England could slip up on plastic pitch, warns Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson has warned England they face "a big problem" playing on an artificial pitch against Russia next week. The Euro 2008 qualifier in the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday night will be the first time England have played an international on artificial turf and the Manchester United manager believes Russia will benefit from their experience of the surface.

United have two plastic pitches at their Carrington training ground but Ferguson prefers his players to train on grass because the surfaces play differently. He said: "There is no problem with safety – on the old [artificial] pitches you used to get a lot of grazes on hips and knees when players went in for challenges, but the surfaces of today are terrific – there's no problem with that. The problem they will have is the bounce of the ball, the speed of the ball and, of course, Russia will be far more used to it than English players. That will be a big problem, it's not easy to handle that."

One of United's artificial pitches is outdoors and the other indoors – but the players hardly ever use them. Ferguson added: "In my time here at Carrington we have used the indoor pitch just once – for work on set-pieces."

England coach Steve McClaren is said to be relaxed about playing on an artificial surface, but has lined up a special practice pitch for the players to use on Sunday and Monday. The Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College in Altrincham boasts an artificial pitch that is almost an exact replica of the Moscow pitch.

The Luzniki Stadium is also the venue for this season's Champions League final, but Uefa have ordered the plastic pitch to be replaced with turf.

Uefa president Michel Platini has decided to keep the rules in place specifying that the final, and the matches in the final tournament of the European Championships, have to be played on natural grass.

William Gaillard, Uefa communications director and Platini's special advisor, said: "We are planning to keep the regulations as they are. The president thinks it is better to play on natural grass but, for climatic reasons, in places such as Moscow artificial grass may be better. For the big finals though we want to keep it natural grass."

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