- Overtraining. Possible, but unlikely by itself because the players on these teams are monitored day and night for workload and their body’s response to training demands.
- Fatigue. The number of games played in the months preceding the World Cup is greater than ever. Real Madrid, which supplied 12 players to World Cup squads, has played more than 60 matches (league, cup and international) since August, a considerable increase in the past decade. Competition does accumulate in the body.
- Coaches. Are the coaches pushing too hard? Demanding too much from star players? Sacrificing these greats at the altar of now or never?
- Referees. So much “physicality,” but play proceeds according to what the referee allows. Is the battle too brutal on the pitch? Should refs be doing more to stem the tide?
- Heat and humidity. Definitely a factor. Muscle energetics happen best within a narrow temperature range, plus working muscles generate heat. If cooling is insufficient, the body must choose between high gear and self preservation. Mind over matter can spell blow out.
- Travel and new locale. Different place, different food, different languages, different accommodations, and being on the move to new training and game venues all take a toll. This saps energy reserves. Its effect has to be considerable, even for international players. There is really no place like home.
- Age. Sorry, but while fit people tend to look younger on the outside, their insides can hide considerable wear and tear. Resilience favors youth.
- The pitch. Grass, well prepared and properly tended, seems the least likely to contribute to injury. In fact, even with heavy rains, the surface has supported both good traction and quick release. Both important to protect against injury.
- Insufficient rest and recovery. More games played, more impact, more effort, more exhaustion. There is a reason why people who study sports injuries call training and games “exposures.” As games accumulate and recovery is more and more difficult, this becomes a very real threat.
- Personal and National expectations. These guys are carrying the weight of their nation on their shoulders. For the favorites, this has to be very heavy, indeed. For the underdogs, perhaps it is less a burden and more an enthusiasm that grows as the impossible shows it just may be possible.
?? The Ghanaian witch doctor. The guy looks scary to me, but he’s the one thing I am crossing off my list. Seeking to harm an opponent has no place in World Cup or any sports contest.
So, what’s to blame? It depends, of course, upon the athlete and how he responds to the demands of this World Cup.
For the veterans, I’d rank it this way:
- Age coupled with physicality allowed
- Fatigue coupled with additional training
- Hot and humid climate
- Weight of expectation – national
- Insufficient recovery/wear and tear
For the young players, I’d go with:
- Travel which invites fatigue
- Hot and humid climate coupled with mind over matter enthusiasm
- Physicality – they are the enforcers
- Weight of expectation – personal
- Fatigue build-up coupled with incomplete recovery
One thing is for sure: no coach can be sure of his roster from one game to the next. No coach can rest on his laurels and no team can be sure of the next game. This makes for great games and great viewing.
What an amazing thing it is to watch the whole world gather, each country proudly displaying its flag and boldly singing its anthem, to celebrate the premier contest of a game we can play in our backyards and neighborhood fields.
Good thing we only do this every four years; it’s exhausting, just watching!