Sport Soccer

Saturday 16 December 2017

Swedes in race against time to turn ice rink into pitch for crunch qualifier

Philip O'Connor

Having spent St Patrick's Day as an ice rink, the race is on to prepare the pitch at Stockholm's Friends Arena for Friday's World Cup qualifier between Sweden and Ireland.

The brand-new multi-purpose arena staged the national finals of the winter sport of bandy on Sunday, but as soon as the final whistle went, groundskeepers got to work.

Spooling machines removed the top layer of ice as the cooling system was pumped with heated glycol to melt away the rest, with arena staff hoping it would all be drained away within 24 hours.

With the two teams due to train there on Thursday, time is tight but Friends communications director Malin Sparf-Rydberg is confident that the pitch will be laid and bedded down in time.

"The grass needs to be in place 36 hours before it is used, so we have a margin," she said.

Sweden coach Erik Hamren said last week he was worried about the pitch, but he was confident that the arena would be in tip-top condition for the visit of Giovanni Trappatoni's Irish side.

"The first game against England it was not the quality I want," Hamren said.

"The last game against Argentina it was really good and it's going to be really good when we play against Ireland, I'm sure of that."

Hamren said he was looking forward to the first competitive game at the new arena following high-profile friendlies against England and Argentina.

"There have been two fantastic games, a party for the people and now it's going to be the thrilling fight for points. I'm really excited," he said.

"It's going to be a tough game. Ireland always show good heart, good mentality, always fighting for their country, for their green shirts. It's going to be a tough game, but a game you look forward to as a coach."

Hamren's biggest worry will be the problem position of left-back following the withdrawal of Blackburn's Martin Olsson.

Borussia Mönchengladbach's Oscar Wendt, who was dropped following a poor performance in a 2-1 defeat to Hungary in 2011, will replace him in the squad.

Irish Independent

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