Soccer is arguably the most demanding team sport. On average, players cover around 10 miles per match; the book Science and Soccer breaks that incredible stat down as follows: 24% walking, 36% jogging, 20% coursing, 11% sprinting, 7% moving backwards and 2% moving while in possession of the ball.
The conditioning can be brutal, with sprint drills, endurance runs, core exercises—and weight training thrown in for good measure. But as the quadrennial World Cup begins, most players have already survived long seasons with their club teams and are in need of rest more than anything else.
"You have to strike a delicate balance," says Sven-Goran Ericksson, the Swedish manager of the Cote d'Ivorie (Ivory Coast) national team. "I give them at least a week break, because all the players are tired."
Ericksson, who has managed clubs in Sweden, Portugal, England and Italy, as well as England's national team, hinted that the World Cup is a "tournament of attrition." The last team standing has the freshest legs.
The Significance of this Year's Cup
Two weeks before the biggest sporting event on the planet, three of the six African teams participating in the World Cup (Cameroon, Cote d'Ivorie and Ghana) were in Paris for the Africa Unity Experience, part of the "Play for Life" campaign—and MF was there! Puma, which outfits 12 African national teams, hosted the event with the involvement of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and aimed to raise awareness of biodiversity issues on the continent and promote 2010 as the international year of Biodiversity.
The significance of the World Cup on African soil is not lost on the players from African nations. "People are proud that it's happening in Africa," says Cameroon goalkeeper Idriss Carlos Kameni. "More fans will be supporting us and there will be African pride and that pride is a driver." Samuel Eto'o, captain of the Indomitable Lions (as the Cameroonian team is known) and the most decorated African player of all time, added: "Africa is not just ill children. I think people will be happily surprised."
With the World Cup in Africa for the first time and six teams participating, there are huge expectations. While the players are excited to play "at home" as it were, they understand that anything less than an African team in at least the semi-finals could be seen as a failure. "There is going to be pressure to get results," said Abedi Pele, a Ghanaian legend. John Mensah, a defender on Ghana's "Black Stars" squad, put it bluntly: "We are going to play like a wounded lion."
The cream of African football, including Cote d'Ivorie striker and captain Didier Drogba (next to number 9, Mohammadou Idrissou of Cameroon), participated two weeks ago in a charity match and skills competition to raise money for the "Play For Life" partnership between Puma and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which promotes biodiversity issues around the world.
Samuel Eto'o and Didier Drogba, both star strikers, find themselves in unfamiliar territory manning the goal during the skills portion of the "Play For Life" exhibition, part of Puma's Africa Unity Experience in Paris, France two weeks ago. Both are wearing the "Africa Unity Kit," a uniform designed by Puma for the 12 African teams they outfit in support of UNEP.
Blond dreadlocked defender Rigobert Song of the Cameroon nation team (next to teammate, Idriss Carlos Kameni), will be participating in his fourth World Cup. "Years go we didn't have as much talent, but we had determination," said Song of the team. "It's easier today because we have more stability and there are good working conditions for athletes."
During a charity match, played at quarter speed, Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o maneuvers pass Cote d'Ivorie's Kolo Toure, as national teammate Rigobert Song, left in green jersey, scrambles to cover.
From left to right, Luc Reuter of UNEP, Djimon Hounsou, actor and Puma Ambassador, Samuel Eto'o, captain of the Cameroon national team, Jochen Zeitz, Chairman & CEO, Puma AG, Stephen Appiah, captain of the Ghana national team and Didier Drogba, captain of the Cote d'Ivorie national team, pose together after the Puma Africa Unity press conference.