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Last Updated: Monday, 15 October 2007, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
McClaren dismisses pitch concerns
The artificial pitch at Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College in Altrincham
The pitch England trained on in Altrincham is a replica of the one they face in Russia

Russia v England
Luzhniki stadium
Wednesday, 17 October
Kick-off: 1600 BST
Live coverage on BBC Radio 5live & the BBC Sport website
Highlights: BBC One 2240 BST

England coach Steve McClaren says the artificial pitch in Russia's Luzhniki stadium is no excuse for failure in Wednesday's vital Euro 2008 qualifier.

The England team trained on an exact replica in Altrincham on Monday and McClaren said: "It is a flat pitch and there is absolutely no excuse."

But players who have used the surface say it places different physical demands on the body to normal grass.

"I'm not a big fan of the pitch at all," said Altrincham's Gareth Whalley.

"If you've got any niggles, the pitch will certainly pick them out.

"It does feel like it has more give but once you've trained on it, it is quite testing on the legs and joints.

606: DEBATE

"It's probably not too advisable to train on it for a long time."

England go into the crucial match five points ahead of Russia but having played one game more than their Group E opponents.

A win in Russia will be enough for England to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals, while a draw would mean they need only a point from their final home clash with Croatia in November.

Russia coach Guus Hiddink says the only advantage his side will gain from the pitch is a psychological one.

"The English team are preparing for the game on an artificial pitch and therefore there will be no real advantage for us," said Dutchman Hiddink.

"Naturally the psychological aspect of playing at the Luzhniki gives us a huge advantage and the fans will create a fiery atmosphere, so it will be difficult for England."

McClaren maintains the pitch is not an issue and that research of 100 matches played on it revealed there was no difference between the surface in Moscow and a grass pitch.

England defender Rio Ferdinand echoed McClaren's sentiments and added: "We won't be making any excuses - everyone has had to go there and play on it.

"We are under no illusions as to how difficult the game will be but we are going there aiming to win it."

However, Whalley's team-mate Colin Little believes the surface will give Russia a "slight advantage".

Whalley, formerly of Bradford City and Crewe stated: "When you get to the latter stages of your career, let's say you start to feel the aches and pains a bit more.

Every morning I wake up after games (on the surface) and it takes me two or three days to recover

Former Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel

"I've had a couple of ankle operations, so when I do train on there it really does pick out the soreness in the ankle and the next day it can get quite painful.

"Personally, it seems to make me a bit stiffer. If you played a full match on it you would probably feel a bit stiffer the next day than on a normal pitch."

Scotland and Birmingham forward Garry O'Connor played at the Luzhniki stadium when at Lokomotiv Moscow and echoed Whalley's sentiments.

The surface is also widely used in America where former Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel is not a fan.

"I found it hard to adjust to the turf," he said recently. "Every morning I wake up after games and it takes me two or three days to recover."

However, Little, who like Whalley has trained on the Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College pitch in Altrincham, is not as pessimistic.

"We did our pre-season on it, which you couldn't have done years ago," he said.

"No-one picked up any injuries and we probably got more injuries the year before when we did our pre-season on the grass.

"There's loads of give in them. It's like a bit of suspension. Years ago they were slate based and felt like you were running on concrete.

"I coach at Crewe where we have got one and technical director Dario Gradi prefers to play on them rather than the grass."

FieldTurf, which installed the pitches in Altrincham and Moscow, was unavailable for comment.

The synthetic pitch in Moscow, which is three years old, is approved by Uefa and is used in Russia to cope with the severe winter weather conditions the country experiences.

The Russian Football Federation (RFF) had the option of upgrading the pitch but decided against it after the 3-0 defeat by England at Wembley in September.

However, the RFF denied that the pitch offered the Russians a noticeable advantage.



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