Παρασκευή 19 Απριλίου 2024
weather-icon 21o
When world-class stars such as van Dijk and Weghorst express, with just two words, what no one else dared say about the Opap Arena stadium

When world-class stars such as van Dijk and Weghorst express, with just two words, what no one else dared say about the Opap Arena stadium

The huge problems at the Nea Philadelphia venue now reach as far as the playing field, raising concerns for UEFA ahead of the scheduled Europa Conference League final

Liverpool FC captain Virgil van Dijk, who for many is the best central defender in contemporary football, numbers more than 600 appearances in official club and international play for the Netherlands. He’s competed in all of the major football tournaments and in every imaginable stadium around the world.

On Monday evening, in fact, it was van Dijk’s successful penalty kick in injury time that gave the “Oranje” a crucial 1-0 win over home side Greece at the Opap Arena, located in the northwest Athens municipality of Nea Philadelphia.

The win more-or-less sealed the Dutch national team’s place at the upcoming Euro 2024 tournament.

Former Manchester United striker Wout Weghorst, van Dijk’s teammate on the national side, has roughly 100 less appearances during his career. At the same game on Monday, Weghorst missed a first penalty kick awarded to the Netherlands midway through the first half, when Greece and Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos blocked the attempt.

Nevertheless, despite these two Dutch stars’ major contribution to the hard-fought victory by their national team, and their overall stellar presence in European and world football, it was their comments after the game that raised eyebrows.

Both pro footballers, in comments to the press at the Opap Arena, which is scheduled to host the UEFA Conference League final, didn’t bring up the actual game they just played, nor the two penalties awarded to their side, or even the big win and looming participation in the Euro 2024.

Instead both footballers posed the same question and expressed the same annoyance.

The caustic comments heard around the world 

“Have you seen the pitch? Terrible,” van Dijk said in his post-match interview, while adding “It’s unbelievable that this is still allowed at this level.”

Hoffenheim striker Weghorst chimed in by saying that it was the «worst pitch» he has ever played on. He expressed his surprise, in fact, on how, in the year 2023, games at such a high level in the European zone can be played on such unsuitable playing fields.

When two veteran footballers, big-name stars who’ve played in matches around the world, express their opinion in such a manner about a specific playing field, their criteria obviously don’t merely refer to the pitch’s “aesthetic deviation” but rather to its very hazardousness. Because the poor condition of a playing field, above all, threatens players with serious injuries. A misstep, an unseen pothole, a snag of one’s football boot with the ground while trying to control the ball can even send a player to the surgery table.

Keep in mind, the Opap Arena in Nea Philadelphia only recently completed one year of operation. Although it’s the newest sports venue built in Greece, it doesn’t appear to be the most modern. Numerous complaints have been made by visitors about the quality of construction as well as «blind spots» in the stands, where spectators can’t see the pitch properly.

Even more ominously, a number of safety concerns were hastily glossed over a year ago, so that the stadium could open its gates as quickly as possible. Additionally, complaints were also aired by many local residents around the venue, people who last August experienced the horror of a murderous rampage by Dinamo Zagreb hooligans and street violence in the middle of their municipality. The shocking incident, in fact, claimed the life of a young man.

On Monday, it was the players’ turn to express their bewilderment, and not just any players, but two international stars.

An apology amid the general outcry

In an urgent “damage-control” reaction, the manager of the company that supervises football pitches in the Greek Superleague took to Facebook after the outcry, stating:

«The pitch at OPAP Arena is in the process of being reseeded, of which the organising authority, the Dutch national team and of course the Greek national team are aware…It is a regular, annual procedure that takes place at the break of the championship, it’s just that in our case it doesn’t exist. The playing field is completely safe and playable with an aesthetic deviation due to the necessary, aggressive work.”

Nevertheless, in this case it was merely confirmation that the corporate owner of the stadium, essentially Dimitris Melissanidis’ AEK Athens FC, despite receiving 300,000 euros from the Greek Football Federation (EPO) to host the national team’s games in 2023, allowed the playing field to fall into such a dreadful condition.

For those with expert knowledge of grass playing surfaces, however, the issue is obviously not about “aesthetics”. Instead, the shoddy construction of infrastructure below the playing field is at fault, and specifically the metalwork underneath.

It’s worth noting a statement by Portuguese striker Daniel Podence last month , on September 17, who in his first match since returning to Greece’s Superleague and Olympiacos Piraeus, a 1-1 tie with AEK Athens, complained that the “playing field was not good”.

There was no “reseeding” issue brought up at the time.

The situation at the AEK Spata training complex

The same situation exists at AEK’s sports complex at the Spata site, which is also used by the Greek national team, with the newly built Stelios Serafidis field and related training grounds suffering from the same problems as the Nea Philadelphia stadium.  The reason is that construction was the result of a specific «budget» and conditions.

The following video was taken just last Saturday, showing the entrance of the AEK and AEL FC women’s teams onto the Serafidis pitch. One look at the grass says it all.

Of course, there’s no rhyme or reason behind EPO’s selection criteria. This is the Federation that for strictly «political» reasons decided a few years ago to move the national team from the Karaiskakis Stadium, which was offered to them for free. EPO decided to move the national team from the stadium that last August successfully hosted the final of the UEFA European Super Cup between Manchester City and Sevilla FC.

This is stadium that the Greek internationals themselves, from the very first moment, told the Federation they prefer that it remain the host field for the national team.  It goes without saying that there’s not even the slightest reaction from EPO to this troubling situation, despite the fact that each game of Greece’s national team at the OPAP Arena costs the Federation 60,000 euros.

The great risk of injury

Sadly, it’s not unusual that those managing EPO today cannot comprehend that such a pitch can’t host top-flight football matches, given that they don’t have the slightest relationship with football. The fact that they’re oblivious to the risk of players getting injured, however, is highly egregious, even for them — and especially when statements by van Dijk and Weghorst added an international dimension to this grievous condition.

This situation ultimately doesn’t only concern AEK, Greece’s Superleague championship, EPO or national teams, but it also affects the next venue for the Europa Conference League final.

Alexander Ceferin’s UEFA is apparently deeply concerned about this situation, meaning that EPO President Takis Baltakos should probably – once again – try to think up a good excuse…

Sports in

Ο Βαγγέλης Μαρινάκης στη Νιόν για τον ημιτελικό της Κ19 του Ολυμπιακού

Ο πρόεδρος της ΠΑΕ Ολυμπιακός, Βαγγέλης Μαρινάκης, μια μέρα μετά το έπος της Πόλης βρίσκεται και στη Νιόν για να παρακολουθήσει τον σπουδαίο ημιτελικό της Κ19 με τη Ναντ

Ακολουθήστε το in.gr στο Google News και μάθετε πρώτοι όλες τις ειδήσεις

in.gr | Ταυτότητα

Διαχειριστής - Διευθυντής: Λευτέρης Θ. Χαραλαμπόπουλος

Διευθύντρια Σύνταξης: Αργυρώ Τσατσούλη

Ιδιοκτησία - Δικαιούχος domain name: ΑΛΤΕΡ ΕΓΚΟ ΜΜΕ Α.Ε.

Νόμιμος Εκπρόσωπος: Ιωάννης Βρέντζος

Έδρα - Γραφεία: Λεωφόρος Συγγρού αρ 340, Καλλιθέα, ΤΚ 17673

ΑΦΜ: 800745939, ΔΟΥ: ΦΑΕ ΠΕΙΡΑΙΑ

Ηλεκτρονική διεύθυνση Επικοινωνίας: in@alteregomedia.org, Τηλ. Επικοινωνίας: 2107547007

ΜΗΤ Αριθμός Πιστοποίησης Μ.Η.Τ.232442

Παρασκευή 19 Απριλίου 2024