Management of the National Stadium and the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) have declared the pitch at the new National Stadium to be in “playable” condition, although the FAS has also admitted that it is still “far short of expected international standards”.
The pitch raised some eyebrows earlier in August, when the grass was clearly not growing well and players were concerned that the excessive amount of sand would get into the eyes of players and potentially cause injuries.
Criticism from the coach of Italian football club Juventus also put a damper on the suitability of the pitch for international matches.
The pitch continues to be a concern for international teams, particularly in the lead up to the highly-anticipated friendly between five-time World Cup winner Brazil and Asian powerhouse Japan at the National Stadium today.
Brazil’s coach Dunga had raised concerns on Monday that his players could be injured playing on the sandy surface. There is currently concerns that he might not field star player Neymar, as injury could affect his professional career.
“We certainly do not have the canopy or grass density we would like to have,” said Mr Greg Gillin, Senior Director of Stadia at the Singapore Sports Hub.
Mr Gilin also pinned the issue down to the “micro-climate within the stadium” as a factor, where “some part of the pitch that gets eight or nine hours, and some parts that only get an hour’s worth of sunlight.”
He also called the problems with the sandy pitch “aesthetics issues”, saying that “The actual playability – ball roll, ball bounce, the consistency of traction across the surface – is uniform. That is something we work very hard to try and achieve.”
To encourage the grass on the pitch to grow, stadium management recently purchased S$1.5 million in lighting technology to ensure that the surface – a hybrid of natural grass reinforced with artificial fibre, touted as the “field of dreams” – gets enough light.
The original cost of the Desso GrassMaster pitch was about S$860,000.
The ASEAN Football Federation will decide on Tuesday whether the stadium pitch will be good enough for the Suzuki Cup, scheduled to start on 22 November.
The federation had insisted that the stadium not be used for any activities 15 days before the start of the tournament. This will affect all matches scheduled in the period.
Earlier, the FAS indicated that it will not schedule any home international ‘A’ friendlies at the National Stadium, and is also ready to forego all of the Lions’ training sessions at the stadium, which “will have an impact on home ground advantage”. This was in the lead-up to the Suzuki Cup, which is presumably FAS’s attempt to give time for the grass grow.
Nevertheless, the issue of the pitch has attracted criticism from Singapore’s football greats.
Former Lions captain Baihakki Khaizan reportedly lamented on social media about the National Stadium: “You don’t seem to know your priorities anymore, and I don’t see how new stars will be born in you again. You’ve sold out, haven’t you? You’re more about money, moving in a direction I don’t understand.”