Soccer City pitch unfit to play on

JOHANNESBURG - The pitch at the stadium that hosted last year's World Cup final has been declared unfit for South Africa's Nations Cup qualifier against holders Egypt later this month, the country's FA (SAFA) said on Wednesday.

The match has been moved from Soccer City to nearby Ellis Park with SAFA officials unhappy about the standard of a new 1.5 million rand ($216,900) pitch laid after a recent concert by the Irish rock band U2 had rendered the previous one unplayable.

The new pitch was used for a top-of-the-table domestic league match between rivals Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates last month just seven days after being laid with huge divots being dug up by tackles and players running a risk of injury.

"We would have preferred to play the game at Soccer City but the pitch was a huge concern," SAFA spokesman Morio Sanyane told reporters.

Egypt had hoped for a postponement of the match, claiming the shutdown of their domestic league because of the recent uprising in their country and ousting of president Hosni Mubarak meant they were not properly prepared.

But the Confederation of African Football said Egypt's request would only be considered if South Africa agreed to postpone the match, an idea the home team swiftly rejected.

Defeat for Egypt in the March 26 clash could endanger their chances of qualifying for the 2012 finals, which are being co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Egypt, bottom of the four-team section with one point from their first two matches after a draw with Sierra Leone and defeat by Niger, have won the last three Nations Cup titles.

South Africa top the standings with four points before the first of their two Group Seven games against Egypt.

The 11 group winners qualify for the finals along with the three best second-placed finishers.

More than 80,000 people watched Spain beat Netherlands in last July's World Cup final at Soccer City in Johannesburg.

Last month more than 90,000 attended the Soweto derby between the Chiefs and Pirates while more than 100 000 watched the U2 concert at the cavernous venue in early February.


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