London 2012: Eyes on Millennium Stadium as Olympics open

The Millennium Stadium will host 11 football matches during the Olympic Games The Millennium Stadium will host 11 football matches during the Olympics

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The eyes of the world have been on Cardiff's Millennium Stadium for the start of what is being described as the "greatest show on earth".

The first event of the London 2012 Olympics took place there as Great Britain's women beat New Zealand 1-0.

Until the stadium opened 13 years ago, hosting a global event like this in Wales would only have been a dream.

But since then, as well as hosting world sporting events it has also become the stage for stars such as Madonna.

Now it will be able to put the Olympics right at the top of that list.

Fans from at least 10 countries will descend on Cardiff over the next two weeks and flock to the stadium in their thousands to watch men's and women's football.

'Uniqueness'

Unlike many stadia though, the 74,500-seater ground is in the city centre which makes it accessible and easy to find with its four giant masts dominating the skyline.

"The uniqueness about Cardiff is about the stadium and where it is. Cardiff is a compact city. People come here and realise how good it is," said manager Gerry Toms.

"The stadium can't do it alone. You've got the city council, the Welsh government, the retailers and transport.

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"You can have the best events in the world but unless you have the infrastructure right, the negatives stick."

The Millennium Stadium opened in time for the 1999 Rugby World Cup following a two-year building project to replace the old Cardiff Arms Park at a cost of £130m.

It has hosted football's Euro and World Cup qualifiers as well as FA Cup and Carling Cup finals, play-off finals and Football League Trophy finals while Wembley was being rebuilt.

The ground has continued to host a number of high-profile events since, including Wales clinching their three rugby union Six Nations Grand Slams.

Start Quote

The uniqueness about Cardiff is about the stadium and where it is”

End Quote Gerry Toms Millennium Stadium manager

Rugby league's Challenge Cup final, world championship boxing, the world's first indoor cricket match, speedway and equestrian have all featured there.

And it has also been the venue for some of the biggest artists in music including Madonna, Take That, Oasis, REM, Bruce Springstein, U2 and a Tsunami Relief show in 2005. It also hosted a tribute concert to Michael Jackson following his death where a number of high profile musicians played.

'Bold decision'

The man who was behind the idea of replacing the old Cardiff Arms Park national stadium with the Millennium Stadium was former Welsh Rugby Union president Glanmor Griffiths.

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Without the Millennium Stadium, the organisers of London 2012 wouldn't have been able to contemplate bringing any events to Wales”

End Quote Glanmor Griffiths

"The Millennium Stadium, in my view, is the most iconic building in Wales and has given both Cardiff and Wales the kind of global exposure that money simply cannot buy," he said.

"But none of it would have been possible without the commitment shown by the rugby clubs and the people of Wales.

"They are the ones who deserve the pats on the back for seeing the potential and accepting the WRU's vision for the future.

"So many great events have come to Cardiff as a result of the bold decision taken back in 1997 by the rugby clubs of Wales to completely rebuild the old Cardiff Arms Park."

He added: "Without the Millennium Stadium, the organisers of London 2012 wouldn't have been able to contemplate bringing any events to Wales.

"I'll be sitting at home watching the TV with my wife and I'm sure all the stories surrounding the remarkable fight to get the stadium built on time and within budget will come flooding back."

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