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Daily Archives: April 1, 2009

South American high hopes may vanish in thin air

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When you're plotting a path through the World Cup qualifiers some away trips are more gruelling than others.
One Latin American trip in particular can see a visiting side's hopes vanish into thin air.
On Wednesday, Argentina must tackle the heady challenge of a trip to neighbouring Bolivia.
The Bolivians last qualified for the World Cup finals in 1994, Erwin Sanchez netting the Andean nation's only ever final phase goal in a 3-1 loss to Spain.
But they're always a tough proposition on home soil given that their Estadio Hernando Siles stadium, in the capital La Paz, stands a breathless 3637 metres above sea level.
Conditions which can leave footballers breathlessly chasing the game are actually a boon for other top-level athletes, such as British triple Olympic cycling champion Chris Hoy, who came within 0.005sec of Arnaud Tournant's kilometre record two years ago at La Paz's Alto Orpavi velodrome – before setting a flying 500m world record at the same venue.
La Paz is a favourite training venue for endurance athletes seeking to benfit from the high altitude which increases the number of red blood cells, thereby improving oxygen flow to muscles.
David Hoy, Chris' father and manager, explains endurance athletes can suffer from the conditions unless they have the luxury of time to acclimatise.
"Footballers are endurance athletes, so will suffer when they travel to altitude without two weeks acclimatising," David Hoy, who managed his son's La Paz expedition in 2007, told AFP.
"Sprinters perform better if they arrive and perform immediately or at least within two days," as was Chris' strategy.
"Chris' visit to La Paz was planned on a three-day programme, day 1 arrive, day 2 and 3 perform. He was given supplementary oxygen which effectively kept his body at sea-level."
When the likes of Brazil – held to a draw at 2,800 metres by Ecuador on Sunday – and Argentina come to Bolivia they feel the pace against hosts used to the thin air, hence FIFA's recent attempt to ban competitive internationals in La Paz.
The country's indigenous and pugnacious President Evo Morales swiftly made the issue part of his "presidential agenda."
Sensing a photo-opportunity, Morales posed in football kit high up in the Andes loudly protesting that a ban would "run counter to the universality of sports."
FIFA conceded on the grounds that La Paz is a historical venue for Bolivian matches. They could not just ban qualifiers yet not all other matches, with any real or imagined health concerns being the same in both cases.
Bolivia's neighbours have generally, if perhaps surprisingly, backed their cause.
Argentina coach Diego Maradona will happily sample the Andean air, albeit from the bench, on Wednesday.
"We have to face up to the altitude and just not be afraid," said Maradona, who has fond memories of his last game in La Paz, when he netted four goals in a gala match last April against Morales' presidential eleven.
Bolivia's away form is dire. Curiously, their sole qualifying point on their travels to date came in a goalless stalemate in Brazil.
But at home, they are a different team and only Chile have emerged with three points in five World Cup 2010 qualifiers with even surprise group leaders Paraguay sent packing 4-2. Even Brazil have come a cropper twice in La Paz.
As well as coping with the low oxygen supply, visiting goalkeepers can feel they are in a shooting gallery, the low wind resistance meaning players happily try their luck from ultra long-range.
Given FIFA's oft-expressed concerns over a potential health risk the Bolivians have created a special altitude committee.
Bolivian veteran sports medicine expert Dr. Guillermo Aponte Burela insists that "high-altitude international matches have never posed a serious health problem for players."
The altitude issue works both ways as players with La Paz sides The Strongest and Bolivar, as well as the team from the even higher city of Oruro, have to trek down to low-lying cities such as Santa Cruz for matches – requiring an acclimatisation process in reverse.

Hertha line up Voronin transfer deal

Hertha Berlin have revealed that they have agreed a transfer with Liverpool for hot-shot striker Andrei Voronin – providing the Bundesliga side qualify for the Champions League next season.
Voronin, 29, has scored 11 league goals in 21 games – eight of which have come in the last seven matches – since he joined cash-strapped Hertha on loan from Liverpool at the start of the season.
Hertha president Werner Gegenbauer says Berlin have agreed a fee of around four million euros with Liverpool for the Ukrainian forward, but the whole deal depends on whether Hertha make the Champions League.
"We cannot go through with a transfer unless we have extra funds from the Champions League, so it depends on whether or not we qualify," Gegenbauer told German sports agency SID.
"We can give and receive no promise, but we have to wait and see what happens at the end of the season."
Berlin coach Lucien Favre has said the club have no money for new players this summer, but the German league leaders have made it clear they want Voronin to stay if they reach the Champions League.
They are currently top of the Bundesliga with just a single point's lead and need to finish in the top three if Voronin is to remain past the end of the season.
Voronin has won 57 caps for his country and has made no secret of his desire to remain in the German capital.