this arena is also branded, having originally been named ''Volksparkstadion.''
Originally built in 1925 but renovated at a cost of approximately $150 million, it can now boast one of the Bundesliga's best sides, supported by more than 50,000 passionate fans on a regular basis.
28: Emirates Stadium (London, England)
Situated in the North London borough of Islington and home to the famous Arsenal F.C., this stadium is truly iconic, with its sexy curves and the near-perfect lines of view it offers all supporters.
Designed by architectural firm Buro Happold and built at a cost of $700 million, it is hoped that it will propel Arsene Wenger's team of stars to win the Premier League and Champions League titles in the near future.
27: Veltins Arena (Gelsenkirchen, Germany)
Another leading light of modern football stadium architecture, this stadium is home to FC Schalke 04 and also hosted five 2006 FIFA World Cup matches as well as the final of the UEFA Champions League in 2004.
It features a Teflon-coated fibreglass canvas retractable roof, has a complex sound-proof system which builds atmosphere and boasts four Jumbotron displays, making it a world-class sporting amphitheatre.
26: Allianz Arena (Munich, Germany)
''And then there was light.''
Bayern Munuch and TSV 1860 Munich share this futuristic home built by Herzog & De Meuron in 2005 at a cost of $450 million. The facade is constructed of nearly 3,000 foil air panels which can be independently lit white, red or blue, giving the stadium its striking external appearance.
It will host the 2012 UEFA Champions League final.
Part Two (Nos. 25-1) Coming Soon
So are there really 25 places or stadia around the world which are more iconic and significant than what you have just seen?
Where is Santiago Bernabeu, Estadio Giuseppe Meazza or Old Trafford?
Please check back on my profile later this week for the "25 Best Places to Watch Football."
Thanks for your attention!