The Philippine Azkals played their last Manila home game well over a year ago in the Challenge Cup qualifiers, defeating Turkmenistan 1-0. Since then Rizal Memorial Football Stadium has been in limbo as players and fans have waiting for the installation of an artificial-grass pitch.
The wait will soon be over. E-Sports International, the contractor for the surface, is within weeks of completing the work on the new field. I checked it out on Wednesday and found out that it will be a unique playing surface with some ground-breaking technologies.
Let's get one thing out of the way: yes, it will be the correct size. The old Rizal pitch was around 102 meters long and around 66 meters wide. That is within the FIFA tolerances for international play, which stipulates a minimum of 100 meters in length and 64 meters in width. But the PFF insisted that the new field be 68 meters wide and 105 meters long, FIFA's preferred size for elite matches. The field now ever so slightly cuts into the first lane of the track.
The “grass” is Limonta Max S from Italy. The blades are 60mm long and are very similar to what can be found in Turf BGC and Emperador. There are two differences between the Rizal turf, though. E-Sports International Philippines Managing Director Audris Romualdez says the blades are 30 microns thicker, up to 380 microns instead of 350. Good on you if you can tell the difference by sight.
There is also 10% more of the green stuff per square meter than in the two aforementioned installations. That should make for a cushier, more lush field.
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On the base of the blades will be 15 to 20 mm of mostly silica sand, then on top of that 25 mm of rubber infill.
The rubber infill granules are very fine and not at all like the chunky rubber blocks in Empy and BGC. The infill is much more similar to the stuff in the Chelsea Blue Pitch. This should make for a more realistic, dirt-like feel that will “give” more.
The latest technology in football field infill uses organic materials like cork or coconut husks. This kind of infill is still very pricey but is also extremely natural in feel. It's also a lot cooler. Rizal won't have these granules yet, but Romualdez says they are working on using locally-sourced coconut material for infill for future installations here.
The carpet where the grass is attached has holes to allow rainwater to seep through. Then below the carpet, things get interesting.
The next layer is a white sheet of Tencate polyfelt. This is a membrane with microscopic holes that will allow water to pass, but not sand nor infill. Then just below, the pièce de résistance, the shockdrain.
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As the name suggests, this layer of plastic, with little ramps leading downward, serves two purposes. One, it's a horizontal drainage system that will whisk water to the sides of the field at the astounding rate of 4,250 liters per second, according to Romualdez. (The field is ever-so-slightly higher in the middle, so water will naturally slide off to the sides.)
Remember that deluge in the Philippines – Cambodia match that forced a temporary stoppage in March of 2013? That might not have been a problem with this technology. The shockdrain will help channel water to the two huge drains on either end of the field.
The second purpose of the shockdrain is to make the field more comfortable for players by absorbing impact better. I stepped onto the field and even without any sand or infill, it already felt a bit springy and cushy.
The shockdrain will also help the surface gain the approval of the International Rugby Board, the governing body of rugby. Our rugby Volcanoes will then be able to play on it and not get too banged up. In case you're wondering, Matty Saunders and his mates will play using temporary rugby lines made from water-soluble paint. Only the football field lines will be permanently placed into the field using white grass blades.
E-Sports tells us that this shockdrain technology has already been used by Singapore in their installations last year.
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But wait there's more! Underneath the shockdrain is a black waterproof sheet that protects the “base course” from water damage. The base course is composed of crushed gravel. Romualdez says this is important because it helps uphold the integrity of the entire field and keep it flat.
A set of new Malaysian aluminum goal frames will also be brought in.
I am told the field will be ready for play by the last week of May. In June officials from an independent laboratory will fly in to conduct tests on the field's bounce, friction, flatness, and other aspects. It is hoped that the lab will confer on to the pitch the coveted FIFA 2 Star accreditation that will make the surface suitable for any FIFA competition, even a World Cup final stage match.
Then at last the Azkals can once again play the Beautiful Game in front of their adoring Manila-based fans on a perfect pitch.
Follow Bob on Twitter @ThePassionateFanPH.