England have requested a report from Fifa on the state of the pitch at the Arena da Amazônia, where they kick off their World Cup campaign against Italy on Saturday, amid concerns that the turf is worn and in shoddy condition.
Roy Hodgson will dispatch a member of his backroom staff to the £173m venue in Manaus upon arrival on Thursday to inspect the playing surface. Photographs of the newly constructed stadium have prompted some concern. The ground is apparently fully functional but building work is not completely concluded.
Power cables could be seen dangling from the walls in and around the changing rooms while, outside the stadium, workers were still applying a final coat of asphalt. Several security doors could be seen in their packaging, still waiting to be fitted, while the pitch was dry and bare in places with yellow lines running across the playing area.
“We’ve started to implement an emergency plan to try to save the field and improve it as much as possible, but I don’t think it’ll be in good condition by the weekend,” said Carlos Botella, the head groundsman for the Spain-based Royal Verd company which is responsible for the turf at Manaus and six other World Cup stadiums. “We’ve put fertilizer on the surface, and we’ll increase the fertilizing process with bio-stimulants and seeds to try to get the most out of the grass. But the maintenance has been complicated in Manaus. There are no roads, all the machinery and materials had to be brought by ship, there’s no fertilizer, no seeds. Everything has been complicated.”
England are due to land in Manaus late on Thursday morning and should have received Fifa’s feedback by then before inspecting the 46,000-seat arena themselves. They will not train at the venue until Friday, on the eve of the Group D fixture. Indeed, Hodgson has decided his players will not train outdoors on Thursday and will instead conduct a hotel-based gym drill, effectively a warm-down session, in Manaus after taking advice from their medical and sports science department.
The backroom staff are aware of the strenuous work the 22-man party – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains in rehabilitation from a medial knee ligament injury – have undertaken in the heat and humidity of Miami and now their base in Urca, Rio de Janeiro, and decided on Tuesday night that their first session in the north would be light despite an outdoor training pitch having been made available by Fifa. The squad followed a similar timetable before their three recent friendly fixtures, against Peru, Ecuador and Honduras. Temperatures in Manaus will be severe, even with the game kicking off at 6pm local time, and will be close to 29C when the match begins.
“But the weather there will be a problem for both teams,” said the Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo, when asked about what awaits. “Both England and Italy will suffer so there is no sense worrying about it. That would be a waste of energy. If it is a mess, it will be a mess for both teams.” The Azzurri touch down in Manaus 24 hours after England and will also train at the Arena de Amazônia on Friday.