Gerard Pique (L) out paces Onazi Ogenyi during the Catalonia friendly which ended 1-1
While Zambia is busy preparing for the defence of their African title in the hot South African weather, their major group C protagonists, Nigeria is doing their own preparations almost 8184 kilometres away in temperatures even lower than the current lowest temperature in South Africa!
On Wednesday night the Eagles were in Catalonia to take on a star-studded local XI and from the images beamed around the world it was clear that the match was played in very cold clime.
Even locals like Gerard Pique played the game wearing thermal underwear while a number of Nigerian players wore gloves. Nigerian fans in the stands were decked out in full gabs to protect themselves against the chilly weather.
While the 1-1 draw must be acknowledged as being very good, especially against a side that had such names like Xavi, Carlos Puyol and Bojan; I still can’t fathom the rational for playing in such weather which is not in tune with what they will meet at the Nations Cup!
Also while the bulk of the team that got the draw against the Catalonia XI will not be on the plane to South Africa, Zambia is scheduled to play fellow Nations Cup-bound Angola Saturday with the bulk of their team already at their Milpark camping site in Johannesburg.
According to the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) spokesperson, Erick Mwanza, the Chipolopolo have already completed the first phase of their build up and: "Five days into the New Year, we want to play Angola on the 5th. We are looking at that match before turning our attention to the others against Namibia and Swaziland. But the other international training fixtures against Morocco on 8th January and Norway on the 12th remain unchanged."
The defending champions have been in South Africa since last week soaking up both the hot clime and altitude.
Imagine, while the lowest temperature in South Africa the past one week has been 15 degrees (on Friday and Saturday) the thermometer in Faro has not nudged past 16 degrees at its hottest.
In fact the only time the mercury touched 16 degrees this week in Faro was on Wednesday (the Eagles were in Catalonia then); it will also do so Sunday. Incidentally while the lowest temperatures in Faro this week fluctuated between 7 degrees (on Wednesday) and 8 degrees (Saturday).
Ironically even when it is very easy for anyone to go on the net to check weather conditions anywhere in the world, Glass House officials insisted that the southern part of Portugal was the best place for the Eagles to train for a competition taking place during the hottest period in South Africa – summer!
I vividly recall two years ago when the World Cup took place in South Africa, many European and African visitors where amazed to discover that the country could be so cold.
Many had been brought up believing that Africa as a whole was a hot humid continent but the reality on ground meant that they had to have immediate re-thinks and buy winter clothing. In fact during the World Cup snow did fall!
Now the situation is different, the period the Nations Cup will take place is South Africa’s own summer with temperatures as hot as Nigeria.
One can only hope and pray that the five-day grace period between when the Eagles will leave the winter clime of Faro on January 16 and their first match against Burkina Faso on January 21 in the heat of South Africa will be long enough for the players to adjust to the almost 11 degree temperature swing.
However, while the temperature will be an issue an even more demanding challenge they will have to surmount is the altitude.
Nelspruit were the Eagles will kick off their SA 2013 campaign is 2221 feet above sea level, while Rustenburg is over 1, 500 feet (this is where they will end their group games against Ethiopia).
However, Faro where the Eagles are preparing is just 23 feet above sea level!
For the sake of our football (and as a true and patriotic Nigerian) I only hope that the Eagles are able to quickly adjust to the sharp variance in both weather and altitude and at the end of the day they will make our pre-tournament fears become a ‘false alarm!’