Rome defies critics with near-flawless event

Rome’s preparations for the Champions League final proved largely successful, with a lack of widespread violence and mostly peaceful celebrations after Barcelona’s win over Manchester United.

Security officials reported scattered episodes of violence, including two stabbings hours before the match. By Thursday, as most of the fans were returning home, 24 people had been arrested, Rome police said.

Four Italian fans attacked an American man in Ostia, on the coast near Rome, apparently mistaking him for a United fan. In the other case, a United fan was knifed near his hotel in the Vatican area. Both men were hospitalized.

But for the most part of the past two days, the fans who invaded the streets of the Italian capital chanted, waved flags of their teams and snapped photos of Rome’s monuments.

Barcelona supporters celebrated the 2-0 victory Wednesday night. Fans of the English team left Stadio Olimpico in an orderly fashion, with thousands making their way toward the airport.

With police guarding the scene, happy Barca fans frolicked in the Trevi Fountain, filled the city’s historic center with cries of “Ole! Ole!” and danced in front of the Colosseum.

To most observers, Rome had passed the test.

“Joy defeated fear,” wrote La Repubblica, a Rome-based daily, on Thursday. “This time Rome won, and could celebrate into the night with Barcelona.”

In England, where many critics had voiced concerns, the Guardian praised the city and went as far as suggesting in an editorial posted online that the Stadio Olimpico should become “the permanent home of Europe’s football cup final.”

Fears of widespread violence had dominated the eve of the final, based on the city’s recent record with visiting English clubs.

In 2007, a number of United fans were stabbed after clashes with AS Roma supporters. In March, an Arsenal fan was ambushed near the stadium.

Critics had even campaigned to have the showpiece event of European club soccer moved to another city.

Rome responded with a massive security plan, deploying an estimated 10,000 police for the arrival of 50,000 supporters from England and Spain.

Authorities ordered an alcohol ban, although many fans openly defied it, drinking near the stadium and in the city center. By Wednesday night, scores of violations had been reported to the city hall.

Four Italians were arrested, along with a handful of United and Barcelona fans and others.

Two Greek supporters of the English club were slightly injured when slashed with a paper cutter after the game.

Police were still investigating the attacks.