Strongest, Fastest & Fittest of the FIFA World Cup 2014
The FIFA World Cup 2014 is now just weeks away and coaches have picked their preliminary squads ahead of submitting their final squads on June 2.
But which countries can boast the strongest, fastest and fittest players in their arsenal? Will having such specimens dramatically improve a team’s chances of bringing home the World Cup, or do their physical statistics solely serve to give journalists something to talk about and have very little real meaning on the pitch?
This is a list of the strongest, fastest and fittest players you’ll see at this year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
FIFA World Cup 2014’s Fastest
It’s fair to assume the pace of the matches we’ll witness in Brazil will be far quicker than most we witness at domestic league level. Among the talent on display, there will be some players who seem genetically gifted to move up and down the pitch far quicker than others, who seem to have that extra half a yard on the competition. But who are they and who will be the quickest this summer?
Many American football fans will argue they possess the world's fastest in the form of Marvell Wynne. A former athletics star who clocked 10.39 seconds for the 100m sprint, Wynne turned his attention to football telling American Soccer Now that "soccer was fast and I enjoyed that most about the game."
Japan’s Ryo Miyaichi is no slouch either, but despite his impressive speed Miyaichi was not named in Alberto Zaccheron’s squad on the FIFA website, which means it’s unlikely he can lay claim to being the fastest in Brazil this summer.
Cristiano Ronaldo is clearly an obvious choice too as is the Mexican striker Javier Hernandez who, according to Sport.co.uk, was the fastest player at the 2010 World Cup—clocking a top speed of 32.1 km/h.
But a study commissioned by FIFA, and published in Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo, reveals the Ecuadorian midfielder Antonio Valencia is in fact the world’s fastest player. Beating Robben, Ribery and Messi, it seems Valencia was capable of clocking a maximum speed of 35.1 km/h which, surprisingly, makes him potentially the quickest player scheduled to run on Brazilian soil this summer.
FIFA World Cup 2014’s Fittest
Having a player in the team who possesses an engine and the mileage in his legs to endure 90 minutes at full pace can be a valuable asset. In fact, some football experts claim a player can forge a successful career on work rate alone—citing former Manchester United and PSV Eindhoven midfielder Ji-sung Park as an example.
But at the FIFA World Cup, which player can lay claim to the biggest engine? France’s Franck Ribery is certainly a candidate, as is Cristiano Ronaldo. Also, Opta Sports believe “Bayern Munich's Javi Martinez, AS Roma's Daniele De Rossi and Paris Saint German's Ezequiel Lavezzi” fit the archetypical box-to-box footballer who covers every blade of grass and displays relentless energy from the first minute to the final whistle.
Let’s not forget England’s Wayne Rooney who, according to the BBC Sports Academy, “covers around 11.82km during a match.” Few would argue with Dutch International and former Anfield terrace hero Dirk Kuyt taking the number one spot should he get the nod for the Netherlands. Nicknamed the “Duracell Bunny,” Kuyt's work rate is practically unmatched in world football, and he averages “13 kilometres per game” according to ESPN.
However, in spite of stiff competition, the award for the player with the best stamina has to go to Brazilian right-back Dani Alves. Dubbed a “sonic hedgehog” of football by The Guardian, Alves is renowned for covering every part of the pitch both in attack and defense. To put his footballing omnipresence into perspective, Zonal Marking claim in “the group stage of the Champions League, he completed more passes in the attacking third of the pitch than any other player in the tournament: 276.”
Granted it helps playing for what many consider to be the best passing side in Europe, but it’s still amazing considering he’s a right-back. Soccer Bible also offer some further insight into Dani Alves’ performance claiming,
“During 90 minutes Alves covered almost 9km, of which 1.2km were high intensity—either a sprint or a high-speed run. Alves embarked on 48 sprints, which is around one every two minutes, with a top-speed of 29.25kmh.”
So, despite not covering as much distance as Rooney and Kuyt, it’s Alves’ combination of speed, stamina and intensity which makes him almost impossible to track for a full 90 minutes and is the main reason he takes the number one spot.
FIFA World Cup 2014’s Strongest
While football requires a wide spectrum of fitness and skill components, having a behemoth of a man in the squad gifted with herculean strength on the ball isn’t ever a bad thing: whether he’s a human tank who single-handedly forms an impenetrable defence for your team or a juggernaut up front who the opposition find impossible to contain.
Obviously, strength is very subjective in football and is both hard to measure and open to debate. But Brazilian forward Givanildo Vieira de Souza, more commonly referred to as “Hulk,” is an obvious candidate. As are the towering duo that hail from the Ivory Coast who answer to the names of Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure.
But perhaps the most physically imposing and strongest player at the World Cup this year is Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku. Standing 6'3" and weighing 94kg, according to the Premier League’s website, the man looks more like a rugby player than a footballer.
Affectionately known as “The Tank,” his strength on and off the pitch now seems cemented in football folklore. Firstly, a story of him crushing an Xbox controller with his bare hands appeared in the Independent. In addition, a fan video paying homage to his physical superiority in the form of a comedy rap song has amassed over 600,000 views on YouTube. Twitter parody accounts have even been created to celebrate his strength, with one particular account called @LukakuFact gathering 26,000 followers.
Romelu Lukaku was once bitten by a rattle snake. After three days of pain and agony, the rattle snake died.— Lukaku Facts (@LukakuFact) March 6, 2014
When Bruce Banner gets angry, he turns into the Hulk. When the Hulk gets angry, he turns into Romelu Lukaku.— Lukaku Facts (@LukakuFact) April 11, 2014
Lastly, despite certain facts, figures and studies commissioned by FIFA themselves, I humbly accept a list for the fastest, fittest and strongest players at the World Cup is quite subjective. But I hope this article gives some food for thought, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on who should take the number one spot in each.