Road to Brazil World Cup exhausting Asian teams

Players from European clubs have long complained about midweek

trips to the extremes of the continent for a Champions League game

and then a return home for weekend action but such air miles and

hours pale into insignificance compared with those being clocked up

by the national teams of Asia.

As the final round of qualification for the 2014 World Cup kicks

off, there are three games in nine days for some of the 10 nations

still in contention for spots in Brazil. With the Asian Football

Confederation (AFC) spanning over 9,000 miles (14,480 kilometers),

acclimatization techniques can become just as important as

tactics.

Lebanon is the lowest-ranked of the last 10 teams and is

struggling to cope with the demands of the first half of June. The

Group B outsiders started with a 1-0 loss to Qatar and a 1-1 draw

with Uzbekistan at home on June 3 and June 8. Four days later,

Lebanon will take on group favorite South Korea just outside

Seoul.

”It took an awful amount of hours from Beirut to Seoul,”

Lebanon coach Theo Bucker told The Associated Press. ”We rushed to

the airport after the game finished Friday and then flew from

Beirut to Doha. There we waited for around four hours and then took

the flight from Doha to Seoul, which in itself is 10 hours. In

total, it was a trip of almost round 20 hours.”

As well as the smaller distances in Europe, those teams in the

Champions League are not always traveling in the economy section of

the aircraft but for a relatively cash-strapped national

association such as Lebanon, there’s no luxuries.

”We have to sit in economy,” Bucker said. ”It is not as

important for me as I don’t have to play a game and haven’t just

played a game but for the players who have, it is very difficult.

They are also not getting the right food.”

Lebanon lost 6-0 in South Korea in the previous round of

qualification just nine months ago. Tuesday’s match is expected to

be the toughest of its eight matches in the last round of

qualifying.

There is one positive for Bucker and his men: South Korea was on

the same flight from Doha. After a 4-1 victory in Qatar, in

temperatures of around 40 Celsius (104 F), South Korea quickly

returned east ready for the Lebanon test. ”Everyone is human and

it will affect them, too,” Bucker said.

Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006 and

could be excused now for questioning why. After the players

finished their first match in this stage, a 0-0 draw with Oman at

Muscat, they had a 7,000 mile (11,260-kilometer) flight to Brisbane

to face Group B rivals Japan, the top-ranked team in Asia.

The Japanese actually arrived in Brisbane before the hosts. And

with Japan in excellent form after two convincing home victories,

its journey to Australia was considerably shorter and involved

crossing just one time zone – five fewer than the Socceroos.

”We’re a bit tired from a long trip (and) a lot of waiting and

not a lot of sleep,” Australia defender Sasa Ognenovski said.

”They haven’t had to travel (so far), which has been a nice draw

for them, but we’ll do our best and try and minimize their

damage.”

Australia coach Holger Osieck didn’t dwell on the short turn

around, the vast difference in climatic conditions or the long

trip, simply joking Monday that he hadn’t ”seen any casualties”

around the breakfast table.

He and skipper Lucas Neill, though, both viewed the schedule as

an advantage to Japan.

”I think Japan is the favorite for this game. They have had a

better preparation – two home games – now they come here with

confidence,” Neill said. ”They came here earlier than we’ve come

here, to play at our home.

”I’m sure Japan will now be playing knowing they have nothing

to lose. Maybe they believe they can have nine points. They will

accept seven.”

There are definitely teams which benefit from the schedule, and

those that don’t. Japan has a jump on the competition with six

points from two comfortable home wins against West Asian teams.

Friday’s 6-0 thrashing of Jordan showed the Asian champion at

its best but the visiting coach Adnan Hamad told reporters after

the game that his team was exhausted after the long trip from

Amman, where it had played five days previously.

”We had to travel from the west and our players were suffering

from fatigue following their long season,” Hamad said. ”I think

Japan had more time to prepare for this game, while we had a short

period of time for preparation.”

For Bucker and Lebanon the only option is to work with the hand

they’ve been dealt.

”None of the timing is good and it brings our performance

down,” he said. ”We do what we can but it is very

difficult.”

AP Sports Writer John Pye contributed to this report from

Brisbane, Australia.