World Cup 2014: The "dress rehearsal"
Four world soccer powers square off in the next two days for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. Our Sports Doc panelist takes us inside this 'dry run' for next year's World Cup in Brazil.
The 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup is underway. Group play is over and the semifinals are set: Brazil vs. Uruguay; Spain vs Italy. It's a tune-up, a full dress rehearsal for the biggest event on the soccer world stage—the FIFA World Cup. Confederations Cup competition consists of eight teams: the champions of each of the six FIFA confederation championships (UEFA, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, CAF, AFC, OFC), along with the FIFA World Cup winner and the host nation.
The teams play in the exact same venues where World Cup play will take place. The dry run gives teams a chance to make sure everything is ready and allows the host nation time to make adjustments when they are not. Players get a chance to check out the pitch and the volume of the crowds. Coaches get a sense of how the field will play and plan accordingly. Also, players get an idea of weather conditions, sun positioning, and altitude. All of these factors will play a major role next summer.
Also, this dry run allows a team's staff members to get a chance to assess the amenities so they can bring what they need for the World Cup. In the United States, each professional sports league has specific rules and regulations regarding the locker rooms and athletic training rooms, supplies that the host team provides, and assistance for away teams. That's not the case in international play.
Teams don't really know what they will find and need to deal with in a stadium overseas. Commandeering the fire hose to fill up the cold tubs is fine as long as you don't get caught. Among the other things the team will need to consider ahead of time: electrical supply for ball pumps and medical equipment. Will there be running water for showers? Is the water drinkable, or does the team need to bring in bottled water? Will the host nation supply simple amenities such as towels, soap, and toilet paper? It's the biggest event in the sport and teams want to be totally prepared and make sure they've packed all they need from band-aids to Benadryl, Gatorade to gum. If the players might want it, the teams will bring it.
Just like you surf the web for the best hotel rooms, the teams check out possible accommodations in the host country while in town for Confederations Cup.
How are the rooms? The amenities? The safety? The food? What is the distance to and from the practice field and game stadiums? This base becomes the team's home away from home for a month or more. The happier and more comfortable the players are with their accommodations, the more likely they are to perform well on the field. Simple things like a good internet connection can make all the difference when you are thousands of miles from home and looking for some creature comforts.
Confederations Cup also allows teams to size up the competition a year ahead of the big event. It's one thing to play these teams in a friendly where only pride is on the line. It's another to play them when there is a major international trophy at stake. Not only does this allow the team to scout the opponent but also lets the coaching staff see how individual teams stack up and what needs to be changed or worked on in the year ahead.
Confederations Cup also gives players a psychological edge going into the World Cup. They spend some time in the host country, play in the real venues, and know how the environmental conditions affect the game. Often, it's the psychological and not the physical or tactical aspect that makes the difference between winning and losing.
While we're waiting for this year's Confederation Cup final, remember there will be another international tournament being played here in the United States in July. The winner of this summer's Gold Cup qualifies for a playoff match against the 2015 Gold Cup winner for a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup. So buy a ticket, grab your jersey, and support the United States as they are already looking ahead to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia and a chance to gain that valuable edge for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Justin Shaginaw, MPT, ATC, traveled with the United States Men's National Team for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
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