It seems slightly ludicrous that after all of the concern during the build-up to this World Cup about how teams would be able to cope with the extreme heat in host nation Qatar, that players have been complaining more about the air conditioning. But how much is it actually affecting them?
When it was announced in 2010 that Qatar would stage the World Cup 12 years down the line, the original plan was for it to take place in its traditional slot during the European summer. However, temperatures in Qatar in those months can soar up to 40C (104F), so in 2015, FIFA’s executive committee agreed to a switch.
Temperatures still average around 25-30C across November and December in the Arabian Gulf nation so, to mitigate the impact such conditions would have on the players, all of this World Cup’s eight stadiums were designed and built/renovated to include cooling systems.
It sounded bizarre, and impossible, to completely air-condition a non-domed stadium, yet it works via a series of nozzles around the edge of the pitch that blast jets of air at different speeds and angles to cover as much of the playing area as possible. Nozzles beneath the seats in the stands also cool the air for spectators.
The system is helping to keep teams refreshed as they play, but is it too powerful?
Antony missed two Brazil training sessions at the beginning of the tournament through illness and came up with an interesting theory.
“It was a bit difficult. I ended up having a bad feeling for a few days,” the Manchester United winger told ESPN Brazil. “I’m recovering well and getting 100 per cent. It was more of a sickness — throat. It was the air conditioning (in the stadiums).
“Not only me, but other players also had a cough and a bad throat.”
Antony came through to play a part in all of Brazil’s matches and as he says, he is not the only player to have suffered.
Before their final group game against Serbia on Friday, several members of Switzerland’s squad, including first-choice goalkeeper Yann Sommer, Nico Elvedi and Manuel Akanji, were struggling with the symptoms of colds too.
“Initially I had a slight cold after the Brazil game, but it felt better,” Manchester City defender Akanji said. “I had a blocked nose, dry throat and a bit of a headache. But I do feel better — the last two days, I feel better. You need to get used to it, acclimatise, but the temperature in the stadiums is nice and pleasant.”
During the first week of the World Cup, when there were group matches kicking off at 1pm and 4pm in Doha, the air-conditioning systems would have been essential. Yet, you could argue it is not desperately needed for the rest of the tournament as all the games will start at 6pm or 10pm locally, when it should be much cooler.
Not all players are concerned by the air conditioning.
The Netherlands’ 2-0 victory over Qatar a week ago kicked off at 6pm at the Al Bayt Stadium and, according to Dutch midfielder Marten de Roon, it was “still quite hot”.
“It’s not 30 degrees in the sun, but during the match it’s still a temperature that is quite high,” De Roon said. “If there was no air-conditioning it would be even harder, so we can be happy it’s there. ”
De Roon’s team-mate Wout Weghorst defended the cooling systems, too.
Antony, the Brazil forward, says his sore throat was caused by the air conditioning (Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
“When you’re playing, then it’s actually OK,” Weghorst told The Athletic. “First two matches, we came (to the stadiums) the day before and you can really feel it. It’s really cold. The feeling in the matches is a little bit better. It’s not too low.
“I don’t know if this (sickness) is from the stadium. Everywhere you have air conditioning. It’s in the hotel. It’s on the buses. We try to avoid it as a team and we always say ‘shut it down’ and sometimes you’re warm. But otherwise, you go from warm to cold to warm again.”
It is not just the people in the grounds who need to be protected from the heat. To prevent the pitches becoming too dry in Qatar’s desert climate, water sprinklers are turned on at regular intervals. When Tunisia recorded an impressive 1-0 victory over defending world champions France last Wednesday at the Education City Stadium, The Athletic spotted 20 ground staff patrolling the pitch at half-time and plunging pitchforks into the turf.
There have been suggestions that the grass is being watered too much. Inaki Williams slipped at a crucial moment in Ghana’s 3-2 loss to Portugal when he pinched the ball off goalkeeper Diogo Costa and was trying to equalise, while Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu fell over with nobody around him in their 1-1 draw with the USA.
“Not for me,” De Roon told The Athletic. “The pitches are very good. They are fast. It’s very good to play football and let the ball go. I can only be positive about the stadiums and the spaces and the dressing room and the pitches. Not one complaint.”
England played their group matches at the Khalifa International, Al Bayt and Ahmad bin Ali stadiums and midfielder Jordan Henderson has not experienced problems at any of them.
“The conditions on the pitch were good. It’s slick,” Henderson said. “It was cold in the stands, but as players it was the perfect temperature for us for the 4pm kick-off (against Iran). It’s a bit warmer than England at the moment. It is nice. It’s not unbearable with the air-con system in place.”
It’s unfortunate Antony, Germany forward Kai Havertz and members of Switzerland’s squad have struggled with colds but, overall, it seems the air-conditioning has had a positive impact and negated concerns about the heat.
(Top photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images)