England v Italy: Are they painting the Manaus pitch green?

Threadbare pitch still off limits as workers apply final touches at stadium


The Manaus stadium that will host England’s World Cup opener against Italy on Saturday was in a race against time on Thursday to be ready for kick-off, with the pitch still brown, dry and sandy in places and much of the interior areas, even those around the changing rooms, still frantically being cleaned with 48 hours to go.

England will train here on Friday at 5.15pm local time, having elected to work in the gym at their hotel on Thursday rather than use their Fifa designated training ground. At mid-afternoon one of the ground staff at the Arena Amazonia could clearly be seen with a yellow canister on his back spraying the brown areas of the pitch under the direction of an official. He concentrated on the penalty areas, which are particularly brown and dusty-looking.

The Fifa delegate present on that occasion could not say whether it was paint, fertiliser or something else that was being sprayed on to the pitch.

In some areas of the stadium, there were workers with dust-masks on their faces clearing up the site in preparation for what will be the first major sporting event it has hosted. There were building workers all over the site and reporters were told they could not go to pitch-side because cabling was still being laid for match-day photographers. There is still rubbish strewn in some external areas.

Read more: 'Thin and scarred' - the Manaus pitch
Five reasons why Manaus will be a nightmare for England
4% of fans think England will win World Cup

The changing rooms – England are in the “A” dressing room – looked impressive and complete, albeit in need of a thorough clean. The medical centre is complete and fully staffed. Fifa officials agreed to a tour of the stadium but drew the line at allowing photographers and reporters down to pitch-side.

In a statement, Fifa said: “The pitch in Manaus has been undergoing treatment in preparation for the World Cup. Over the last three months, mitigation procedures have been put in place and there continues to be significant improvement.

“Pitch experts from Fifa and the local organising committee are satisfied that the pitch will be ready for training and the matches, and have been based in Manaus to ensure that all proper procedures are in place.”

Arriving at the stadium on Thursday afternoon, I encountered a group of workmen busying themselves with the stadium car park. The tarmac was still spongy but they were pressing ahead with painting the lines in yellow paint nonetheless, and cheerily pointed to the corner where I could get out and back to the road.

England arrive at their hotel in Manaus on Thursday The stadium is not yet finished. It may never be finished, according to the official, European-approved standard. But the people here believe they are ready. England’s first game in a city in the Amazon rainforest on Saturday is an event that Manaus has been waiting for in eager anticipation ever since it was given host city status and it is not about to allow what it regards as minor considerations over the quality of the pitch or the climate to get in the way of its big day.

To put into perspective the location of Manaus, and what it represents for this part of Brazil, it is worth revisiting a few simple facts about the Amazon, culled from Brazil on the Rise, an excellent book on the country’s development by the American journalist Larry Rohter, who was the New York Times correspondent here for eight years.

The Amazon encompasses 60 per cent of Brazil’s territory, but has just 10 per cent of its population. The rainforest itself covers an area bigger than Europe. It was opened to large-scale development less than 50 years ago and since then, Rohter writes, 20 per cent of it has been “burned, cut, chopped or razed”. Yet there are still no roads to Manaus, the biggest city in the Amazon. You have to fly in, as the England team did from their base in Rio de Janeiro.

Read more: World Cup fixtures and tables
Latest World Cup video
Daily World Cup quiz

It felt remarkable that, with England finally in the city they have been preparing to play in since the draw, they did not venture outside their hotel for a training session. The official Football Association position was that this was in keeping with previous preparations on “MD-2” (clunky Fifa-speak for two days before a game). But they will train at the stadium later today.

The remarks by Roy Hodgson about Manaus, made before the draw in Salvador in December, still cut deep here. The England manager infamously said that it was “the one to avoid”, a comment he is still trying to live down. Leaving aside the grandstanding by local politicians on the issue, there was a genuine concern that Manaus’s chance to show itself off to the world – as a travellers’ hub for exploring the greatest biodiversity anywhere on earth – would be lost.

The city hosts four group games, but none bigger than England against Italy. As a consequence it launched its own PR campaign, including a television advert presented by two Manaus residents, one from England and the other from Italy, discussing why they loved the city. Manaus has a 19th-century opera house, the Teatro Amazonas, brought over by boat during the days of the rubber barons. The venue then had a rubberised drive so late arrivals would not disturb performances.

The attention to detail has not been quite so fastidious for the stadium itself. Organisers have run out of time to make the finishing touches. In the wider area around the stadium there was still work going on and to one side great mounds of earth that have been deposited, behind a nearby gymnasium. From the inside, however, and for the purposes of television, the stadium will look the part.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower