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Football with Altitude


Prominent Member
I haven't seen the question of altitude mentioned much here or in the media. I saw a brief mention in one of the chit-chat threads which seemed to conclude that England should have been better in their second match because it was at sea level.

There was an article in New Scientist (bear with me) which dealt with the problems caused by altitude. Here's a summary of some of the points:

1. There is a physiological effect of playing at altitude (less oxygen etc.). This leads to increased heart-rate, reduced stamina, tiredness etc. Their conclusion was that this would not have a significant outcome on results.
2. The ball behaves differently due to decreased atmospheric density. "Goalkeepers who are accustomed to the behaviour of the ball at sea level will need to react faster than normal or else see it fly past their outstrectched fingers into the net."
3. A key factor seems to be adapting to the transition between altitude and sea level. They seem to think that this will favour teams that are used to switching from low to high altitude. "That points to a win for a South American team".

I look forward to seeing how attack-minded Chile get on against defensive Switzerland. We've already seen Paraguay and Uruguay do well after 2 games.


Prominent Member
OK, I may be the only person interested in this but here goes...

Table shows group stage match venues for each team. Blue is sea level, red is altitude (above 1000m), Nelspruit in orange as it is 660m (but considered to be high altitude since effects are felt at 500m and above apparently).

Last column shows the number of changes of altitude in the group stages.

Team Match 1 Match 2 Match 3 , Altitude Changes
Algeria Polokwane Cape Town Pretoria 2
Argentina Johannesburg Johannesburg Polokwane 0
Australia Durban Rustenburg Nelspruit 1
Brazil Johannesburg Johannesburg Durban 1
Cameroon Bloemfontein Pretoria Cape Town 1
Chile Nelspruit Port Elizabeth Pretoria 2
Denmark Johannesburg Pretoria Rustenburg 0
England Rustenburg Cape Town Port Elizabeth 1
France Cape Town Polokwane Bloemfontein 1
Germany Durban Port Elizabeth Johannesburg 1
Ghana Pretoria Rustenburg Johannesburg 0
Greece Port Elizabeth Bloemfontein Polokwane 1
Honduras Nelspruit Johannesburg Bloemfontein 0
Italy Cape Town Nelspruit Johannesburg 1
Ivory Coast Port Elizabeth Johannesburg Nelspruit 1
Japan Bloemfontein Durban Rustenburg 2
Mexico Johannesburg Polokwane Rustenburg 0
Netherlands Johannesburg Durban Cape Town 1
New Zealand Rustenburg Nelspruit Polokwane 0
Nigeria Johannesburg Bloemfontein Durban 1
North Korea Johannesburg Cape Town Nelspruit 2
Paraguay Cape Town Bloemfontein Polokwane 1
Portugal Port Elizabeth Cape Town Durban 0
Serbia Pretoria Port Elizabeth Nelspruit 2
Slovakia Rustenburg Bloemfontein Johannesburg 0
Slovenia Polokwane Johannesburg Port Elizabeth 1
South Africa Johannesburg Pretoria Bloemfontein 0
South Korea Port Elizabeth Johannesburg Durban 2
Spain Durban Johannesburg Pretoria 1
Switzerland Durban Port Elizabeth Bloemfontein 1
Uruguay Cape Town Pretoria Rustenburg 1
USA Rustenburg Johannesburg Pretoria 0

So Argentina, Denmark, Ghana, Honduras Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Slovakia, South Africa and USA get to play all 3 games at the same altitude. Algeria, Chile, Japan, North Korea, Serbia and South Korea get the worst case scenario.

Guardian podcast here:
The Guardian's Science Weekly podcast: It's all about altitude at World Cup 2010 | Science | guardian.co.uk

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