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Last Updated: Monday, 15 October 2007, 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
England's pitch battle

By Mandeep Sanghera

Luzhniki stadium in Moscow
The Luzhniki stadium where England will play Russia

Artificial pitches have come a long way from the Astroturf surfaces played on at Luton, Oldham and QPR in the 1980s.

But England will still be taking a step into the unknown when they walk out onto the synthetic surface of the Luzhniki stadium to face Russia on Wednesday afternoon.

They are warming up for the game by training on a 1m replica at the Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College in Altrincham.

The artificial grass, which is approved by Uefa, is made up of tall, wide fibres with an infill of silicone sand and rubber, which doubles as the base.

It is a world away from the pitches of a generation ago, but is it a close enough replica of grass for it to be suitable for such a crucial Euro 2008 qualifier?

606: DEBATE

Particularly when you learn that a grass pitch will be laid in its place for next year's Champions League final.

"The new synthetic pitch does not play as quickly as the older style Astroturf," said ex-Bradford and Crewe midfielder Gareth Whalley, who trains on the replica school pitch with current club Altrincham.

"You have to hit your passes quite hard and, consequently, it can be quite bobbly. It does test your first touch a bit more than a normal pitch.

"The biggest thing about the pitch is that it does test your technical ability.

The artificial pitch at Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College in Altrincham
The artificial pitch at Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College in Altrincham

"I don't think it is conducive to passing. The ball sticks to the surface too much and it might be difficult to play the quick one-touch stuff.

"You have to be very sure and accurate with your passing.

"But players of England international quality shouldn't really have to worry about that side of it too much.

"They should all be capable enough and have a good enough first touch to play on the pitch and be comfortable. So I don't think it will hold any great fear for them."

Russia are unbeaten on the pitch, which is home to Spartak Moscow and Torpedo Moscow.

They have won three of their five Group E games on the pitch but have been held to draws by Croatia and Israel.

At the end of the day, just get on with it - there are no excuses if you get beat

Altrincham's Colin Little

Whalley believes England striker Michael Owen could have a major impact on Wednesday on a surface that will suit the diminutive striker.

"The pitch will suit smaller sharper players and I can see Michael doing quite well on it," he said.

"The ball seems to hold up more on this surface, so long balls behind the back of their defence should be good for the sharper players to get in behind their back four."

But, whatever the result, Whalley's team-mate Colin Little says the pitch will not be enough of an excuse if England lose.

"I think Russia have got a slight advantage but it's not enough to say it's unfair and we shouldn't have had to play on it.

"At the end of the day, just get on with it. There are no excuses if you get beat."



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