JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Organizers won't move the African Cup of Nations semifinal away from Mbombela Stadium despite its sand-covered field being branded as "not good enough" for the tournament by the Confederation of African Football.
"Plan A and B and C is to play in Mbombela and to improve the pitch," CAF secretary general Hicham El Amrani said on Friday in the ruling body's mid-tournament briefing. "Of course (the field is) not good enough and we're working on it. We can't go backwards."
Sunday's quarterfinal and next Wednesday's semi will go ahead on the sandy, bumpy surface in Nelspruit which has been criticized by players and coaches and called "a disgrace" and embarrassing for African football by Togo and Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
"Ourselves as CAF, we were surprised how the field turned out, I have to admit, but there is no point whining about it," El Amrani said as reporters repeatedly asked about the field at the CAF and local organizing committee briefing. "We just need to work on it to make sure we can improve on it as much as possible."
CAF and local organizers also said the Feb. 10 final in Johannesburg was nearing a sellout, but only 14,000 tickets had been sold for the Mbombela semifinal.
There were 6,000 tickets left for sale for the final at Soccer City, which has a capacity of around 87,000 for the cup -- including spaces for media, VIPs and CAF officials and sponsors. The other semifinal in Durban also wasn't yet sold out, with 19,000 of the 48,000 tickets available for supporters unsold.
But Nelspruit's semi was the clearest worry for organizers, with the stadium not yet half full for a match that could see title contender Ghana take on Adebayor's Togo.
There was a need "to work very, very hard" to sell more tickets for that match, El Amrani said.
While South Africa has made some improvement on the poor attendances at the last two African Cups, there were still disappointing crowds. Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium had low turnouts throughout the group games despite organizers offering free tickets.
"On the issue of Nelson Mandela Bay, this concern is shared by all of us," local organizing committee chief executive Mvuzo Mbebe said. "It's just that we are surprised by the level of that (poor attendances)."