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March 29, 2011
 

World Champs Will Play on a Frozen Tundra

Daraius ir Gireno Stadium

It's only missing the herd of caribou.

When the Spanish national team arrived in Lithuania for today’s Euro 2012 qualifier, they discovered that the pitch at the Dariaus Ir Gireno stadium in Kaunas is in pretty bad shape.

Actually, it looks like the old sod at Lambeau Field in mid-January.

Spain’s players are accustomed to playing on the manicured lawns of the Bernabeu and the Camp Nou. Spanish team officials were immediately concerned about the risk of injury. They called it a “patatal” (potato field), and the media called it a “potrero” (horse pasture). Del Bosque gave the conditions the thumbs-down, saying “the field is in no shape for playing.”

Sergio Ramos, who doesn’t need a perfect green to hack at the Lithuanian players’ ankles, was more optimistic. “It’s not like we’re going to die if we play there…”

The Lithuanian players aren’t crazy about it, either. For veteran defensive midfielder Deividas Semberas, “it’s not a good idea to play here, either for Spain or us.”

Dariaus Ir Gireno Stadium 1

I've played on worse.

Although there were calls from the Spanish contingent to suspend the match so that Lithuania’s version of Groundskeeper Willie could get his act together, UEFA delegate Rainier Koch indicated that the match will go ahead as planned, pending a review of the field conditions by French referee Laurent Duhamel.

Duhamel arrived at the stadium early this morning with his crew, Koch, and representatives from each team, ultimately determining that the match will go ahead, and that there is no risk of injury for the players. He will review the conditions once again before the match starts, but is not likely to change his mind.

The stadium in Kaunas is the third largest soccer venue in Lithuania, with a capacity for 8,476 seated fans. I’m no expert on how stadiums get chosen for Euro qualifiers, but there must be something terribly wrong with the Zalgiris national stadium in Vilnius, right? It seats 15,000 and would seem to be a much better venue to host the reigning European and World champions. The poorly cited Wikipedia entry tells us that the ground has fallen out of favor as the home of the Lithuanian national team. Perhaps it’s time for the Lithuanian FA to invest in a nicer patch of turf.

The match will air at 2:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN3, so you can tune in and see if it’s really that bad or if the players are being silly nannies.

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