Phil Jones and Roy Hodgson in training (AFP)
MANAUS, June 14: England manager Roy Hodgson and captain Steven Gerrard declared themselves happy with the much-criticised Manaus pitch on the eve of their World Cup opener against Italy on Saturday.
Players’ union FIFPro lambasted the Amazonia Arena pitch after pictures emerged earlier this week in which it looked parched and was strafed by brown lines, but Hodgson said he had no worries about it.
“I’ve just been on it. We think it’s fine. It’s very flat. I don’t see any reason for any concern,” he told a pre-match press conference on Friday.
“We’ll be happy to play on that pitch. It’ll play well and will suit both teams. The grass is short, the pitch is flat, and we should be able to play good football on it.”
Gerrard concurred, adding: “It’s totally fine. The grass is the perfect length. The sun’s off the pitch at 4:30 (local time; 2030 GMT) and we don’t kick off until 6:00. It’ll be zippy, which is perfect.”
The England squad trained on the pitch shortly afterwards.
Earlier, FIFA defended the condition of the pitch after the criticism from FIFPro.
“The issue in Manaus had more to do with aesthetics than with pitch conditions,” FIFA told AFP in an email.
“The pitch has been undergoing treatment in preparation for the World Cup. Over the last three months, mitigation procedures have been put in place with significant improvement.”
FIFPro, which represents professional footballers around the world, had earlier released a statement saying: “The players deserve a quality playing surface.
“This isn’t the case in Manaus. Nobody wants to see the players and the spectacle in general suffer.”
However, FIFA is adamant that the pitch will not adversely affect Saturday’s Group D encounter between England and Cesare Prandelli’s Italy.
It added: “Pitch experts from FIFA and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) are satisfied that the pitch will be ready for training and the matches, and have been based in Manaus to ensure that all proper procedures are in place.”
Amid media reports that the pitch has been treated with dye, an AFP journalist on Friday observed that it looked green and in decent condition, albeit with brown streaks across one of the penalty areas.
However, Italian newspaper La Repubblica did not mince its words with its headline regarding the state of the pitch.
“There is no grass in Manaus,” it said. “The pitch is embarrassing.”
The newspaper cited the head groundsman Carlos Botella, who struck a downbeat tone.
“The pitch really is in a pitiful state,” he told the paper.
“We have begun to implement an emergency plan to try and rescue it, but I don’t think it will be in a good condition come the weekend.”
The Group D game is a rematch of the sides’ Euro 2012 quarter-final, which Italy won on penalties before going on to lose to Spain in the final.
Italy were due to train on the pitch for the first time later on Friday.
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