The Winner of the World Cup Will Travel 7,500 Miles in One Month

Why the location of training bases could determine next year's soccer champion.
Argentina's Lionel Messi (top) celebrates with teammate Gonzalo Higuain after he scored a goal against Ecuador during a World Cup qualifying soccer match in Buenos Aires. (Marcos Brindicci/Reuters) 

Professional athletes don’t travel like the rest of us. To ensure that they remain in peak physical condition, few expenses are spared when shuttling them around the world. But regardless of how luxurious a cabin is, spending a long time in a pressurized plane inevitably hurts athletic performance.

This could be a factor during next year’s soccer World Cup in Brazil, the world’s fifth-largest country by land area. Matches will be held in 12 cities across the country—some of them thousands of miles apart. Since teams generally make round-trips from their training base to each match, some will see the miles add up more than others as the tournament progresses.

That’s why the location of a team’s training base is even more important than usual in this World Cup. For the eight squads that have already announced their base camp locations, Quartz calculated the distances these players can expect to travel en route to the final. (The rest of the teams will choose their base camp from 83 designated locations, with a list of preferences due later this month and final decisions announced by the end of January.)

On average, the winning team will trek around 7,500 miles (12,070 kilometers) during the month of the tournament—but some teams will travel as much as 12,000 miles (about half the circumference of Earth). And this only counts the distances between host cities by air, excluding the potentially stressful journeys to and from training camps, airports and stadiums on Brazil’s famously creaky ground transport network. Of course, many factors besides travel distance will determine which team lifts the World Cup next year. But for teams in search of an extra edge, shaving a few thousand miles off their route to the final could be a shrewd strategy.

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Location, Location, Location

The group round matches have been decided, so those distances are known. A team’s path through the subsequent 16-team, single-elimination knockout stage (playoffs) depends on where it finishes in the group stage, with first- and second-place teams placed on opposite sides of the draw. (The third- and fourth-placed teams hop on a plane with a one-way ticket home.) Thus, there are two potential paths for a team to take to the final, depending on whether it wins its group or finishes as runner-up.

 

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Based on what we know so far, here are a few observations:

Germany Faces a Telling Decision

Germany is reportedly mulling a base in either Salvador or Sao Paulo. Its decision will say a lot about its confidence in its chances. Seeded in the same “group of death” as the U.S., Portugal and Ghana, Germany can choose to shorten its travel by thousands of miles during the group round or the knockout stage, but not both. Thus, whether it thinks its players will need more rest at the beginning of the competition (in which case it should choose Salvador, with 5,000 fewer miles of travel during the group round than Sao Paulo) or towards the end (Sao Paulo, with up to 4,000 fewer miles traveled than Salvador during the knockout stage) will reveal how it rates its chances of progressing into the tournament’s final stages.

Finishing First Is not Always Best (for Travel)

If a team finishes first in its group, it faces a weaker opponent—in theory—in the first match in the knockout stage. This is incentive enough for teams to try to win all of their games during the group round, even if a second-place finish also earns them a place in the next phase of the tournament.

Presented by

Jason Karaian and Ritchie King

Jason Karaian and Ritchie King write for Quartz

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