Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How Playing at Altitude Might Transform the World Cup

Everyone is talking about how holding the first Cup in Africa could affect the results. But one of the under analyzed aspects of every World Cup is the effect of climate and altitude on both the play and outcomes. This World Cup will be the first held in the southern hemisphere - and thus during winter - since 1978 in Argentina. South Africa is sub-tropical for the most part, so the temperature shouldn't be much of an issue for most squads. But altitude might well play a significant role since many games, including the final, will be played in a Johannesburg roughly a mile above sea level, much like Denver.

The weather has been a factor since the first World Cup match in Montevideo in 1930, when it snowed the night before and the Mexicans blamed the climate for their 4-1 loss to France. Weather is a major reason why European countries - accustomed for the most part to cooler temperatures and sea level conditions - don't play well outside their continent. At the Cups held in Asia in 2002 and the U.S. in 1994 - both played in temperatures usually 80 degrees or higher -- several teams noticeably wilted in the heat, while the hosts and "hot weather teams" such as Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria in '94 and Senegal in 2002 excelled.

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