Top XI: Ranking the most beautiful stadiums in world football

Football is constantly growing and with an increasing number of fans comes higher viewing figures, larger television broadcasting rights deals and ultimately bigger pay packets for top clubs.

With an abundance of cash in their pockets and assurances that they will be able to pull in huge crowds for just about any game, clubs can afford to splash out on renovating their ageing stadiums or building new ones from scratch, in order to bring them in line with football’s very best facilities.

Unsurprisingly, many of these projects involve renowned architects that can put together plans for a stadium that not only houses large numbers of fans on the inside, but also look nothing short of incredible from the outside.

For clubs that choose to upgrade their homes, the prospect of having to play a few seasons elsewhere, without a home ground, is a tough one to take. However, here are 11 iconic, beautiful and atmospheric grounds that prove the wait will be more than worth it:

11. Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti

Or El Monumental for short. While the 67,000-capacity home to both to Primera Division side River Plate and the Argentine national team can hardly be compared with the Allianz Arena or the Bird’s Nest on visual appeal, it certainly beats them both when it comes to history.

The stadium is seen as a big piece of the Buenos Aires puzzle and is celebrated by the local population for its 79 year history. The stadium has hosted numerous tournaments, including the 1978 World Cup final, in which Argentina beat Netherlands infront of a 71,000 strong home crowd to lift their first every World Cup trophy, and the 2011 Copa America final. Likewise, the atmosphere that the ground provides when River Plate face a visit from league rivals Boca Juniors is nothing short of electric.

Despite the fact that the stadium has remained largely unchange since its construction, aside from the odd safety alteration, it still manages to stand out in the Argentine capital.

10. Wembley Stadium

At a cost of £798 million, it’s hard to leave Wembley off of the list. While the new stadium isn’t quite as iconic as the old Wembley, it is certainly a sight to behold. With a capacity of 90,000, it is only behind Barcelona’s Nou Camp as the biggest stadium in Europe, and it can hold 8,000 more spectators than England’s second largest stadium, Twickenham.

All of the best stadiums have a standout feature, and Wembley’s is the huge metal arch which curves over the top of the stadium at a height of 133 metres and length of 315 metres, making it the longest single piece roof structure in the world.

The structure’s roof is made up of a number of sliding panels, which allows it to be opened or closed to fit the dimensions of the area that it needs to cover, making it the ideal multi-purpose stadium. As a result, Wembley doesn’t just host football matches, but just about everything else, from music festivals to boxing matches, too.

9. Olympiastadion Berlin

The Olympiastadion is a golden oldie of a football stadium, having been built during the 1930s. However, despite its brilliance, the home of Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin has a bit of a sour past. The huge stadium, which saw attendance figures over 100,000 in its early days, was originally constructed for use during the 1936 Olympic Games.

At the time, Adolf Hitler had recently risen to power, and saw the Games as the ideal opportunity to spread and promote his vile ideologies. Part of his plan was to construct a phenomenal sports complex, including the Olympiastadion, which had a Roman Colosseum look to it.

Although, the stadium’s past hasn’t been all bad. It has since hosted World Cup matches in 1974 and 2006, including the 2006 final, as well as numerous DFB-Pokal Cup finals and the 2015 Champions League final.

Having undergone a big renovation for the 2006 World Cup, the stadium now boasts a new, sleek roof to go with the stone walls, providing the perfect blend of modernity and history.

The Berlin ground was revamped ahead of the 2006 World Cup.
The Berlin ground was revamped ahead of the 2006 World Cup.

8. First National Bank Stadium

South Africa’s FNB Stadium is the largely stadium in Africa, trumping Egypt’s Borg El Arab Stadium by almost 9000 with its maximum capacity of 94,700 spectators.

The stadium was first built in 1989, but it wasn’t until 2009 that it became truly iconic. The redevelopment was completed following the announcement that South Africa would be hosting the 2010 World Cup, with the FNB Stadium, now nicknamed ‘The Calabash’ due to its striking resemblance to an African pot, becoming the main stadium for the event.

The ground was designed to resemble an African pot with a mish-mash of brown squares of various hues covering the facade of the arena, all of which are lit up at night to provide a stunning spectacle. Inside, the seating was constructed to ensure that no views were restricted and nobody was seated too far away from the field, meaning the view inside if the stadium is just as good as the view outside.

7. Maracanã Stadium

The Maracanã was once again thrown into the spotlight in 2014 as it became the focal point of the World Cup finals.

It was originally built to host the 1950 edition of the same tournament and soon became known as the highest capacity stadium after approximately 210,000 football fans turned up to watch the final between hosts Brazil and South American rivals Uruguay, dubbed The Maracanazo by local fans. Stringent safety measures, resulting from a tradegy in 1992 which saw three spectators die and 50 more injured after an upper stand collapsed, have since seen its capacity reduced to just 78,800, but a visit to the arena remains a truly breathtaking experience.

Ahead of the 2014 tournament, the stadium underwent a massive revamp to bring it up to speed with its modern competition. The lower/upper seating arrangement was scrapped for a new one-tier design, seemingly out of fear of a repeat of the 1992 incident, while the roof was also upgraded to provide protection to everybody in attendance.

6. Azadi Stadium

Home to the Iran national football team, the Azadi Stadium has a capacity of 84,400, although it has been known to have fitted over 100,000 spectators at times, while a World Cup 1998 qualifier saw attendance figures climb to 128,000. The large capacity is owed to the fact that it was built as the centrepiece for the 1974 Asian Games, and its architectural brilliance sees it remain as one of the most remarkable football grounds in existence.

Despite its sheer size, the spiralling footpaths that surround it, which create a bowl-like structure with the pitch seated in the middle, make the arena appear to be much smaller than it actually is.

The design of the stadium also seems to bounce sound back and forth, which saw the Azadi Stadium voted as the most intimidating place to play in Asia. Football is the most popular sport in Iran, and fans will often fill up the stadium to its capacity for big games, creating a constant stream of noise that opposition teams can often find distracting.

The Azadi Stadium is home to the Iranian national team.
The Azadi Stadium is home to the Iranian national team.

5. Sapporo Dome

The Sapporo Dome is primarily a baseball stadium, but it is also home to J. League Division 2 side Consadole Sapporo, thanks to the retractable grass field that can rotate in and out of the stadium’s walls depending on the event.

While the stadium fails to match up to many of the other venues on this list when it comes to size, with a maximum capacity of just 40,000, the sleek design makes it stand out from its competition. Japan is often the epicentre of innovative design, but the Sapporo Dome looks more like a UFO than a football stadium, due to its rounded metal exterior.

While round stadiums can often restrict both view and atmosphere, due to the distance between the fans and the pitch at some ends of the arena, the Sapporo Dome has been crammed with as many seats as they could possibly have squeezed in. When the retractable roof is closed the stadium may feel somewhat small and cramped, but those are the perfect conditions for an electric atmosphere.

4. Allianz Arena

The Allianz Arena is widely regarded as one of the most unique stadiums in modern football. While its shape and appearance aren’t necessarily out of the ordinary, it’s the light-up exterior that earns it a place on the list. The outside of the stadium is covered entirely in LED lights, the colour of which can be changed to reflect the team or event that is in progress.

The Allianz’s bright lights don’t just light up the Munich skyline – some have even been able to spot it from mountain ranges in neighbouring country Austria.

Aside from World Cup and Champions League finals, the Allianz is home to European heavyweights Bayern Munich – an awe-inspiring stadium for an awe-inspiring team. German football is renowned for the brilliant support from the fans and the noise that they drum up week in, week out, and with a maximum capacity of 75,000, and an average attendance of 72,800, very few stadiums provide a better atmosphere than this one.

3. Rungrado 1st of May Stadium

The multi-purpose stadium in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, has a maximum capacity of 150,000, making it the largest stadium in the world, beating the second-placed Michigan Stadium by over 40,000 spectators.

When it isn’t being used to celebrate the reign of the Kim family, it is home to the North Korean national football team. While it might be difficult to see the pitch from some of the higher seats in the ground, given its sheer size, all is forgiven due to its architectural brilliance.

Situated on the Taedong River, the stadium’s sloping arches stand out from the greenery that surrounds it. The design seemingly plays on its natural surroundings, as it is said to be modelled on a magnolia flower as it begins to blossom. While North Korea is better known for the swathes of bad publicity that it often creates, the May Day stadium is certainly something to be proud of.

The May Day Stadium is the largest in the world with a capacity of 150,000.
The May Day Stadium is the largest in the world with a capacity of 150,000.

2. Taiwan National Stadium

The National Stadium, a multi-sport arena built to host the 2009 World Games, is somewhat simple, but its unusual shape certainly catches the eye. The stadium was designed by famed Japanese architect Toyo Ito, famed for his conceptual ideas, and it certainly goes above and beyond anything the football world has ever seen before with its dragon-like appearance.

The stadium’s exterior curls around the playing field before extending out into the walkway, providing the appearance of a dragon’s body (a legendary creature in Asia’s history) spiralling around it.

The entire ‘body’ is also covered with 8,844 individual solar panels, which generates all of the power that it needs to operate and then some, making it the first stadium in history to power itself. These panels also add to the ‘dragon’ effect by providing it with a shiny, scaly appearance.

The stadium’s self-sustainability is enhance by a complex water processing system. Rainwater is collected in the roof and transported underground, where it is sterilised and processed for various uses around the stadium, such as to water the pitch.

1. Beijing National Stadium

The Beijing National Stadium, better known as the ‘Bird’s Nest’, was developed to act as a centrepiece for the 2008 Olympic Games, hosted in the city. The stadium’s nickname is derived from its structural appearance, which is made up of a number of exterior steel beams interwoven across the outside, which partially hide the inner structure from view, much like a bird’s nest.

Unsurprisingly, the stadium was designed by famed architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, a company that are after involved when it comes to designing incredible modern football stadiums.

It isn’t just its aesthetic beauty that makes the Bird’s Nest amazing. It has also been built to withstand the elements for at least 100 years and survive in high magnitude earthquakes – features which prompted a number of critics to announce that it had set the bar for architectural design.

While China have struggled to find a permanent use for it following the Olympic Games, it certainly serves its purpose as a unbelievable sight, if nothing else.

The Beijing National Stadium cost upwards of $400 million to construct.
The Beijing National Stadium cost upwards of $400 million to construct.
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