England will train at their own base camp here today rather than on the Port Elizabeth grass where they are to face Slovenia, which has been over-sanded and is loose underfoot, adding another level of uncertainty to tomorow afternoon's match that Fabio Capello could well do without.
Groundsmen at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium, where England's World Cup destiny is in the balance at 4pm local time tomorrow, are being urged to apply a heavy roller to the pitch to get the excess sand to compact and limit the extent to which the pitch cuts up, as it has in other games. "There is no overnight fix for this sort of thing and it's too late before the game to resolve the excess of sand," a South African pitch expert with knowledge of the World Cup surfaces told The Independent. "The only thing you can do is to make sure you give the pitch a heavy roll and try to get the sand to compact."
Sand is applied to pitches as protection for grass seed and for smoothness, though has been done to excess at England's next match day venue. Though heavy rain has affected Port Elizabeth, with the car parks waterlogged, it has not contributed to the pitch quality.
The South African firm Top Turf, which created the Port Elizabeth surface, made it to exactly the same specification as the Green Point Stadium pitch in Cape Town, which played superbly despite torrential rain when Portugal played North Korea yesterday. Top Turf have created 16 stadium and training pitches for the World Cup, including England's own Bafokeng training field. The surface at the 48,000-capacity venue for tomorrow's match is the only one that the firm have not also been given the contract to manage.
England, who had originally been due to fly to Port Elizabeth at 11am today, rescheduled their flight for early in the afternoon, allowing a 10.30am start to training at their base. Fifa said that the wet weather conditions in both Durban and Port Elizabeth had forced the suspension of training sessions on the stadium pitches in order to maintain the quality of the surface for matches.