England must play vital Euro 2008 qualifier on artificial pitch
Posted July 16, 2007on:
Steve McClaren has been forced to re-think his preparation for England’s crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Russia in October after the home federation announced yesterday that the match would be played on a synthetic surface. The Football Association has launched a search to find a pitch made from the same kind of fibres that will enable the national team to prepare in the right conditions.
The Russians still have to apply formally to Uefa, the European game’s governing body, for permission to use the 84,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium, which is home to Torpedo Moscow, but they are expected to be given permission over the next few weeks. The FA has already sent three separate delegations out to Russia to prepare for the game and they had long suspected that the match would be played on the synthetic surface.
The game in Moscow on 17 October, as well as the home match against the Russians at Wembley on 12 September are crucial to the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign and McClaren’s future in the job. If England are to qualify out of Group E then it will be, in all likelihood, the Russians that they must overhaul for second place rather than Croatia who lead the group.
McClaren is understood to be resigned to playing the game on the synthetic surface and will take up the option of training at the stadium the night before the match – which he decided against in England’s most recent game away at Estonia in June. However, he can hardly be delighted at the news. The Russians have not played any of their home Euro 2008 qualifiers thus far at the stadium but they will have the benefit of as much preparation as they need.
The Russian football federation had procrastinated over whether to play the game in either Moscow or St Petersburg and the possibility of a decision to use the latter would have rendered all the FA’s hotel and security plans for Moscow irrelevant. The Russian federation has told Uefa and the FA that the temperature in Moscow will simply be too low for a natural pitch to be usable. Arsenal played CSKA Moscow there in October in temperatures that the players described as uncomfortable.
The pitch is only likely to add to the pressure around the game which will come after three home matches against Israel, Russia and Estonia in September and October which England must win in order to stay in contention for qualification. In the meantime, McClaren has asked the FA to find a synthetic pitch that the team can train on to prepare for the match.
Only Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have synthetic pitches that are close to the specifications of the Moscow pitch and the one at Arsenal’s Hertfordshire training ground is inside. England often fly out of Manchester for international games and will probably base themselves at United’s Carrington training ground in the days leading up to the game.
The pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium is far more advanced than the abrasive, bouncy pitches that made Kenilworth Road and Loftus Road so notorious among travelling teams in the 1980s. The stadium has been chosen for the Champions League final in May but for that match Uefa has decreed that the Russians must lay a turf pitch.
The surface of the pitch will not be the only unusual factor for the England players and the 7,000 fans who will make the trip. The match against Guus Hiddink’s side is due to kick-off at 11.45pm local time in order to hit the prime time television schedules in England which are three hours ahead. If it does indeed prove to be the match that decides England’s fate – and that of McClaren – it is likely to be a trying evening all round.
Turf wars Artificial pitches today
According to the manufacturers, FieldTurf, the surface is: “soft, silky – like new blades of grass in a spring meadow. Players can slide and tackle on the unique blend of treated Polyethylene fibres without fear of abrasions”.
The pitch has been on Fifa’s approved list since last July, and staged the first synthetic Champions League game last season: Spartak Moscow v Sporting Lisbon. However, Spartak failed to win any of their three group games on the pitch.
Artificial pitches are used in the MLS including New England Revolution’s Gillette Stadium, where “rubber granules and re-ground athletic shoe material” are ingredients.