By Tunde Sulaiman
“Faro at this time? I’m sure it’s a big racket! Maybe someone has arranged a deal if not I wonder why the Eagles should go there at this time of the year when it is very cold,” was how a former national team player responded when I sort his views on the Nigeria Football Federation’s (NFF) decision to camp the team there ahead of the Nations Cup.
The former international should know what he is talking about because he was a member of the team that also camped there some 13 years ago when they were preparing for the Nations Cup jointly hosted by Ghana and Nigeria.
The Eagles battled all the way to the final before eventually losing on penalties to next door neighbours, Cameroon at the National Stadium, Lagos.
I vividly remember the then Sports Minister, Damishi Sango throwing his weight wholly behind the then NFA Board in defending their decision to prepare in the cold of Europe for a tournament taking place in the heat of Africa!
However, his defence was blown to pieces when a local television station, which sent a crew to the camp, broadcast the Sports Minister and other officials decked out in heavy winter wears in Faro!
However, when I put the question to the head of NFF’s Technical Committee, Chris Greene, he soundly defended the Glass House’s position pointing out that the players needed a conducive place where they can concentrate without distractions on the task at hand – doing well at SA 2013. “Look my brother we need a place where the players will not be distracted. We considered going to Ghana (where the Falcons and Dream Team camped) but decided against it (ostensibly because it is still close to Nigeria).”
The technical committee chairman in addition argued that Faro was also an easy and central place for the foreign-based players to access from their various clubs in Europe.
“We will not be spending too much time there and thus need to maximise the time we have. Since Faro is in Europe it will be easy for our players there (Europe) to easily link up with the team in camp.”
He also pointed out that the Eagles are billed to meet a Catalonia XI as part of their build up on January 2nd before they depart for South Africa.
However, even when I pointed out that a look at the weather for this time of year in southern Portugal (where Faro is situated) clearly shows that the area will be 10 degrees colder than South Africa, Greene said: “Its not that cold I’ve been there with the Flying Eagles, you can confirm from John Obuh (Flying Eagles coach). Besides they (Eagles) will only be spending a short stay there before they head to South Africa to finish their preparations.
” However, this is what I got from www.holidayweather.com about Faro as at the time the Eagles would be there: “December is one of the coolest and wettest months of the year in Faro. Daytime temperatures can reach up to 17°C (63°F) but fall to 9°C (48°F) in the evenings.
“You can expect rain on 14 days so it is likely that you will experience some showers during your stay. It would be a good idea to bring jackets and waterproof macs with you.”
And this is what http://weatherspark.com has to say about the weather conditions at the Eagles’ Nations Cup group venue, Nelspruit in South Africa as at the time of the tournament: “The month of January is characterized by essentially constant daily high temperatures, with daily highs around 26°C throughout the month, exceeding 29°C or dropping below 24°C only one day in ten.”
Nigeria is billed to play two group matches at the venue against Burkina Faso and champions, Zambia before rounding up against Ethiopia in Rustenburg. So we’re looking at potentially a 10 degree weather difference between Faro and South Africa that the Eagles will have to surmount if they are to fly high at SA 2013.
But the weather is not the only problem I have with Faro, there is also the more debilitating issue of altitude that I hope our football officials are taking into cognisance.
Ironically when South Africa hosted the World Cup two years ago, the period of June/July fell in the winter months prompting countries coming from Europe (which was then in summer) to head to cold climes and higher altitudes to prepare for the biggest football tournament for national teams.
For instance, England’s Three Lions headed to the Austrian Alps not only for the cold clime but also to adapt to the high altitude of which most South Africa is. We might not be going to a World Cup, but we all know that the Nations Cup is seen as Africa’s version of the Mundial and as such we should strive to prepare as best as we can for the competition. Commenting on the effects of altitude at the time, Director of London’s Altitude Centre, Richard Pullen, who advised Fabio Capello (then England manager) and the Football Association on how best to prepare the England squad, said: “Recovery is not just about sleeping, it is about active recovery, about making sure players have recovered from training sessions.
“There will be monitoring to make sure players are eating properly, hydrating properly, because at altitude you can lose appetite. It’s very important that they look after their health properly.”
Players and footballs have altered experiences in rarefied air due to the reduction in oxygen found at altitude. “Basically as you go up your body tries to produce more red blood cells to be able to transport oxygen around the body,” added Oxford University’s Dr Patrick McSharry. “This means that at high altitudes some people get acute symptoms like nausea, sickness, headaches, lots of horrible things that wouldn’t make it easy to compete in football.”
Nelspruit where the Eagles will kick off their SA 2013 campaign is 2221 feet above sea level, while Rustenburg is over 1, 500 feet.
However, Faro where the Eagles are expected to spend about 10 days is just 23 feet above sea level! So in addition to a huge disparity in weather they will also have to contend with the more demanding altitude problems.
But with the Eagles arriving South Africa close to two weeks before their first match against Burkina Faso on January 21 one only hopes it will be enough time for them to properly adjust to both the weather and altitude.
For a tournament of this magnitude, winning margins may boil down to which team prepared best for both challenges!