The decision made by FIFA to stage the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been controversial for many reasons, but besides political and human rights concerns, the questions of player fitness and the impact that conditions in the country might have on their well-being, were also prominent.
While fans all over the world have been enjoying the action now that the tournament is in full swing, and World Cup betting sites such as bet365 are doing plenty of business on World Cup matches, for players, coaches and fitness staff, making sure they were completely ready to shine in Qatar must have been tricky.
Initially slated for the summer, the tournament kicked off in November after protests about the weather conditions in Qatar in June/July. However, temperatures have still been much higher than most players are used to, and on the field, the combination of heat and humidity have undoubtedly impacted the performances some players have put in so far. But how did these footballing icons get ready for the current World Cup and take steps to make sure they were fully prepared?
One thing all nations did to help their players prepare for the 2022 World Cup was focus on the facilities they would access when competing in the tournament. Most of the top players in this World Cup, who play for the wealthier football nations for example, are based at luxury facilities in Qatar, close to their training centers, to minimize travel.
For instance, the England team is staying at a luxury hotel on the Persian Gulf, just a short drive from their training base, and both locations are equipped with all of the facilities required to prepare effectively for games. By getting this aspect of competition in place before the players jetted out to Qatar and whilst they are out there, the nations involved ensured their players were totally ready when the action kicked off.
It is also likely that players prepared for playing in Qatar by following special diet and nutrition plans. This may have been in the weeks before they left for the World Cup and also since they have been out in the Middle East. For the top players, tailored training and health regimes have been the norm for most of their careers, but those plans were adapted to the particular challenges of the Qatar environment.
The most obvious challenge players will have focused on pre-tournament is the heat. Ideally, the human body needs up to a month to adjust to the change in temperature between colder regions and Qatar. Yet, most teams arrived around 10 days or so before the tournament started, and most of those days will have involved training, so players needed quicker ways to acclimatize.
This saw coaching teams try a variety of methods to help players adapt, including cooling jackets and ice drinks ahead of training. Taking an ice drink before a spell of physical activity can lower the body temperature as the process of turning the ice into water draws off a lot of heat energy.
Another key challenge for players was ensuring they remained sufficiently hydrated throughout the training process, as dehydration can impair acclimatization and training performance. However, hydration is about more than simply taking on water at regular intervals. When players sweat, they lose minerals and electrolytes, but the precise balance will differ among individuals.
Due to this, the top players will have ensured individually customized hydration products designed to replace the minerals and electrolytes lost while playing in the heat are available to them in Qatar. In addition, this process of targeted rehydration is also something players have been thinking about in games, where the heat is fierce at times.
In the build-up to the tournament, the focus for top players was largely on health and fitness and how they could adjust to the conditions, but for coaches, tactical considerations were also a priority.
Playing in extreme heat and humidity has required players to adapt the way they approach a game, particularly those players whose key attribute is work rate. The challenge for coaches has been to tweak their tactics to ensure their team can achieve maximum performance without compromising players well-being.
For nations who have reached the tournament’s later stages, there has been a balance between maximizing short-term performance and ensuring players can be at their best throughout the whole competition. For players, this has meant adapting their usual style of play in some cases or learning techniques for recovering energy during quiet passages of play.
As we have seen in previous World Cups held in hot conditions, such as Mexico 1970, 1986 and the USA in 1994, play has been a little slower in general and has seen something of a stop-start rhythm. Players who have shone so far have been the ones who have adapted to this and dealt best with the conditions.