Soccer: Season length no real excuse

By Mia Snyman

Newly retained coach Fabio Capello's excuse that his England players were too tired at the World Cup may not exactly add up.

After England were eliminated from the tournament in South Africa in the round of 16, Capello blamed a long season for his players' sluggishness.

"We probably arrived a little bit tired at the end of the season," Capello said following the 4-1 loss to Germany.

But after researching the amount of minutes played last season in competitive club matches, Associated Press found England's top players had little to complain about in relation to their opponents.

Chelsea team-mates Frank Lampard and John Terry certainly played a lot before pulling on their England shirts, with Lampard logging 4576 minutes and Terry on the field for 4545 since their season started in August last year.

But Brazil defender Maicon played for 4865 minutes for Inter Milan, and club and international team-mate Lucio played for 4522. Although Brazil were eliminated from the World Cup on Friday, they at least reached the quarter-finals and looked anything but 'tired'.

In contrast, England defender Ashley Cole played only 2876 minutes for Chelsea, but he was out for part of the season with an injury.

Another England midfielder, Steven Gerrard, played 4095 minutes with Liverpool, but that was less than Germany midfielder Thomas Mueller's 4113 with Bayern Munich and Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez's 4098 with Barcelona. Germany and Spain are still in.

Capello, however, has said the German team may be doing better because the players are better rested over the winter.

Germany had a 3-week break over the winter last season, while the Premier League tends to play more games than usual in a short period, including a full schedule on Boxing Day.

The Netherlands, Spain and Italy also take a break around Christmas, and the Dutch national team became the first to reach the World Cup semifinals by beating Brazil 2-1.

"The reason is that it's very important to recover the force," Capello said. "But it's not my job to decide the calendar."

Among the forwards at the World Cup, England striker Wayne Rooney played 3617 minutes for Manchester United, while Argentina striker Carlos Tevez played 3330 for Manchester City - a difference that is about the equivalent of three matches. Argentina forward Lionel Messi, however, played 4205 minutes for Barcelona and has been a key player in his team's run to the quarter-finals.

Former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, who led the team to two World Cup quarter-finals, also used to complain that the Premier League season was too long and a contributor to the national team's exits from major tournaments. When he was still the coach, he campaigned for a winter break.

"To have a winter break, I think those things would be very important for the players but I don't know how far away we are from that," Eriksson said after England's elimination at the 2002 World Cup.

"We play a lot of football in England. The winter break is very important."

- AP

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