Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Wed 17 October 2007

About that pitch...

There's been a lot of talk this last few weeks about the plastic pitch that England will be playing on against Russia this afternoon. On the one hand, Steve McLaren is claiming it won't be an issue while the Russian FA are saying England are whimpering about it too much. Such a lot of fuss over a playing surface, but justifiably so in my opinion.

Now before I start, I'm not making excuses. Really I'm not. I just feel that any team who is used to playing on a pitch where the bounce of the ball is different to what you normally get on grass is bound to get some sort of advantage. That's not to say that I'm expecting Russia to beat England - last month's match at Wembley should ally a lot of people's fears of that - but the plastic pitch at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium will surely be a noticeable factor today.

Frankly, I'm not quite sure why the pitch even exists when it comes to full international matches. Yes, this is Russia we're talking about, a country where snow is often prevalent in substantially deep, crisp and even proportions, so an all-weather surface would appear to be a practical solution.

Surely, though, an even better one would be to install under-soil heating? Have they heard of that over in Russia? If not, perhaps someone should tell them it's all the rage in the civilised world…

It seems the synthetic surface has split popular opinion as to its virtuosity. Several players who've had experience of playing on identical pitches claim that it has more give, thereby meaning more stress on the joints such as the knees and ankles. Others, including FIFA who have tested and passed the pitch fit to play on in Moscow, say it's absolutely fine and is even preferential to play on than natural grass.

We're reliably informed that the surface, made by FieldTurf, is not the kind you'd have found at Queen's Park Rangers or Luton Town twenty-odd years ago. It's much more refined than that and just as well. I've got experience of playing regularly on a pitch that's akin to the QPR sort and while it's acceptable enough in dry conditions, it's absolutely horrendous to play on when it's wet. Should a team-mate decide to play a long, high ball upfield to you, forget allowing it to bounce first before bringing it under control. It'll skid off the plastic and end up in the next postal code.

Still, never mind. I've just checked the weather forecast for Moscow and it's not going to rain. Apparently they're due to have low cloud with some mist. Might be an idea to keep your fingers crossed that the Luzhniki pitch is up to the job, then, just to be on the safe side...

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