Coaches blame artificial grass for lackluster game
The coaches of Slovenia and Algeria have blamed the lackluster performances in the Group C match on the surface at Peter Mokaba Stadium, which hosted the first World Cup game to be played on artificial grass.
The Polokwane venue, which was built for the World Cup, features a field containing millions of synthetic grass fibers woven between and beneath the natural grass.
The surface and the thin air due to the 1,300-meter altitude makes it even harder to control the much-criticized Jabulani ball.
Robert Koren scored with a 25-meter shot that Algeria goalkeeper Fawzi Chaouchi misjudged and allowed to bounce into the net off his arm in the 79th minute, giving Slovenia a 1-0 win on Sunday.
``I think Slovenia used the conditions better, which put our goalkeeper off,'' Algeria coach Rabah Saadane said. ``The ball and the turf caused problems for both teams, especially by playing a long cross, you had to be so careful to judge it right.
``The grass is an important detail ... you really have to adapt to these unusual conditions.''
Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek agreed, despite leading his country to its first win at a World Cup.
``I don't agree with this turf ... it's a different game,'' Kek said. ``We never played on such a surface and had just an hour of practice the day before the match to get adjusted to it. It's not an excuse ... but it's certainly different to what we are used to.''
Slovenian newspaper Delo said Monday ``the game was bad and will be quickly forgotten,'' citing the surface and the 1,300-meter altitude as explanations.
The Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, which will host its first match Wednesday when Honduras plays Chile, has the same surface but is only situated at 660 meters above sea level.
The turf was provided by Belgium-based company Desso, which provides artificial grass for numerous European venues including Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, Liverpool's Anfield, Tottenham's White Hart Lane and Anderlecht's Constant Vanden Stock Stadium.
Slovenia defender Bostjan Cesar was troubled by the turf when he first trained at Peter Mokaba Stadium.
``The pitch is a bit weird,'' he said. ``It feels a bit unusual with that artificial grass beneath it, but the surface is very smooth.''
The Polokwane pitch has a built-in sprinkler system, which was switched on shortly before Sunday's match and at halftime to wet the grass, giving the ball even more pace.
Koren said the conditions made it ``hard to control long passes. Also, this turf is very fast and it led to some mistakes.''