Sep 22, 2009

New series: Ranking the world's 'soccer meccas'

Just like there is only one true Mecca, can there really only be one true spiritual home of world soccer? Until recently, such a place existed in the form of Wembley Stadium (the most storied grounds in the capital city of the founding nation of the sport? I don't think anybody could compete with that) but the old Wembley was demolished in 2003 and replaced with a new version four years later. Impressive as the new Wembley might be, it simply does not have the history or character (yet) to inherit the title. So who does? Probably no single stadium is the obvious heir apparent, but Soccer Source came up with a short list and ranked them.

A word on our ranking methodology:
Put simply, there were three criteria: the number of times a stadium hosted major events such as World Cup matches, the magnitude of these events in the history of the sport, and the stadium's "aura." This last item was admittedly harder to pin down: It could be architecture, location, size, quirks or other intangibles that make the grounds in question a temple of the sport.

In this, the first iteration of the series, we unveil 10th place. Next time we'll bring you No. 9, the issue after that, No. 8, and so on until we will have a complete list. Enjoy!

10. Stadio Giuseppe Meazza (San Siro), Milan
Open since: 1926 (renovated in 1989)
Capacity: 80,000
Tenant(s): AC Milan, Inter Milan
World Cup hosts: 1934, 1990

The San Siro is home to two of the world's most storied clubs but has never hosted a World Cup or Euro final. It did host the final for the Champions League (or its predecessor, the Champions Cup) three times, most recently in 2001 when Bayern Munich defeated Valencia on penalties, largely thanks to the heroics of one Oliver Kahn. The others were in '65 (Inter Milan over Benfica Lisbon) and '70 (Feyernoord Rotterdam over Celtic).

It was here that Cameroon's Indomitable Lions defeated Argentina in the curtain raiser of the 1990 World Cup. That event was likely the "coming out" party for African soccer on the world stage, as Cameroon became the first team from the continent to advance to the quarterfinals at a World Cup. In that same tournament, eventual champions West Germany played their group stage matches at the San Siro.

In 1934, Italy defeated Austria's Wunderteam (probably the favorites to hoist the trophy that year) 1-0 in a semifinal game.

Architecturally, the stadium is not terribly interesting, though the four corner towers give it a distinct signature. It is massive, modernist and rather impersonal, though it certainly gets very loud on gamedays.

Have you been to the San Siro? Where do you think it ranks among 'soccer meccas'?

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