Atletico turf out the worms

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The Independent Online
Atletico Madrid, forced to play their first league match of the season on the pitch of their arch-rivals Real Madrid because their own had been destroyed by worms, will play their first match of the Champions' League on French turf.

Uefa, football's European governing body, has insisted that next Wednesday's match against Steaua Bucarest must be played at Atletico's Vicente Calderon ground, since press and security facilities at Real's Santiago Bernabeu stadium fall short of European requirements. So Spain's cup and league double winners have to replant their entire pitch with special grass imported from Bordeaux.

Faced with Uefa's ultimatum, Atletico hired two Californian grass experts who supervised the United States pitches during the World Cup finals, and who reckon the ravaged pitch can be restored in time. Their emergency solution is to transplant turf from France, which they say is of the right kind to correct the damage inflicted by a plague of worms that chomped through Atletico's reseeded pitch last month.

The operation must be concluded by Sunday, since the newly laid grass has to rest three days before withstanding the imprint of a footballer's boot.

Atletico's owner, Jesus Gil y Gil, said: "Uefa told us that our ground met their requirements and Real's didn't, and that we had to play the Champions' League there." The decision was "the best for everyone," he said, and thanked Real for offering their stadium.

In training sessions at the Vicente Calderon stadium last week, Atletico's players gouged up huge wedges of the pitch. The coach, Radomir Antic, pronounced the terrain unplayable, and expected it to be out of action for weeks.

Matias Almeyda, the Argentine international defender, began training with his Seville team mates yesterday and looks set to make his debut in Sunday's home game against Real Zaragoza.

The former River Plate player was received on Tuesday by 12,000 Seville fans in an atmosphere of euphoria similar to that surrounding the arrival of another Argentine, the World Cup winner Diego Maradona, in 1992.

"It's like a dream, I could stay here all night," said Almeyda of the supporters' welcome.

Almeyda, 22, played a prominent part in helping Argentina to win a silver medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games and is a regular at full international level.

Rangers' forgotten man, Neil Murray, is being lined up for a move to the Cypriot side, Apoel Nicosia. The out-of-contract midfielder is wanted by Apoel who can sign him from Ibrox on a free transfer under the Bosman rules.

Murray is recovering from a minor knee operation and should be fit in a fortnight. Apoel are willing to wait but will need an answer soon afterwards. The home-grown Rangers product knows he has little chance of making the first team and could be ready to try his luck overseas.