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 May 13, 2002 | 1420 IST

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Top soccer players have no rest time before finals

Ken Ferris

The world's top players barely have time to pause for breath before the serious business of trying to win the World Cup begins on May 31 in Seoul.

Many players have just come through an exhausting season as their clubs battled for league titles, domestic cup competitions and a taste of glory in their showpiece regional competitions.

The international players at Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen cannot even focus clearly on the trip to South Korea and Japan until the Champions League final is over in Glasgow on Wednesday.

Many European clubs were still completing their domestic league programmes at the weekend -- including those in Spain, England and Germany -- with their players just having time to pick up their suitcases before joining their national squads.

A series of friendlies will then follow for those who are not injured or too exhausted to make an appearance before the tournament kicks off and the national teams play their three group matches in a bid to reach the last 16.

Among the players battling against injury are three of the world's top players, England captain David Beckham, Portugal winger Luis Figo and Barcelona playmaker Rivaldo. But almost every country has injury worries in the run-up to the finals.

They will not be the last on the treatment table, either, with French team doctor Jean-Marcel Ferret warning that the warm, humid climate of South Korea and Japan could trigger injuries and play a crucial role in the World Cup's outcome.

"The high temperature and summer humidity have damaging physical effects when you practise a sport. The guys are going to use much more energy than they are used to," said Ferret.

"And we know that injuries arise when people are tired. So, the conditions we will experience over there pose a risk.


"So far we have been used to playing in Europe where, during the summer, the temperature is about 20 degrees (Celsius) in the evening and the humidity around 30 percent.

"But over there you will have a temperature above 25 degrees and humidity ranging from 70 to 80 percent," he said.

It is not just the world's major footballing nations who are struggling to put together a fit and injury-free squad.

Costa Rica coach Alexandre Guimaraes has painted a gloomy picture of his team's World Cup hopes, saying that poor preparation could result in him having to take a squad of exhausted and injured players to the finals.

"The national team is spending a long time inactive, the players will arrive after playing an excess of matches in the (domestic) championship, many are injured and the club sides don't play the same way as the national team," he complained.

"What we're most worried about are injuries to key players a few days before the World Cup, when there won't be time for them to recover," he said.

"The problem here is the large number of matches in the local championship, as it's not as easy for a tired player to recover (from injury) as one who's not tired."

Guimaraes could have been speaking on behalf of all 32 national team managers going to the World Cup since it is more luck than judgment as to whether key players stay injury-free and have the mental strength to perform at the highest level.


For some players, their nation's preparations for the World Cup have resulted in them being left behind through injury and questioning the wisdom of playing warm-up matches at all.

Juventus defender Gianluca Pessotto left the ground on crutches after Italy's 1-1 draw with Uruguay in mid-April suffering from knee damage that ruled him out of the finals.

"The evening was ruined by the injury to Gianluca (Pessotto). These games need to be held, I agree, but this is a very particular period," said Lazio defender Alessandro Nesta, who warned there was a danger of burn-out for the players.

"The legs don't recover like they did earlier (in the season). At the end of a championship you need a rest period in order to be able to perform at the World Cup. Otherwise I don't know what we will be able to give," said Nesta.

The timing of the game, coinciding with a tense three-way race for the Italian title, upset the players.

"These friendlies should be organised at a different time in the season, maybe after the end of the championship but not when we are in full flight for the title," said Pessotto's Juventus and Italy team mate Gianluca Zambrotta.

"At the moment we are tired and stressed out," he added.

One of the tasks facing the national team managers now is deciding how much rest to give their top players since pushing them too hard, too fast could be counter-productive.

It is something England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, among others, will no doubt bear in mind as he shapes his team in warm-ups against South Korea on May 21 and Cameroon five days later before their first match against his compatriots Sweden on June 2.

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