June 3, 2012
HONIARA, SOLOMONS ISLANDS – Fours day off in the Solomon Islands may not sound like hard work but when they are scheduled between five World Cup and Confederations Cup qualifiers in a nine day period they become vitally important.
After a draining 1-0 win over Fiji in an opening OFC Nations Cup match that doubled as their first of what the All Whites hope will be 13 successful World Cup qualifiers for Brazil 2014, the team were given a day off from training to rest and replenish, a pattern that is likely to be repeated after each match day in Honiara.
No stranger to playing World Cup qualifiers in the Pacific Islands or the Middle East, Shane Smeltz was among a number of players to have described the humid Honiara conditions for the noon kickoff on Saturday as the most challenging they’d faced.
“There’s no denying it was extremely tough,” says Smeltz.
“We’ve played in heat before and some tough conditions in the Islands but I’d have to say that’s right up there as the toughest I’ve played in.”
“You might have to be here to realise what the conditions are like. I’m sure if you watching on TV you might think ‘why is everyone playing bad’ but it feels like it takes an extra three seconds just to make a decision.
Smeltz’s view is backed by All Whites team doctor and New Zealand Football’s medical director Mark Fulcher.
“The heat stress here is probably unlike anywhere else or at least up right there with anywhere else in the world,” said Fulcher. “It’s an incredibly oppressive environment.”
“Because it’s so hot you become much more fatigued more rapidly. It becomes harder to move and your decision making is much more impaired.
“There are three main things to it: there’s the humidity, the ambient temperature and the solar heat. On Saturday we didn’t have so much solar radiation with the cloud cover but on a day like today with no clouds around it would be incredibly difficult.”
Dr Fulcher leads a small medical team comprising physiotherapist Roland Jeffery and masseur Wade Irvine from New Zealand and sport scientist Kenny McMillan from Scottish giants Celtic.
All have had their work cut out for them on tour especially in a vital post match window.
“We really have to use every minute try and recover,” said Dr Fulcher.
“Our recovery starts during the game so we want to keep everyone as cool as we can and limit the fatigue.”
From extra carbohydrates at half time, through to wearing ice vests pre and post match and even deploying iced towels during the drinks breaks FIFA mandates for safety reasons when temperatures hit 32 degrees or higher, every care is taken to keep players cool, fit and safe.
The process only gathers pace at fulltime.
“Immediately in the dressing room we’re trying to get the payers to consume some food. We come back to the hotel as quickly as we can, get the players in the pool to cool down and get them moving then do a warm down to encourage some of the lactate out of their muscles. Then we’re trying to eat within an hour of the match to again replenish the glycogen stores in the muscles.
“We like to think we are preparing them as well as we can but the schedule is a challenge, no doubt.”
Acclimatisation will help the players deal a daunting schedule which continues on Monday with a second group match against Papua New Guinea.
“We’ve been here four or five days and we know it takes ten days to acclimatise so I expect our performance from a purely medical and physiological point of view will improve as we go on. We’ll have some progressive fatigue but we’ll get better at performing in this environment.”