Monday, April 02, 2007
Particularly interesting in the current issue is an article by the magazine's excellent Brazil correspondent, Brian Homewood, dealing with the aftermath of a recent Copa Libertadores match.
Rio's famous Flamengo club faced the obscure Bolivian side Real Potosi in the latter's home ground...some 4,000 metres above sea level. Flamengo needed a late rally to draw the game, and officials of the Brazilian club subsequently complained bitterly about the circumstances of the game, claiming that playing at such altitude "degrades the human condition (!) and puts the life of the athletes at risk".
Homewood goes on to outline many of the altitude issues that have cropped up in the past, mentioning in passing that Peru, who have underachieved in South America for some time, are considering shifting their home games from the low-lying capital Lima to the dizzy heights of Cuzco.
In the run-up to the recent World Cup, it surprised me that the FFA did not organise at least one friendly match at altitude, given that Ecuador and Colombia were both shaping as possible opponents in the Oceania-CONMEBOL playoff. Instead, the only South American friendly before the finals was played at tropical, mid-level Caracas, with a weakened team.
In the previous cycle, Australia did indeed sample the heights of Bogotá. But in their typically cack-handed way, the old Soccer Australia gave Frank Farina a scratch squad to accustom to the thin mountain air.
Looking at it from a practical point of view, (a) is the altitude advantage as great as it is generally considered, (b) how are opposing teams to deal with it?
With regard to (a), there were many (myself included, I am ashamed to say) who wrote off Ecuador's chances at the recent World Cup, claiming that they were merely altitude specialists who would be shown up at sea level.
Yet Ecuador played brightly and convincingly in the opening stage of the tournament, and should perhaps have gone further than they did (like many teams, they showed the English side exaggerated respect). They were simply a good side, and the altitude factor in their qualification had probably been over-stressed. Not that it was entirely inconsequential.
As far as (b) goes, Homewood makes an interesting point:
It is generally accepted that 21 days are needed to fully adapt to altitudes of 3,000m and above. As this is not feasible with modern football's calendar, most teams try to arrive just two hours before kickoff so they play the game before the effects of altitude sickness kick in.
Australia does not face the South American roulette match any more, but there are altitude problems in Asia as well (notably in the west). The get-in-quick, get-out-quick method advocated by Homewood seems a good option for our teams, especially given the limited preparation time now available, with club and country commitments often making schedules tight.