Germany has clear physiological advantage over Argentina
Making the disparity worse still is the fact that the Germans did not have to exert themselves much when they played Brazil
When Germany plays Argentina in the World Cup final on Sunday, they will have a significant but often overlooked advantage. Argentina will go into the match against Germany with 24 hours less time to rest due to the fact that they played their semifinal game one day after the Germans faced Brazil.
The calendar of the World Cup competition gives a major advantage to one of the semifinalists, but it is not a big surprise when one takes a closer look at the way FIFA has handled this matter in the past. When Brazil thrashed Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup, perhaps giving them a false sense of security, they also had an extra day of rest going into the game. An extra 24 hours of rest becomes even more of a factor when you have only four or five days between matches.
The lost day of rest isn’t Argentina’s only disadvantage: Argentinian players, led by Alejandro Sabella, are also coming into the final after having recently played an exhausting match against the Netherlands. In that semifinal, they played two halves of extra time followed by an emotional penalty shootout.
Making the disparity worse still is the fact that the Germans did not have to exert themselves much when they played Brazil. During a big portion of that match, they were managing an inflated scoreboard that had already reached 5–0 before the break. Consequently, they were able to conserve energy and move into the final game with considerable capital.
It will clearly be a huge challenge for Argentina to recover in time to play with the energy and vitality necessary to put up a good fight. They will definitely need the encouragement of the thousands of Argentinian fans who have inundated Rio de Janeiro.
Germany’s physiological edge may also confer a psychological advantage in that match. In the back of their minds, the Argentinians will know that they may be entering the game with less fuel in the tank, and having those thoughts won’t help, especially in a game of this magnitude—one that surely will be the most important in these players’ lives.
The race to recover for this match started immediately following Argentina’s dual with the Netherlands in the semifinal, an exhausting marathon that will cause extreme recovery-related issues for the South American players.
There are several recovery strategies that can be employed in order to speed the recovery of a team in between matches, and these become even more critical when the matches are played over a short period of time. Convincing research has shown that following intense exercise, a golden opportunity exists during which cells within the skeletal muscle are more open to receiving vital nutrients that replenish reserves of glycogen, the fuel stored in muscles. This fuel is the equivalent of gasoline in the tank of a car and provides vital energy for muscle contraction.
It is possible to make glycogen levels return to normal levels within 48 hours of an exhausting match if the players follow a proper dietary regimen, take the proper supplements and get adequate time to rest.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that glycogen replenishment is only one of the many physiological elements that make up an athlete’s recovery process. The other physiological mechanisms critical to a complete recovery may take several days to normalize. Also, playing exhausting matches over short periods of time may lead to micro-tears in the muscles that make it more difficult for glycogen to be replenished accordingly.
It is likely that both teams have made use of some of the aforementioned strategies to shorten their recovery time. The success of their recovery will depend on how organized and committed they have been in mobilizing these strategies following the semifinals.
In fact, even if the Argentinians use all these strategies, we still cannot be sure they will have adequate time to fully recover, especially given the toll taken by all the other tough matches they played throughout the tournament.
It may be possible that as the game progresses, we will see Argentina tiring as a result of having less fuel in the tank. They will need to put in place an economical tactical scheme conducive to conserving energy. Sabella, a clever man—an old fox—must know that the best chance his team has is to play with a defensive scheme that exploits the offensive ability of Messi, Higuaín and Ángel di María (if he plays) on the counterattack. Sabella’s players may also have to adhere to a deep defending strategy within their terrain. At this point, the Argentinian skipper may also be apprehensive about the possibility of the game moving into extra time. If that happens, his problems will be magnified significantly.
It will only be known for sure how committed the Argentinians have been in implementing some of these recovery strategies when we get a chance to examine their physical performance during the course of the game. This will also be a good chance to take a look at the German team and see how their physical performance contrasts with the South American side following an extra day of rest.
It would be in the best interest of Argentina to apply enhanced recovery strategies given the advanced tactical attributes of the German squad. Certainly, with the advantage obtained from their extra day of recovery, the Germans have an obligation to present themselves better physically. Nevertheless, the most lethal weapon in this match may be in the hands of Argentina. If Lionel Messi is inspired he may complicate matters for the German side, exploiting vulnerabilities in the defensive play of Boateng, Howedes or Mertesacker. But before that even happens, Argentina will have to garner all the forces and the left over fuel in the tank to face the mighty Germans.