Nations Cup proves taxing for top players

Reuters, Friday 3 Feb 2012

As snow and ice causes havoc with weekend soccer fixtures in Europe, players at top teams might be tempted to envy club mates supposedly sunning themselves at the African Nations Cup

Yaya Toure

Such envy is misplaced, say players at the 16-team tournament, co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, which is now at the quarter-final stage.

With tropical heat and near 100 percent humidity, the Nations Cup is more taxing than top-level club football and the tournament is sapping mental and physical strength, players and coaches say. 

“We have had to redouble our efforts. The premier league is technical but the Nations Cup is physical with a lot of aggression. I can move in the game in England but not here,” said African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure in an interview this week.

“The Nations Cup is certainly not the European Championship. The temperature, the humidity, the pitches, the atmosphere, it’s a big change for the players coming from European clubs,” added the Ivory Coast midfielder, who plays in the Premier League for Manchester City.

His coach Francois Zahoui took the opportunity to rest Toure and other key players once the Ivorians had qualified for the quarter-finals.

Zahoui had earlier told his players, heavily fancied to win the cup, that they were in for a hard three-week slog if they were to win the title.

Poor organisation at the tournament can also tax patience. Teams have encountered accommodation with no running water and training facilities far from their hotels, involving bumpy bus rides.

Morocco coach Eric Gerets said extra mental fortitude was needed to succeed in the local environment.

“You don’t realise how difficult it is until you get here. The fatigue after the games is enormous and the ability to lift yourself up as a player so much more important,” he said after the surprise early elimination of his team.

Morocco’s Mbark Boussoufa, who had not played a competitive match since the end of the last Russian season in November, said he had been surprised by the exertion required in the two matches he played. “The pace and intensity was shattering,” he told reporters.

Going straight back to club football in Europe, without any break, would be difficult, added Bundesliga-based Garra Dembele of Mali. “This tournament is very hard on all the players.”

For players from lesser leagues the Nations Cup proved a step too high. “It was just too quick for us most of the time,” said Botswana’s midfield hardman Mogogi Gabonamong, who has spent a decade playing in South Africa’s professional league.

Botswana were making their debut Nations Cup finals appearance and lost all three of their games, including a record-equalling 6-1 defeat to Guinea. 

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