THE grass may be off-color and ideally would need another week or two to grow to perfect length, but the Philippine Football Federation has declared the Rizal Memorial Stadium field ready for the first leg of the Asean Football Federation semifinals between the Philippines and Singapore on Saturday night.
The pitch, refurbished by a top golf course contractor for the Azkals' first home tie in Southeast Asia's premier football competition, has been approved by the match inspectors and is even better than the grounds in Thailand where the Suzuki Cup group stage was played, according to field coordinator Bert Honasan.
“This is up to standards. This is better than the Thailand (Rajamangala) field,” said Honasan, a former national team member and Mr. Football recipient in 1976 and 1978 who is now a landscape architect.
Honasan, brother of Sen. Gringo Honasan, said the field was declared not “suitable” as venue in the Suzuki Cup semifinals two years ago after failing to pass the minimum Fifa standards of size: 64 meters (width) by 100 meters (length). The field has since been expanded to 68 by 102 meters.
The field also passed the minimum 1.5-inch height requirement of the grass, which, however, didn’t turn to the color the PFF desired.
“We had two weeks to do it and supposed to be magiging green (yung kulay). Ang problema ang contractors na kinuha are sanay sa golf courses pero sa golf binibigyan sila ng one month, kaya nagmadali tayo,” he said, while supervising the final touches being done on the pitch.
“What we did, we leveled it, we filled it up, we put new nets, and re-measured it. So everything is still in order. Approved lahat ito.”
Singaporean defensive midfielder Isa Halim, who’s expected to start for the Lions this weekend, is satisfied with the improvements but concerned with the lighting in the stadium.
“It’s not bad at all. The only problem I think would be the floodlights in which some areas will give blind spots for us but I think overall we got a great pitch,” he said after the Lions’ practice at the historic venue on Friday night.