Stockholm (AFP) – A group of fans in red Manchester United jerseys kick a football around in a Stockholm park ahead of Wednesday’s Europa League final, excited about the match but jittery after the Manchester terror attack earlier this week that left 22 people dead.
“Goal!” shouts Aqeel Kareem as one of his friends volleys the ball into the net, just hours before Manchester United and Ajax face off at Friends Arena in Stockholm.
Later Wednesday, players will hold a pre-match minute’s silence in honour of the victims of Monday’s suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena.
At the fan zone in Stockholm’s leafy Kungstradgarden park, fans were upbeat and cheerful under sunny summer skies, but nervous about both the outcome of the match and security issues.
Shaun Payne, a 29-year-old United supporter, says Monday’s attack will undoubtedly have scarred the team, but he’s optimistic they’ll win.
“They have nothing to lose tonight. They’ll go for it,” he tells AFP, adding he thinks the attack will solder the team.
“It’ll provide extra motivation to represent the city and to hopefully bring the trophy back with us,” he says.
– Tight security –
Rob Coppen, a 28-year-old Ajax fan from Amsterdam donning the team’s kit, says the terror attack has taken the joy out of the Europa League final.
“(The attack) has taken the spark off the game. It’s been a while since Ajax has been in a Euro final so it’s a pity.
“But what can you do? Nobody asked for this, neither Manchester nor Ajax. I hope they can play well and may the best team win.”
Amy Edwards, a Manchester fan, is worried about safety at the final, but says she refuses to let fear control her life.
“I’m worried a little bit in case something happens tonight, but I guess it’s always a risk you take anyway and go to high profile games,” she says.
“But you can’t stay inside,” she adds.
“Obviously the events in Manchester has put a dampener on everything but hopefully we can win and bring the trophy back tonight.”
Security will be tight at the Friends Arena, Swedish police have said.
“We’ve already undertaken a lot of preparation, and with the way the world looks today this type of incident (Monday’s attack) is the kind of thing we have to prepare for. So it has been part of our planning all along,” Stockholm police spokesman Kjell Lindgren said.
United manager Jose Mourinho said Tuesday he and his players were finding it hard not to think about the attack, which targeted fans leaving a pop concert by the American singer Ariana Grande and left not just 22 dead but also 59 people injured.
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