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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 March 2007, 17:00 GMT
How was Wembley for you?
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer, at Wembley

Giampaolo Pazzini is the unlikely name that will go down in Wembley history on the day the new 800m stadium threw open its doors to football again.

Wembley Stadium
Wembley Stadium hosted its biggest crowd so far

The first goal after only 25 seconds and the first hat-trick in only 68 minutes of exciting forward play and wonderful movement from the Fiorentina forward.

Wembley even served up its first victim of the boo-boys - a richly-deserved accolade for Manchester United's Kieran Richardson, who sadly stank the new surroundings out before being mercifully removed to ironic applause late on.

Throw in a six-goal thriller that ended with honours even, and it can be counted as a good preparation for when the serious stuff starts.

But the match itself was, in many respects, a side-show for the main event of simply getting 60,000 supporters in and out of Wembley and starting a new era for the Football Association.

606: DEBATE
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The new home of English football has certainly stirred the public's imagination, greeting supporters by rising spectacularly in front of them as they exit Wembley Park tube station.

Indeed, such was the interest that a safety announcement had to be made to fans blocking the exit by taking photographs of the stadium and its centre-piece arch.

All was brand spanking new and working well inside the stadium's media area (apart from an unpredictable coffee machine) - so what of Wembley as a sporting arena?

Wembley Stadium
Wembley warms up for the big days ahead

At the risk of sounding churlish, it is vast without being mind-blowing and will hopefully cultivate more of an atmosphere of its own as time passes.

It is currently a reminder of a bigger version of Arsenal's Emirates with touches of Benfica's Stadium of Light thrown in.

This somewhat under-whelming message must be tempered by the fact that this was an under-21 game played in front of 30,000 empty seats and in a polite atmosphere that will soon be laced with football's more traditional partisan hostility.

Italy's hat-trick hero Pazzini was even afforded a generous round of applause on his departure - unlike the wretched Richardson.

The definitive verdict on Wembley will only be made when a major cup final is hosted, or when England walk out in their new home in front of 90,000 fans for a competitive international.

Like all new homes, there will be a settling in period and a period of adjustment - but for now this was more than good enough without giving you the feeling that you were inside the world's greatest football ground.

And hopefully, in time, the PA announcer will stop prefacing every utterance by tediously booming "Wembley..." - we know where we are thanks - and turn down the volume at least to below ear-drum bursting decibel levels.

Those of us who remember the old stadium, and the torture of joining the crush of thousands down Wembley Way and into Wembley Park station on departure, were pleasantly surprised by a brilliantly-marshalled operation by the Metropolitan Police and stewards to get away at the final whistle.

One hour from leaving Wembey to White City after a match - a record.

So as dress-rehearsals go, the new Wembley was a satisfying experience.

In time the atmosphere will build, cup finals will be staged and it will hopefully grow into the role the FA intended for it when they embarked on a lengthy, tortuous and hugely-expensive process - namely, the greatest football arena in the world.

SEE ALSO
England U21s draw Wembley cracker
24 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Wembley pictures
24 Mar 07 |  Football


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