2018 FIFA World Cup: How could travel distances affect the Round of 16?
The Group Stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup have concluded, and we now know which teams will be facing each other in the first knockout round.
For some fixtures, it might be easy to predict who will progress past the Round of 16 judging on the difference in ability between the two teams. However, it is also important to analyse how fatigue levels may affect them after long journeys across the large host country.
The correlation between journey lengths and lacklustre team performance has been evident in previous international and continental competitions. When Italy lost to Spain in the final of the 2012 European Championships, they pinned the main reason for their defeat on the fact they had travelled nearly 4,200 miles further than their opponents did over the course of the competition.
Over long distances, the disruption to footballers’ circadian rhythm is unavoidable. This is why football associations will try to position training camps close to the stadiums they will be expecting to play at. However, it will have been difficult for teams to anticipate where they would be playing in the Round of 16, and some wouldn’t have expected to progress at all. The position of the training camp, which a team would have relied on during the Group Stage, might be hundreds of miles from their next fixture’s stadium.
As sitting in a seat for several hours can produce lethargic limbs, air travel is the only appropriate form of transportation for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The host nation is one of the largest in the world, and very few stadiums are within short driving distance from any one point. Coaches or commercial flights are also often unreliable, and can leave players and staff agitated and in a poor state of mind – not ideal before an important match.
Below, we look at each fixture in the Round of 16 and analyse how each team’s total travel distances in the competition so far might affect their chances of progressing to the Quarter-Finals.
France vs Argentina
The first fixture of the Round of 16 sees France face off against the so-far disappointing Argentina. After scraping through the Group Stage with just one win, Messi & co. know that they will need to improve to overcome a strong French team who topped their group. The Argentines will benefit from not having travelled far throughout the duration of the tournament, but it is their lack of team cohesion that may be their downfall.
Uruguay vs Portugal
Uruguay are yet to concede in this tournament. They are the only team that are able to boast this, but are they about to run out of steam? They have so far travelled for 17 hours over the last two weeks, and facing the European Champions led by World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo, will their clean sheet be sullied?
Spain vs Russia
Not only do Russia have the whole nation backing them, they also will benefit from having travelled the shortest distance of all the teams so far this World Cup. They will need all the help they can get, however. Although seemingly not the powerhouse they were eight years ago, Spain are still a formidable side, and are therefore big favourites to win this fixture. Some of their performances in the Group Stage have been questionable, so if the Russian fans can get behind their team, the host country could pull off an upset.
Croatia vs Denmark
The undefeated Croatia will be facing off against Denmark in this Round of 16 fixture. Both teams have travelled long distances so far, so there should not be much difference in fatigue levels in this sense. Most will be expecting Croatia to progress, after defeating Argentina 3-0 during the Group Stage, but stranger things have happened at this tournament.
Brazil vs Mexico
The tournament favourites, Brazil, are expected to coast past Mexico in this match, especially as the latter lost 3-0 to Sweden in their last outing. We should not forget, though, that the Mexicans beat Germany in the Group Stage, so another upset could be on the cards, especially when you consider how tired the Brazilians could be after over twenty hours of travelling in two weeks.
Belgium vs Japan
Japan are the lowest ranked team left in the competition, whereas Belgium are yet to lose. With the likes of Hazard, Lukaku and De Bruyne, the Belgians are many football fans’ favourites to lift the trophy. All things considered, it looks as though Japan are going to struggle, and they cannot even rely on tiredness from their opponents, as they have both travelled near enough the same distance.
Sweden vs Switzerland
Both teams can consider theirselves lucky not to play tougher opposition in the Round of 16, as neither team have blown audiences away with their football. It is a tough one to call, for sure. No other team in the tournament so far have travelled further than Sweden, but luckily Switzerland have also spent a lot of time on the move, so the players’ state of mind and body should be similar.
Colombia vs England
If the rumours are true, and football is indeed coming home, then England will have to overcome last World Cup’s fan favourites Colombia. It will not be an easy feat, though. Not only will the likes of Falcao, Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez (if fit) cause England all sorts of trouble, but the Three Lions will have travelled more than twice the distance of the Colombians, so could potentially be fatigued.
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