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.