Greatest spectacle is greatly fatiguingThe World Cup is soccer’s greatest spectacle. It’s also a month-long grind, and the fatigue is starting to show.
Games every few days, many played under a summer sun. Travel back and forth across Germany. Pressure that grows with every game. And for many players, that all comes after they just spent at least nine months with soccer’s best clubs.
“The World Cup is a special test,” said Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo Pereira, whose team plays France tomorrow in the semifinals. “No matter how hard you try, you can’t completely overcome that tiredness.”
Or the injuries. Or the mental exhaustion.
Some teams manage better than others. Semifinalists Germany, Italy, France and Portugal have outlasted the other 28 teams, and it’s not only because of skill, timing and luck.
Italy might be the strongest team mentally, able to ignore distractions from a corruption scandal that is rocking the domestic league. Despite several grueling games, Portugal has managed to remain healthy. France looks fresher now than a month ago. And Germany is among the fittest teams, after coach Juergen Klinsmann overhauled its training program.
When the tournament began in 1930, there were only 13 teams and it lasted two weeks. Now 32 teams play 64 games over four weeks, and qualifying begins two years before that.
But that’s not all. Many national team players spend most of their time competing in Europe’s grueling leagues and cup competitions. Training starts as early as August. The season runs through May.
Portugal playmaker Deco helped Barcelona win the Champions League title May 17, one day before training camp for his national team opened.
And forget about getting a break afterward. The French league opens July 31; Lyon held its first practice Monday. Other big European leagues start play within six weeks of the World Cup final, and qualifying for the 2008 European Championship starts in August.
Even if players stay healthy, keeping their minds fresh is another challenge. In the 1994 final near Los Angeles, Italy and Brazil looked exhausted and played dull, conservative soccer.
Brazil won in a penalty kick shootout after Roberto Baggio’s miss.
“I was very tired, my right leg was hurting,” Baggio said then. “My mind was not clear.”
After a month-long grind, something’s bound to give.