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The Cup Running Over


June 24, 2010 3:56 PM

Why Are Europe's Teams Performing Poorly? Try Fatigue

This post is actually taken from our book, published before the World Cup began. But it may explain a large part of the reason why European sides are underperforming.

There's another factor that could have a major effect on this World Cup that few are talking about: Burnout.

Most professional players compete in far more games than they once did. The league seasons, the Cups, and often the European Champions League all add up to an exhausting schedule of 60 games or more. What's more almost every player from an African power will have to spend January competing in the African Nations Cup.

All this means a large number of the athletes who arrive in South Africa in June will be bushed. That's bound to affect the quality of play and even the outcomes.
   
To be sure, many of the top national teams have athletes from a variety of clubs. But even then, key players could be in less than top form. Moreover the countries that have a large number of players from one team or one league - namely Italy, Spain, or England -- could face a disadvantage come tournament time. That's one large reason why, as UEFA president Michel Plantini once put it, England performs "like lions in the autumn and lambs in the spring.
   
This will all be exacerbated by the effect of the altitude in parts of South Africa - which adds, of course, to weariness.
   
Conversely, there are lesser teams whose players are likely to be in better shape - principally because the World Cup will occur towards the beginning of their domestic seasons. Don't be surprised if teams such as South Korea, Japan, Chile, and the U.S. appear to be in better shape and suffer fewer injuries in South Africa.

Steven and Harrison Stark are the co-authors of the recently published World Cup 2010: The Indispensable Guide to Soccer and Geopolitics, from which this post is adapted. They are analyzing the World Cup for Real Clear Sports.

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