South Africa to host 1st winter World Cup in 32 years
Cooler weather could lead to plenty of attacking soccer
The weather is always a hot topic of discussion in the build-up to the World Cup, as blistering temperatures have led to difficult playing conditions at past tournaments.
But that shouldn't be an issue at the 2010 World Cup, scheduled for June 11 to July 11, because it will take place right in the middle of South Africa's winter.
South Africa boasts a generally temperate climate to begin with, and the rainy and wet conditions that are typical of the country's winter season (Cape Town, for instance, averages 111 millimetres of precipitation in June) will mean that players won't have to deal with stifling temperatures.
"It'll be cold — not Canadian cold but cold," quipped Mark Gleeson, Cape Town-based journalist and the world's leading expert on African soccer, during a phone conversation with CBCSports.ca.
"We do have warm spells at that time of the year, where for four or five days, it'll be 25 degrees. But it's chilly at night and usually 10 to 14 degrees during the day, so it'll be perfect for football."
World Cup weather
Mexico staged the 1970 World Cup, the first to be held outside Europe and South America.
The location was not a popular one, as Mexico's oppressive heat (often rising well over 35 C), combined with its high altitudes, made it impossible for players to perform at peak level.
Furthermore, FIFA bent to the whims of the television networks and staged a portion of the tournament - including the final - at noon, forcing players to compete while the blazing hot Mexican sun was at its most powerful.
FIFA did not learn from those mistakes and made Mexico the host nation again 16 years later.
In 1986, World Cup matches were, again, contested at high altitudes and games kicked off at noon and 4 p.m. in the broiling midday Mexican sun in order to get the largest worldwide TV audience.
Gleeson believes the cool temperatures, and the scheduling of games in the late afternoon and early evening, will allow players to put in world-class performances on the field.
"It's the first winter World Cup since Argentina (in 1978), and there's an argument that this will be the most ideal World Cup in terms of the weather because it's proper climatic conditions to play football," Gleeson opined.
"You're not playing in humidity. You're not playing at ridiculous hours to suit TV audiences in Europe. You're playing proper football at the proper time, with matches taking place at 4:30 and 8:30 p.m. local time."
Raphael Honigstein, a soccer journalist for German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, agrees with Gleeson's assessment.
"The temperatures and the climate [of a winter World Cup] are conducive to attacking football, much more so than summer tournaments," stated Honigstein. "Euro 2004 in Portugal was very good in the first round, but the tournament got slower and slower as the weather got hotter and teams ran out of steam.
"Same thing happened in Germany [at the 2006 World Cup] when all the afternoon games were quite slow, because players couldn't take the heat, and the evening games were much more attacking."
Some teams, such as European champions Spain, might even benefit more than others from the cool weather.
"It will lead to faster football," said Sid Lowe, Madrid-based correspondent for the British daily the Guardian.
"Spain is not a fast team apart from Fernando Torres, but they are a team that moves the ball around very quickly. That may help them."
Tim Vickery, a Rio-based reporter and expert on South American soccer, offered a different view.
"In the cold weather of South Africa, it'll be easier for slower teams to contain quick and counter-attacking sides," Vickery said. "It's more tiring not having the ball as opposed to having it and moving around all the time. So that's my concern — that the harriers and the chasers will prevail and that mediocre football will triumph."