Pitch issues: the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre. Photo: AP
The three venues where Australia will play their World Cup group stage matches have been flagged as having turf that could degrade into being unfit for tournament play.
Brazilian newspaper reports have listed seven venues have been identified by World Cup officials as being “not in the ideal condition”, including the famed Maracana Stadium in Rio De Janeiro, which will play host to the final on July 13.
While the Maracana is listed as the least worrying of the inferior pitches, Australia’s three group stage venues – Cuiaba, Porto Alegre and Curitiba – have been identified as among the worst.
The Socceroos face Chile at Cuiaba’s Arena Pantanal on Friday night and will at least take to the field in the knowledge that the surface has carried only scant traffic in recent weeks.
They then move to face The Netherlands in Porto Alegre, which like Cuiaba, has been criticised by turf experts for not taking advantage of the benefits of artificial heat lamps, which help the grass grow in a more consistent pattern.
It is not an uncommon problem for modern stadiums to have problems with turf management, usually a result of roofs which almost enclose the stands and allow for limited amounts of natural light each day.
Stadiums in Australia, such as ANZ Stadium in Sydney and Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, are frequent exponents of heat lamps.
But the worst criticism has been reserved for Curitiba, where the Socceroos are due to face Spain on June 23 in their final match of Group B. Stadium administrators purchased the heat lamps but then, for unknown reasons, decided against using the technology.
The ground’s curators also bucked FIFA recommendations for the growing of natural grass, instead decided to install chunks of turf on plates.
By the time Australia faces the world champions, the venue will have already hosted matches between Iran and Nigeria on June 16 and Honduras and Ecuador on June 20. Three days after Australia’s final group match, Algeria faces Russia at the same venue.
It is the latest in a long list of problems with the Arena da Baixada, which fell so far behind in construction deadlines that FIFA contemplated dumping the city from the World Cup program altogether.
The three others cities with major turf problems at their venues have been identified Natal, Brasilia and the Amazonian city of Manaus.
It is in Manaus that perhaps the most intriguing of all the World Cup group matches takes place, with England taking on Italy just a few kilometres from the mighty Rio Negro.
Luckily for Australia – or perhaps unluckily given the quality of the opposition in their group – officials are claiming the pitches are unlikely “to fail in the early stages”.
There is a grave concern, however, that those venues with the most amount of traffic will start to cut up as the tournament moves into the knockout stages.
Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova, Recife’s Arena Pernambuco, Belo Horizonte’s Mineirão and Fortaleza’s Castelão have been marked as the stadiums as having the best turf.
Both Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte are hosting the two semi-finals, giving the Maracana’s turf a much-needed break between the quarter-final on July 4 and the final on July 13.