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Problems in St. Petersburg May Foreshadow Trouble for 2018 World Cup

12 Jul, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

‘The beautiful game’ really can’t catch a break. Emerging from the clouds that have surrounded the sport since the FIFA headquarters in Switzerland in 2015, soccer is trying to keep its footing for the 2018 World Cup.

Only it appears nobody can keep their footing in the stadium that is to host at least some of those matches. The playing surface of St. Petersburg Stadium, home turf to the Zenit, is currently the cause of some serious complaints – at the international level.

In fact, the problems were discovered as the venue was being readied to host the 2017 Confederations Cup, held in late June.

According to a Reuters article, an inaugural match was held at the stadium in April, at which time, there were multiple complaints about the grass itself, mainly because players said it was too long. But those weren’t the only issues.

The article noted,

Prior to the problems with the grass, issues with the stadium's retractable pitch technology also caused the playing surface to vibrate, rendering it unfit for matches.

Colin Smith, director of competitions for global soccer body FIFA, told reporters that the stadium's "young pitch" had sustained damage from the matches, as well as from warm-up sessions.

"We did significant top dressing last night," Smith told reporters at a news conference in St Petersburg.

In addition to topdressing the field, an accelerated growth schedule had to be maintained, so Smith said greenhouse structures had been installed over the weaker areas and grow lights have been permanently set up. He added that rainy weather conditions had “not helped the growth of the problem areas” on the field.

This preparation prevented Confederations Cup practices from being held there, something else players were upset about.

At least publicly, Smith had an optimistic outlook, noting, "Very importantly, these improvements will also serve as valuable lessons looking ahead to next year’s FIFA World Cup.”

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