India coach says hosts should provide proper playing field

Working fast: Stadium official fixing the pitch during the Merdeka Tournament at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil. — GLENN GUAN/The Star

KUALA LUMPUR: Imagine a road filled with potholes.

That was the state of the refurbished National Stadium pitch in Bukit Jalil during the Merdeka Tournament match between Malaysia and India on Friday.

So it did not come as a surprise when India’s coach Igor Stimac lamented on the state of the pitch and the treatment his team received throughout the tournament.

The newly upgraded pitch with Zeon Zoysia grass, which cost more than RM4.8mil, had patches of torn grass just 20 minutes into play.

After the setback of losing 2-4 to Malaysia, the former Croatian international did not hold back and called the field deplorable and one that could cause injury to players.

“A beautiful stadium, great facilities, but a terrible pitch,” said Stimac. “It was an exciting game. Good football from both sides. The state of the pitch was terrible, the players faced many difficulties especially when it came to sprinting and stopping. There was fear of injuries because of the pitch, but they plodded on.

“We had a couple of training sessions on the muddy pitch before the game, which saw four of my players getting injured. The risk was there.

“You (The host) have to take care of that. You’re investing in the game but it would be nice to accommodate the foreign teams.

“These little things are annoying. This (Merdeka Tournament) is one of the greatest tournaments in Asia but this spoiled it.”

The National Stadium was closed in March to facilitate the upgrading works by replacing the old pitch with the Zeon Zoysia grass, sponsored by Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.

The pitch was not the only problem for India as Stimac and his players had complaints over refereeing team led by Thailand’s Mongkolchai Pechhri, who made some questionable decisions during the match.

India thought they had scored a goal in the 60th minute when a footage showed that the ball crossed the line but the referee said the linesman was unsure, so it wasn’t given a goal.

There were questions of offside for Dion Cools’ goal in the seventh minute and India felt that the penalty in the 19th minute should not have been awarded, in which Arif Aiman Hanapi converted from the spot in the 20th minute.

Even Stimac remarked that it was ‘14 vs 11’.

Their centreback Sandesh Jhingan said they should have played better but felt some decisions were perplexing.

“Yes, we have to blamed for giving away some easy goals to them but I do not want to sound like a crybaby as some of the decisions were ...,” he said.

“The same happened to us when we played Iraq in the King’s Cup. The ball was over the line, we should have been given a goal in the second half. It sounds petty but they are game-changing decisions.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s coach Kim Pan-gon however, was diplomatic over the pitch issue and said it would improve in the months to come.

“It’s a new pitch, it will take time. We had a light training before the match against India and saw some patches of grass coming out. Let’s give it some time, it will be okay.

“One day, this pitch will be the best in Southeast Asia. I believe everybody have worked hard to ensure that our team get to play on the best field.”

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