THE Philippine Sports Commission has declared the Rizal Memorial Stadium ready to host the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal match between the Azkals and Singapore after upgrading work done on the pitch by the same contractors that maintain the immaculate, all-weather fairways of top golf course Sta. Elena.
After a quick inspection of the refurbished pitch, PSC chairman Ritchie Garcia went as far as say that the Rizal field is even better than the pitch at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok where two of the matches in the Suzuki Cup group stages were held.
When the Azkals play Singapore at the start of their home-and-away series on Saturday, it will mark the first time the national team will play the Suzuki Cup semifinals in front of a home crowd after failing to host a match in 2010 due to lack of a pitch that suits international standards.
The Azkals were forced to play their 'home' match two years ago in Jakarta where a crowd of more than 80,000 screaming fans backed Indonesia at the Bungkarno Stadium. The Azkals went on to lose to Indonesia, 0-2, on aggregate, ending their fairy tale run in 2010.
The Rizal Stadium has since been improved to host World Cup qualifying matches and several friendlies and was further upgraded for the Suzuki Cup semis by the same contractor that maintains Sta. Elena, a multi-awarded golf course in Sta. Rosa, Laguna known for its beautiful, all-weather fairways.
“The Rizal Memorial is now being refurbished full time,” Garcia said on Monday. “We hired a new contractor to maintain the pitch. These are the people from Sta. Elena golf course.”
Garcia said the Rizal pitch is even more playable than the Rajamangala Stadium, where driving rain caused patches on the field during the Azkals’ first game in the group stages against Thailand.
“If you saw the video sa (Thailand), pangit ng football field nila. Maraming putik at patches. Ito (Rizal) all-weather ito,” Garcia said.
He is also confident that the pitch will be ready for Saturday's historic match.
“They have the experience in taking care of the grass," Garcia, an avid golfer, said of the new contractors. "Nabisita ko kahapon, gumaganda na. Ang problema lang is, (the grass) is too short. We only had two weeks to prepare pero maganda na. ‘Yung mga uneven parts, linagyan na ng buhangin.”