How Weather Conditions Will Affect Play at World Cup 2014
Every major international tournament offers up a reason for the failure of a favoured team to perform as expected.
In 2002, the Fevernova ball caused a major controversy as stars queued up to blame the design for their failings at the tournament. Ever since, new designs of ball have attracted criticism at nearly every turn.
However, in general, reasons for poor performance tend to stick to the more traditional grumbling points: the referee, the pitch and more often than not, the weather.
This is, of course, being written somewhat in jest. While the regular complaints over the ball may often seem a bit absurd, each tournament does have factors that differentiate the conditions from those which the players are accustomed.
In general, it can be argued that "it's the same for both sides." In the case of the ball being different to usual, or the pitch being in poor condition, that is a valid point.
However, weather conditions are not quite the same. Some teams are more accustomed to certain climates than others, and in Brazil next summer it will once more be a debate that comes to the fore.
What will be the main issue?
With the World Cup taking place during Brazil's winter months, we can actually be very specific about what the main cause for concern will be and, in turn, where it will have most effect.
Indeed, the main issue sides will face at Brazil 2014 will almost certainly come in the form of the high levels of humidity to be felt in some areas of the country.
Humidity is draining. From the moment you step out of an air-conditioned environment you begin to sweat profusely. The sweat, in turn, does not evaporate easily, and the body is forced to work harder still to remain cool.
It is a factor that can make a temperature of 30 degrees seem more unbearable than a dry heat of over 40 degrees, and if playing a high-intensity football match, it will have a significant bearing on a team's performance levels.
When Italy laboured to a 4-3 victory over Japan at the Confederations Cup in June, head coach Cesare Prandelli was quick to complain: "We struggled like crazy tonight. The humidity is something we have to deal with, as it really is difficult." (Football-Italia)
At the World Cup next summer, those complaints will doubtless be even louder, with the European nations in particular set to find conditions particularly tough. They will not be alone in suffering.
For some of the East Asian, West African and South American sides familiarity with the conditions could be a great advantage.
Where will humidity be at its worst?
The place where humidity will be worst throughout the course of the tournament is Manaus, in Northwest Brazil, where levels will typically range between 57-99 percent for the time of year, per WeatherSpark.
Dew Point analysis, which gives a better indication of how conditions will feel on a personal level, as it relates to the evaporation of sweat from the skin, suggests conditions will vary from muggy to oppressive.
The one saving grace, however, is that temperatures should not rise above low-to-mid 30s Celsius—a temperature most sides will be accustomed to.
The North and North-East of Brazil will all offer similarly difficult conditions, as Italy discovered at the Confederations Cup. Recife is described as being "muggy to very muggy", per WeatherSpark, while Fortaleza, Natal and Salvador will offer similar conditions.
The South East of the country should be a much more pleasant environment, with temperatures in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Curitiba and Belo Horizonte all set to be mid-20s for much of the tournament.
While it can get humid, the lower temperatures will help considerably, with dew point analysis suggesting that, for the most part, conditions will be comfortable for those taking part.
The places that sides most affected by humidity will be queuing up to play, however, are Brasilia, Porto Alegre and Cuiaba.
The furthest west of the cities in the South of Brazil, Cuiaba will be hot but will also barely register in terms of humidity. Brasilia, which also remains fairly dry in winter, will be similarly refreshing.
However, it is Porto Alegre that will feel most at home to sides suffering in the sticky conditions of the North. The furthest South of all the cities to be used in the tournament, the average daily temperature for the summer months is just 19 degrees.
With the dew point reading low as a result, even the area's mild humidity seldom become an issue. For Northern European sides, it is the city they will most hope to visit en-route to a potential final.
How Play Will Be Affected
Given the energy sapping conditions associated with many of the host cities, matches can be expected to be played at a much slower pace in the Northern cities—particularly late in the game.
It was noticeable that games slowed in the second half at the Confederations Cup, and next summer the same should be expected.
Teams with a better tolerance to the conditions will, of course, be able to maintain energy levels for longer. It may well be that a pattern emerges of certain sides performing particularly well late in games, should their opponents consistently tire.
Possession of the ball will be paramount. It will be difficult to maintain a high-pressing game in many of the host cities and chasing the ball all game will become tiring.
As such, we could well see long passages of one team in possession of the ball, while the other team sits back and conserves energy—at least in the early stages of the tournament.
Is humidity a valid excuse for poor performance?
For teams playing in the south of the country conditions will be no excuse for poor performance and games should be played at an intensity that is on a par with what is generally seen in European competitions.
The variations in weather conditions could play an interesting role in proceedings and the luck of which side you draw in which city could become an important factor.
Ultimately the best footballing sides should be able to work past the difficulties they will encounter and still come to the fore.
Those who benefit from the conditions in Brazil this time around will, you would assume, find life more difficult in Russia in 2018.
The best sides will still find a way to win in any conditions and manage to challenge for honours at both events.
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