World Cup Kick-off Times in Brazil Turn Up Heat on Leading Nations

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World Cup Kick-off Times in Brazil Turn Up Heat on Leading Nations
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been the focus of much attention due to the potential conditions on and off the pitch in the heat of the Middle East summer.

Of course, focus has also shifted to issues of vote fixing and human rights abuses. However, there are many who believe that the need to play the competition in the summer could be decisive as to whether the country can ultimate host FIFA's showpiece tournament.

Here, the Guardian's Owen Gibson outlines the debate and discusses the possibility of the tournament being played in winter despite potential complications to the footballing calendar.

However, as discussed in-depth by BBC Sport correspondent Tim Vickery this week, this summer's tournament in Brazil could also be heavily affected by climatic conditions; particularly with the decision to kick off some games at 1 p.m. local time even in the tropical north of the country.

Vickery writes:

But as for the 13:00 starts, it is unthinkable for a major domestic game to be played in these venues at that hour. When I speak to local players and coaches about the lunchtime kick-offs in the north east, I consistently hear the same word: "Inhumane".

There are a number of sides who face the daunting prospect of two matches that will kick off at the earlier 1 p.m. start time. Among them are seven sides with hopes of going far in the tournament:

Netherlands - Australia (Porto Alegre), Chile (Sao Paulo)
Colombia - Greece (Belo Horizonte), Ivory Coast (Brasilia)
Italy - Costa Rica (Recife), Uruguay (Natal)
Argentina - Iran (Belo Horizonte), Nigeria (Porto Alegre)
Germany - Portugal (Salvador), USA (Recife)
Portugal - Germany (Salvador), Ghana (Brasilia)
Belgium - Algeria (Belo Horizonte), Russia (Rio de Janeiro)

It is important to note the differences between conditions in the North and North-East of Brazil and the rest of the country. Argentina's games in Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre, for example, should be fairly pleasant. Belgium, Netherlands and Colombia also benefit from the geographical locations of their early games.

The major sides who will be most affected by those "inhumane" conditions, then, will be traditional powers Germany and Italy. Both face two lunchtime clashes in the North-East of Brazil and, in Italy's case, against opponents well suited to the conditions.

Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
Italy and Germany are the big losers of the draw

Just how big an effect could the climate have?

Anyone who watched last summer's Confederations Cup will have seen Italy struggle to deal with the energy of Japan in the energy-sapping conditions of Recife, while the Spain-Italy semifinal in Fortaleza was an understandably slow-paced affair. Neither match, though, was played in soaring midday heat.

The following study by Chinese academic Jiexiu Zhao shows how the ability of the body to intake oxygen is decreased as the temperature is increased. Humid conditions, meanwhile, raise the maximum heart rate and decrease the maximum time of heavy exercise.

The basic principles are easy to feel without science. In hot and humid conditions, it is more difficult to perform to full capacity and players will tire easier.

As someone who lives in the very humid conditions of Southern China, it is something to which I can personally attest. Often, just being outside can be unpleasant. Exercise during midday hours is almost unheard of, unless in an air-conditioned environment.

Both Germany and Italy have difficult groups, with no sides involved that could be deemed as relatively comfortable opponents. For Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the USA lie in wait. Italy, meanwhile, face Uruguay, Costa Rica and England.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Messi and Argentina avoid the North and North-East of Brazil

Of those three, they would have loved to face England in an early kick-off. Instead, they will have to deal with Latin American sides Costa Rica and Uruguay. Germany, meanwhile, will be thankful their fixture with Ghana is at least a late afternoon kick-off albeit in the sticky conditions of Fortaleza.

Should Italy and Germany make it through the group stages, it is fair to say they will need every available day of recovery time to ensure peak conditioning for their knockout games.

Brazil's win in the Confederations Cup and the ease with which it was achieved should be a warning sign for European nations. Every World Cup which has taken place in relatively humid conditions has been won by a South American nation, whether it be 2002 in Japan and Korea, 1994 in the USA, Mexico in 1986 or the World Cups hosted in South America previous to that.

Spain became the first European side to win the tournament on another continent in South Africa four years ago, but the South African winter offered fairly comfortable conditions. Only those playing in the very south of Brazil in Porto Alegre will enjoy anything like that luxury this time around.

Brazil has escaped much of the examination of the climate that Qatar will endure and FIFA's need to maximise TV audiences is undoubtedly the major (read: Only) reason behind the decision to play matches so early in the day.

If Germany or Italy, in particular, should struggle, though, there will be complaints that could prompt further soul-searching over the handling of the Qatari tournament. Matches in such conditions are not only unfair on those participating, but also less of a spectacle for the audience.

While some will dismiss the concerns, all the evidence points to performance being affected and it could well be the difference between some nations making the most of their potential or not. If Italy and Germany are to reach the semifinal or final stage, they will need to battle science as well as their opponents.

The real question must be whether any so-called lesser sides who are more familiar with the conditions can take advantage of any European malaise. The opportunity may well be there to do so.

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