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15 Oct, 2007 01:32

Euro 2008: Pre-match tension reaches fever pitch

“Turf wars” and “fever pitch” are phrases being used to describe a dispute that's erupted over a crunch Euro 2008 football qualifier between Russia and England.

Some voices in the British Media say the artificial pitch at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium is being deliberately used to give the Russian side an advantage in Wednesday's game. 

The English press claims that former Russian captian, Alexei Smertin, and ex-Locomotive Moscow player, Gary O'Connor, have called Luzhniki pitch: “Rubbish” and “A danger to players!”

It's alleged a spokesman of the Field Turf company, responsible for improving the pitch, was reportedly told to 'deliberately' delay upgrades until after the England-Russia match on the October, 17 to help Russian win.

But the man behind these allegations couldn't be contacted for comment.

Field Turf have retracted the statement, insisting they were misrepresented.

“To take the field out after the last Spartak Moscow match, put down a new surface and get a new certificate from the International Football Association, all before October, 17 could have put the match in Jeopardy,” Alexander Kanunnikov, Chief Manager of Intersport Pro., said. 

And down at the Luzhniki stadium the allegations that Russia may be looking for an unfair advantage have caused a stir.

It's all down to the “damp micro-climate on the banks of the Moscva river” they insist.

“In 1997 we had extremely bad experience in a match between Russia and Bulgarian team. The pitch was absolutely destroyed by the end of the first period,” Yulia Zhurkina, Head of the Luzhniki Stadium Press Service and Information Policy Department, said.

“Today the weather is rather difficult and natural grass would be impossible to use. Although, I don't think for professionals it really matters,” Alexandr Panov, Torpedo Moscow forward and former Russian international, commented.

It may all be down to the weather, but the indication is that Russian facilities just aren't up to scratch. 

Luzhnki with it's rubber pitch is the only stadium big enough to hold the expected 80,000 fans.

The President of the Russian Football Association says the size of the stadium is the crucial factor.

“Only the capacity of the stadium matters. For a long time there hasn't been a match like the one between Russia and England and there's a lot of interest. We would like more fans at the game and this is the main reason,” explained Vitaly Mutko, President of the Russian Football Association.

But some specialists say that there is a big difference for players between artificial and real grass. The ball runs on rubber turf and bounces a little bit higher on rubber turf. 

It's all a matter of getting used to it.  And when it comes to getting in the same amount of practice, it may mean that some teams have a greater advantage over others

“First, I don't think the advantage will be that big. The English players are practicing also in England on an artificial pitches and nowadays there's not a big difference anymore. Although, to be honest, as a football coach, I am in favour of natural grass,” said Guus Hiddink, Russia’s Coach. 

And England’s Coach, Steve Mclaren, has been relaxed about the game, even after media suggestions his star forward Michael Owen may injure himself on fake turf.

So while both sides prepare for a pitched battle this week, speculations on who may have the artificial advantage remain centre-field.