AZKALS coach Michael Weiss has warned that the country is in danger of losing its Filipino-foreign standouts if the condition of the Rizal Memorial Stadium's football pitch does not improve.
The German mentor rued the pitch conditions at Rizal during the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup Qualifiers match between the Azkals and Cambodia on Sunday night when play was halted for an hour due to an unplayable pitch caused by the heavy rains.
“It’s an absolute embarrassment to play in these conditions,” Weiss said. “If you had seen the pitch three weeks ago, it wasn’t like this.”
“So the people who are handling these matters should really think deep because eventually these (overseas-based Filipino) players they lose interest,” he added.
Stephan Schrock, one of the prolific Azkals based in Germany, expressed disappointment over the pitch, which saw numerous puddles forming on the pitch when play was resumed.
“It was different than when I was here last time. So I was a little bit disappointed that the pitch was not that as good as I had known,” the shifty left winger said. “But we’ll see on Tuesday how the pitch is prepared.”
Curiously, the Rizal pitch had been upgraded only last December in time for the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal match between the Azkals and Singapore. The work was done by the same contractors that maintain the immaculate, all-weather fairways of top golf course Sta. Elena.
The Philippine Sports Commission had been in talks with the Football Federation about converting the pitch from natural to artificial, but negotiations hit a snag when the PSC refused to give Fifa, which was supposed to shoulder the transformation, control of the pitch.
According to PSC commissioner Jolly Gomez, the conversion of the field into an artificial playing surface will push through and will be funded by the government sports body. But it will only be done after the stadium hosts a rugby tournament in May.
“After the Asian 5-Nations Rugby Tournament in May, we will convert Rizal into an artificial playing surface,” said Gomez during a press briefing.
Responding to criticism about the condition of the field, Gomez admitted that work really needs to be done on the field. But he said maintaining an all-weather natural grass field is not practical because the field is prone to overuse.
“We already acknowledge the fact that we cannot have an all-weather natural grass field considering the amount of use that the field has,” said Gomez.
The PSC commissioner also said that they are also allotting a P5 million budget for the installation of a drainage system to avoid flooding on the field, in case of heavy rains.