FAI aim for 2024 Europa League final after Euros blow

Some comfort did come in €500,000 grant towards Dalymount Park redevelopment

The Aviva Stadium could host the 2024 Europa League final. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

The Aviva Stadium could host the 2024 Europa League final. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Smarting from losing their Euro 2020 games in June, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) have instead turned their attention towards bidding to stage the 2024 Europa League final.

According to the association’s chief executive Jonathan Hill, the setback has also served to ensure their tilt to jointly host the 2030 World Cup is a “priority”.

Uefa’s executive committee confirmed on Friday what had become inevitable by stripping the Aviva Stadium of their four matches at the tournament.

St Petersburg, where turnouts are expected to reach half capacity, have absorbed the three Group E games involving Poland, Slovakia and Sweden while a similarly bullish English FA were the beneficiary once Dublin’s last-16 tie was up for grabs by securing an eight game for Wembley Stadium.

Ireland holds the unwelcome distinction of being the sole country from the original 12 granted hosting rights unable to meet Uefa’s revised demands on minimum spectator numbers.

Covid-19 forced the European governing body to postpone the showpiece by 12 months but retention of hosting was conditional on cities guaranteeing attendances of at least 25 per cent.

In Dublin’s case that translated into a crowd of 11,500, a prospect the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) was unwilling to risk based upon their Covid-19 outlook for the lead-up to the tournament.

The authorities have yet to even approve an initiative by Leinster Rugby to use a fixture at the RSC in late May as a trial run, using rapid antigen testing to admit up to 2,000 fans.

The German and Spanish government adopted a more optimistic approach than Ireland, supplying assurances on crowds this week to rescue their respective cohort of matches.

Uefa accepted Spain’s proposal of switching their matches from Bilbao to Seville on the basis of its superior progress in suppressing the virus.

“The reality here is that circumstances beyond our control have led to the games being moved and we have to acknowledge that public health must come first in a global pandemic,” said Hill about Dublin’s demise.

“This is the end of the Euro 2020 project but the dedication and professionalism of all involved makes everyone at the FAI more determined than ever to bring big games and big tournaments to our country.

“I am delighted that Uefa have recognised our endeavours by agreeing to work with us on big projects for Dublin and Ireland in the future including the staging of a Uefa Club final at the Aviva Stadium after 2023 which is something to really look forward to as we enter our Centenary year.”

Aware that the failure of Dublin to deliver was, indeed, determined by external factors, Uefa are looking favourably at dishing out a marquee event as a sinew of compensation.

There was some comfort, too, from the €500,000 earmarked in tournament legacy grant funding towards the Dalymount Park project being unaffected by Ireland getting cut from the final line-up.

All of Uefa’s four major club finals, men’s and women’s, have been allocated until 2023 but Dublin leads the queue of contenders thereafter.

Any prospect of a Champions League final coming to the Irish capital is firmly off the table, as the 51,000 capacity isn’t sufficient to house the biggest event of Uefa’s annual calendar.

While the FAI would be eligible to accept the women’s equivalent, of more interest is the Europa League or the decider of its sister competition launching later this year, the Europa Conference League.

The Aviva staged the Europa League final between Portuguese rivals Porto and Braga within a year of the rebuilt stadium opening in 2010.

Several of the team central to Ireland’s Euro bid, including project director Declan Conroy, are being reassigned to the World Cup crusade.

“We remained committed to working with our fellow associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in relation to the feasibility study for hosting a Fifa World Cup in 2030,” added Hill. “That remains a priority for us.”

Confirmation of that exploratory phase last month met with derision in some quarters but senior figures at Uefa are understood to be affording the concept serious consideration as the preferred bid from Europe.

The ascension of Irish Football Association President David Martin to the post of Fifa vice-president in Tuesday’s election was deemed encouraging for a quest that isn’t due to gather pace until next year.

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