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Stadio Friuli, Udinese-Juventus, Serie A, Sun Jan 17, 3pm CET/2pm UK time.
Set in Italy’s far north-east, close to Slovenia, the Adriatic and the Alps, Udine is the home of Udinese Calcio, officially Italy’s second oldest club.
Formed in 1896, before Juventus, Italy’s other Bianconeri play at the Stadio Friuli, north-west of town.
Habsburg a century ago, Udine is home to Moretti beer. When Udinese Calcio played in the Veneto regional league, then Serie C and then Serie B, they were based in the Alfredo Foni Park, at the Stadio Moretti, named after its owner who also ran the local brewery. Today it’s one of Italy’s most sought-after beers.
Udinese’s breakthrough came with promotion to Serie A in 1950, the Bianconeri claiming a record runners-up spot in Serie A five years later.
Long needed, though, was a new stadium capable of accommodating Serie A football. In a move typical of the times, the Stadio Friuli was placed 4km from the city centre in the area of Rizzi, out by the main A23/E55 motorway that links Venice with Austria, skirting the Alps.
If the location wasn’t ideal, the timing was terrible. The venue was opened in 1976, a few months after a terrible earthquake. The club’s former ground, the Stadio Moretti, accommodated the injured, and the new arena became a symbol of communal gathering and fortitude. It received an overhaul soon afterwards, for Italia ’90. Media facilities were upgraded and a video screen installed – though three sides of the stadium remained unroofed.
Little changed in the two decades since Uruguay, Spain and South Korea played here during Italia ’90 – except for the home club’s high-placed league finishes and European campaigns.
With a capacity barely over 30,000, and only one stand covered, improvements were long debated.
On the pitch, Udinese only became a serious Serie A candidate in the 1990s – in the 1980s, progress had been halted by a betting scandal.
Thanks to astute coach Alberto Zaccheroni and the goals of Oliver Bierhoff, Udinese achieved a third-place finish in 1997. Luciano Spalletti then enjoyed two spells at the Stadio Friuli, taking Udinese to fourth place and a debut in the Champions League, the goals coming from Vincenzo Iaquinta.
Since then, strikers – Fabio Quagliarella, Alexis Sánchez – have come and gone, but only one has remained: fans’ favourite Antonio Di Natale.
In 2011 the Neapolitan became the first back-to-back Serie A top scorer in nearly 20 years. In April 2015, Di Natale became the sixth highest scorer in Serie A history, in his 700th first-team appearance.
But longevity has not been the only keynote to Udinese’s top-flight consistency. A policy of transferring talent at a profit, lesser-known players who had earned their Serie A spurs at the Stadio Friuli, has allowed Udinese to balance the books.
These funds also allowed the club to carry out long-needed improvements to their stadium.
While the Stadio Friuli was being overhauled, Udinese began their European campaign of 2013-14 began in Trieste. In July 2015, the new Curva Nord and Tribuna Est were completed. Work has continued on the Curva Sud through 2015-16, with capacity temporarily reduced 18,000 – an overall 25,000 is the aim by the end of this campaign.
Perhaps more significantly, Udinese now play in Italy’s second major club-owned stadium after Juventus.
On the ground
Two buses serve the Stadio Friuli from Udine Station: the No.9 to the north side of the ground; and the more frequent No.2 to piazza Rizzi, which drops you by the Bar allo Stadio at the church square on the east side of the stadium. You’ll see the floodlights behind the Credito Commerciale Friuli Centrale bank by the bus stop.
Both take about 15mins to or from the train station and both skirt the old town centre. A taxi should cost about €15 from the station.
The main ticket office is by the Udinese Store (Tue-Sat 2pm-7pm) on viale Agostino ed Angelo Candolini where the main West Stand meets the Curva Nord. Standard prices for the Tribuna Centrale and Laterale along the sidelines are €35-€50, €25 for the Distinti and €15 in either end, the Curva Nord and Sud, including away fans. ID is required for purchase.
There’s also a Udinese Store/ticket office (Tue-Sat 9.30am-12.30pm, 3.30pm-7.30pm) at via Portanuova 1, between the Castle and the Palazzo Antonini/Banca d’Italia.
Outlets surround piazza Rizzi behind the Carnera sports hall on the east side of the stadium. Best is Bar allo Stadio (via delle Scuole 6), an unmissable meeting place for the Rizzi branch of the Udinese fan club, decorated with images of Antonio Di Natale, signed shirts and hooped evidence of Celtic’s visit. The bar also sells match tickets.
On the other side of the church, Nuovo Fiore is a pleasant osteria with an enclosed terrace, Sky TV and a fixed-price lunch of €10 at weekday lunchtimes. Beer is Ustersbacher. Nearby, down narrow via Milano, at No.7, the Osteria da Dalia is a lovely little spot, serving affordable local wines and tasty snacks.
A bar has been earmarked for the new Friuli Stadium.