World Cup spotlight on Bafana and Mbombela pitch

2010-05-14 16:20

The readiness of South Africa’s lacklustre national team and

Mbombela Stadium’s troublesome pitch will become clearer this weekend less than

a month before the World Cup.

The host team begins its final round of warm-up matches against

Thailand on Sunday at the new 46?000-seat, $105 million (about R793 million)

Mbombela Stadium in Mbombela, formerly known as Nelspruit.

Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is still hard at work with Bafana

Bafana, but Fifa hopes pitch expert Richard Hayden’s job is just about done at


The field, which will be played on four times in the World Cup,

once by world champions Italy, has been dug up and replanted three times.

Reporters who toured the venue earlier this year were shocked to find dirt and

no grass.

“Fifa was concerned more than worried,” Hayden said. “Concern leads

to action, worry leads to panic. And no one panicked.”

But urgent action was needed by Hayden’s UK-based Sports Turf

Research Institute, the first pitch consultants hired for a World Cup.

“We promised that the pitch would be green in two weeks, playable

in six weeks and world class in eight weeks. And it is,” Hayden said. “A dust

bowl in February could very well become the best pitch of the World Cup.”

Hayden is regarded as the world’s leading pitch expert. He is

responsible for some of sport’s most famous grass: Wimbledon, the British Open’s

nine championship golf courses and Lord’s cricket ground.

Local organising committee chief executive Danny Jordaan was

impressed with what Hayden achieved at Mbombela.

“You can see that the grass was produced by a specialist,” Jordaan


“It’s just amazing how it came up in two weeks.”

Mbombela 2010 coordinator Differ Mogale said they were

delighted. “We now have a great pitch which will be among the best in the

world,” he said.

The proof is in the playing and South Africa versus Thailand will

provide Mbombela with its first test. Hayden and his people will study how the

pitch holds up during the game.

“The players are, ultimately, our end customers,” he said.


often talk to players before and after the match about how the pitch is


Hayden is keen for the opinions of Parreira and Thailand coach and

former England captain Bryan Robson after Sunday’s game.

Italy boss Marcello

Lippi may well be watching, too, ahead of the world champion’s Group F match

against New Zealand at Mbombela on June 28.

The pitches will soon have the world’s attention focused on


“I aim to be at each stadium at least three times during the

tournament,” Hayden said.

“This means more flights, hotels and travel, but it’s

worth it. It’s the biggest stage in our business and the world is


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