Saturday, 28 June 2014

Heat rises in the North? World Cup climate & red cards

'The inside of the stadium was a furnace. My shirt was drenched from just standing. Moths were the size of bats.'
Manaus, as described by @socceroverthere

What kind of strange otherworld was this place?  Roy Hodgson, famously declared pre-draw that he'd really rather not go to Manaus & try and play a football match with English players in the middle of a rainforest.  And then had to retract everything he said when England were immediately drawn to go there for their first match against the Italians.

Much has been made of the climate issues this World Cup (contrastingly only today I read an article debunking the idea that it was relevant) but generally there's been a feeling that the North was tough and anyone who witnessed England's pitiful attempts to keep the ball in the field of play in the last half hour versus Italy in Manaus (Rooney's corner anyone? Wilshire's pass to touch?) will be able to testify that there was something different about a World Cup in a rainforest.

Here are the venues:

As you can see here, there are two distinct bands of location in Brazil: from Brasilia heading North is tropical, largely rainforest (Blue) until you hit the coasts which are drier yet still stiflingly hot (Orange).  In contrast, the south of the country, from Belo Horizonte downwards is comparatively temperate (Greens), with lower levels of heat and humidity; still hot but an altogether more pleasant place to play football.

To put in a different perspective, the distance between Porto Alegre and Manaus is similar to that between London and the Canary Islands. OK, it's more hot to hot than the latter example but still, it's a real difference & some teams have benefitted more than others; especially when considering how often teams have had to travel or what their home climate is like.

Home from Home for CONCACAF & others
As the map shows, Colombia, Costa Rica & Ecuador are all based in a similarly tropical climate to the North of Brazil, and each has performed largely well; Colombia & Costa Rica both qualifying easily whilst Ecuador performed with reasonable credit.  Honduras is only just north of Costa Rica, but a combination of rough tactics & a lack of quality led to their failure.

Colombia played twice in central Brazil: Cuiaba and Brasilia & won both times, whereas Costa Rica beat Uruguay in Fortaleza & Italy in Recife.  Ecuador only had chance to take advantage once but they lost to the Swiss in Brasilia, a performance that gives great credit to the victors.  Otherwise they were based in the south: a great equaliser.  Honduras only had the advantage of acclimatisation when it was too late, in their dead match vs the Swiss in Manaus.

As stated already the CONCACAF group teams have fared generally well, Mexico played 3 times in the North and qualified well, and the USA qualified after three tough fixtures in Natal, Manaus, & Recife.

Central Africa/Northern Brazil
Four teams that should have arrived in Brazil with little to fear from conditions were Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast & Ghana.  Central Africa has a similar climate to tropical Brazil & their adaptation would have been fairly straightforward.  Sadly, and somewhat inevitably, the African teams have been beset by crises involving bonuses & players being sent home & only Nigeria remain having been able to edge through in their group.  Their benefit was minimal but crucial; their only victory coming against Bosnia & Herzegovina in Cuiaba.

Ghana played a marvellous game against Germany in Fortaleza but came up short against the USA in Natal & Portugal in Recife whereas Cameroon were faced against the already acclimatised Brazilians and Mexicans & had a poor time of it regardless with stories of rifts & generally abject play.  Ivory Coast made the biggest mess of things. Having beaten Japan in Recife (advantage used & achieved) and only narrowly lost to similarly acclimatised Colombia, a result against Greece would have seemed a straightforward task, especially when considering it was in Fortaleza.  A later than late penalty put pay to their chances & like the Swiss, the Greeks' performance can be upgraded when factored against conditions.

Who had it hard?

From this we can see that both Switzerland & Germany have qualified from their groups despite facing hard conditions that they are unlikely to be used to.  Opposed to this, Pirlo sagely described their being 'Two World Cups' when noting how some countries had been based largely in the more clement South of Brazil, in contrast to his own residence in the humid & stifling North.  His feeling that countries more acclimatised to such conditions had an advantage is partially borne out when compared to the two other countries with 3 fixtures based entirely in the the North of the North (ie. Manaus, Fortaleza, Natal & Recife) : USA & Mexico, both based in the CONCACAF region & thus used to playing in conditions not dissimilar to that of Northern Brazil.  Of course, they both progressed out of their group & Italy did not. 

Argentina, Belgium & Algeria have all emerged from groups without leaving the GREEN zone & poor Uruguay have been to the North and back twice; no wonder they've looked a little sub-par for the most part; still, they qualified.

This has been a World Cup of relatively few cards, indeed beyond the farce of the first game, refereeing standards have passed by comparatively unnoticed; indeed, the officials have done well.  Yellow cards are running at 2.6 per game which is low & red cards are coming at a rate just over one every six games (9 from 48).  However, the location of these red cards & the nature of the dismissals bears closer scrutiny:
I have bordered the 4 stupidest incidents of this World Cup & will draw attention to the fact that they all occurred in the North of Brazil.  All of those specific incidents occurred in daft hot conditions, with their team's in disadvantageous positions.  It's a potent recipe.

Anyway the straight red card rate in the North is 1:5.6 games & in the south it's 1:10 and in the North of the North (ie. Manaus, Fortaleza, Natal & Recife) it's 1:3.2 !  Holland v Mexico, Costa Rica v Greece & Brazil v Colombia are all being held in the North of the North, just saying!

Going forward:

Matches left in the North:
Round of 16:
Holland v Mexico, Fortaleza
Costa Rica v Greece, Recife
France v Nigeria, Brasilia
Belgium v USA, Salvador
Quarter Finals:
Brazil v Colombia, Fortaleza
Holland/Mexico v Costa Rica/Greece, Salvador
Argentina/Switzerland v Belgium/USA, Brasilia

  • Mexico have played all their matches in the North of the North, the Dutch beat Spain in Salvador, but it's a tricky tie for them against a battle hardened team in ideal conditions.
  • Greece have done well in a tough predominantly Northern schedule but face a team 2/2 in the North of the North in Costa Rica.  
  • Belgium are into 'parts unknown' against a team who toughed it though a Northern group, in USA. Having played only in the South and not generally impressed with their play, this looks an excellent chance for their opponents to qualify for the quarter finals.
  • France beat Switzerland in Salvador, but haven't played an acclimatised team, or indeed an African team in a Northern venue.  Nigeria await in Brasilia.
  • If the Dutch get through, they go again, this time in Salvador, again against teams that have played well in the North.  It's not going to be easy for them & I fancy Mexico to come through this section.
  • Germany now avoid the climate they qualified in; if they are as good as many think, there'll be few excuses from here on in.

So we go on...

Thanks for reading.

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