European Football - Stockholm pitch to get icy makeover for Ireland match

The exterior of Stockholm's Friends Arena was turned green to celebrate St Patrick's Day this weekend, but groundstaff have a way to go to make the pitch green for Friday's World Cup qualifier against Ireland.

Reuters
European Football - Stockholm pitch to get icy makeover for Ireland match
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Friends Arena

Less than a week before the game, there was not a single blade of grass to be seen in the 50,000-seat arena with the playing surface covered by a thick layer of ice for the national finals of the winter sport of bandy.

Asked last week if he was worried about the turnaround from ice to grass, Sweden coach Erik Hamren laughed as he answered: "Truly? Yes!"

Hamren spoke of the "teething problems" experienced by the pitch at the new arena, which cut up badly in the inaugural 4-2 win over England, although the surface did not seem to bother Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic who netted four goals.

"The first game against England it was not the quality I want," Hamren said. "The last game against Argentina it was really good and it's going to be really good when we play against Ireland, I'm sure of that."

The Friends joined the likes of the Sydney Opera House and the Empire State Building as one of many buildings around the world turned green on Ireland's national holiday. Turning the pitch from ice to grass may prove a little trickier.

Almost from the final whistle of the men's bandy final, ground staff at the new multi-purpose arena will be working around the clock to melt the ice, drain away the water and lay the pitch for the Ireland game.

"To move in the grass is not the problem," team manager Lars Richt told Reuters in an interview. "The bigger problem is to have the ice and all the water off the pitch. That will be a challenge."

The grass for the Friends Arena pitch is grown on the border between the Netherlands and Germany before being driven up to Stockholm on trucks.

Richt said the grass supplier had been changed since the first game against England, and that he had no worries about it being bedded down in time for both teams to train on on Thursday.

"On Wednesday evening the grass is on, so I'm not worried about that."

The Swedes are second in qualifying Group C, three points behind leaders Germany and one ahead of Ireland in third.

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