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World Cup 2014: Weather change and travel should take its toll

The coaches of Italy and England, who meet in Manaus on Saturday, have tailored preparations for the tournament around how to cope with the heat, reports Ian Hawkey.

Frank Lampard of England cools down during a training session at the Urca military base (Forte de Urca) training ground on June 9, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Frank Lampard of England cools down during a training session at the Urca military base (Forte de Urca) training ground on June 9, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

At the Confederations Cup in Brazil 12 months ago, Spain, the World Cup holders, found the heat and humidity of the northernmost venue used for the tournament, Fortaleza, almost as challenging an opponent as any.

“Each footstep began to hurt,” said Sergio Ramos, the defender. Jordi Alba, the full-back said: “Your feet feel as if they are burning.”

For a team who have spent the past six years in international football giving off an impression they can walk on water, it was a somewhat alarming sensation.

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Manaus, the steamy Amazonia city, was not on the list of sites at the Confederations Cup. Conditions there at this time of year can seem even more sapping than those at coastal Fortaleza, with average temperatures above 30°C every day.

The coaches of Italy and England, who meet in Manaus on Saturday, have tailored preparations for the tournament around how to cope with that. Cesare Prandelli, of Italy, successfully lobbied Fifa to allow breaks for drinks after half an hour if the mercury rises above 32°C; England’s Roy Hodgson has had his players training in sweat-tops and lined jackets.

Stamina becomes a defining issue when the body is subjected to these unaccustomed extremes; evidently, that will affect the pace of some contests. Security in possession becomes a more valuable asset. The keepers of the ball will always tire less than the chasers.

But Brazil is so vast, some of the cities hosting matches are so far apart that teams will be moving between climates, from dry to wet, hot to milder.

The travel is a factor in anti-fatigue planning, too. Some flight transfers – with journeys of five or six hours – will take the best part of a day.

South Africa 2010 had an element of environmental diversity: teams could be subject to the thin air of dry, high-altitude Johannesburg one day and be playing in rainy, windswept Cape Town four days later.

It was winter there, which forecasters imagined would encourage pacey, slick football. There were moments of that, but overall it was not considered a vintage World Cup in terms of entertainment levels. The weather can only shape performance so far.

Spain, to their credit, did not offer it as an excuse when they suffered a rare blow to their esteem 12 months ago, losing the Confederations Cup final 3-0 to the host, Brazil. Home advantage probably was helpful to the Brazilians, but that is something generated by forces beyond the meteorological.

sports@thenational.ae

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