High hopes for high-altitude Cup match in Johannesburg

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High hopes for high-altitude Cup match in Johannesburg

RUSTENBURG, South Africa - With six of the 10 venues for the 2010 World Cup 1,000 meters (.6 mile) above sea level, knowing how to play at high altitudes has become a key factor for many of the teams.

Last February, reporters from Ilgan Sports traveled to Kunming, 1,895 meters above sea level, and Gwangyang, South Jeolla, only 10 meters above sea level, to test the travelling speed and distance of Jabulani, the official ball of the 2010 World Cup, at different altitudes.

Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, where Korea will play Argentina tomorrow, is located 1,753 meters above sea level. The results of the test in Kunming are comparable to what the national team can expect in Johannesburg.

Former national team players and current Chunnam Dragons coaches Ha Seok-ju and Roh Sang-rae pitched in to conduct the tests. Ha and Roh’s average penalty kick speed was measured at 110.6 kilometers (69.7 miles) per hour in Kunming, and only 103.8 kilometers per hours in Gwangyang - a difference of 6.8 kilometers per hour. That means penalty kicks in high altitudes will reach the net about .02 second faster than they will in the lowlands.

The distance the goal kicks travelled was also significantly different. Ha averaged 48.4 meters on his goal kicks in Gwangyang and 60.8 meters in Kunming, while Roh’s balls went an average of 57.4 meters in Gwangyang and 65 meters in Kunming.

The numbers in Johannesburg are similar to Kunming’s: balls travel an average of 62.6 meters at an average speed of 110.4 kilometers.

What makes the difference is the air density, which tends to be lower at high altitudes. Lower density makes for lower resistance, which in turn results in faster balls.

And the difference means it will be trickier for defenders and goalkeepers to estimate the landing point of crosses and long passes.

Tomorrow’s starting goalkeeper, whether it’s Jung Sung-ryong or Lee Woon-jae, will need to be able to make decisions and react fast when the team faces off against Argentina in Johannesburg. The increased altitude will also mean players such as Park Chu-young, Lee Chung-yong and Ki Sung-yueng need to attempt more shots from long-distances.

Tomorrow’s match is Korea’s sole bout at a high altitude, but manager Huh Jung-moo has thoroughly prepared his team over the past five months for the low-density air.

The national team’s first overseas training camp took place in January in Rustenburg, which sits 1,500 meters above sea level. Korean players used “thin-air rooms” at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi, in mid-May. The national team chose Austria’s Neustift, 1,200 meters above sea level, for their final overseas training camp leading up to the World Cup.

The Argentine national team has been training in high altitudes since May 27, and played its opening match against Nigeria in Johannesburg.


By Kim Jong-ryok [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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