SAUDI TEAM ON WORLD CUP DUTY GIVEN RA­MADAN OP­TION

Fed­er­a­tion has al­lowed play­ers to post­pone fast but some choose to do so in­ter­mit­tently dur­ing holy month, just as they have done be­fore, writes Gary Meenaghan

The National - News - - SPORT -

It is no sur­prise anx­ious foot­ballers suf­fer rest­less evenings in the build-up to the start of a World Cup.

Yet ahead of next month’s tour­na­ment, sleep­less nights will be in­evitable for some play­ers given the fast­ing obli­ga­tions as­so­ci­ated with Ra­madan.

The holy month, which started on Thurs­day, de­mands ab­sti­nence from food and liq­uids dur­ing day­light hours, mak­ing the fol­low­ing few weeks of fi­nal prepa­ra­tions a del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act for Mus­lim play­ers such as Mo­hamed Salah, Paul Pogba and Eden Hazard.

Fast­ing has proved a mat­ter of fric­tion for coaches in pre­vi­ous years with France man­ager Di­dier Deschamps calling it “a touchy sub­ject” in 2014 and Jose Mour­inho, while at In­ter Mi­lan, sub­sti­tut­ing Sul­ley Mun­tari af­ter 30 min­utes, ques­tion­ing the Ghana­ian’s abil­ity to fast and play in warm weather.

How­ever, for seven na­tional teams this month – Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Tu­nisia, Sene­gal and Nige­ria – it is not only one or two play­ers ob­serv­ing the holy month, but rather the bulk of the squad.

In the case of Saudi, while FA pres­i­dent Adel Ez­zat said the play­ers re­ceived spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion to post­pone fasts, sev­eral sources with the team sug­gested they will fast in­ter­mit­tently when­ever they can.

They re­turned to Riyadh on Wed­nes­day af­ter three weeks of high-in­ten­sity train­ing in south­ern Spain. They will spend the first three days of Ra­madan with fam­ily be­fore fly­ing to Zurich on Satur­day for the start of their fi­nal prepa­ra­tion camp.

Nick Worth, a sports phys­io­ther­a­pist who has worked in the Premier League with Manch­ester City and Wi­gan Ath­letic as well as in the UAE with Al Jazira, said the con­cern with in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing is that the body never gets the chance to fully adapt.

“Do­ing it on an in­ter­mit­tent ba­sis, the body never un­der­stands, whereas if you are fast­ing con­sis­tently, your body gets used to the en­ergy and re­quire­ments and adapts,” Worth said. “It would be bet­ter to avoid fast­ing for the du­ra­tion of the tour­na­ment and leave it to a later date.”

But team man­ager Omar Bakhash­wain said his staff are very calm with the sit­u­a­tion, point­ing to pre­vi­ous years for ex­am­ples of how they have shown they can cope.

“When you travel, you can de­lay the fast – you are not ob­li­gated,” he told The Na­tional. “But we can man­age it very well with the play­ers, I am sure. We have played dur­ing Ra­madan be­fore, it is not a prob­lem.

“Our qual­i­fi­ca­tion was dur­ing Ra­madan – when we played Ja­pan and Aus­tralia – so we know how to deal with it. Also our league in Saudi has been played through­out the holy month. We can man­age these things; it’s not go­ing to be dif­fi­cult, be­lieve me.

“You will see the team play­ing at a very high level. We are pre­pared and ev­ery­thing that is re­quired, we will do it.”

While day-length in Riyadh and Zurich is much the same at around 13 hours and 15 min­utes, the team will fly to their World Cup base in St Pe­ters­burg on June 8, six days be­fore their cur­tain-raiser in Moscow.

On their first day in Rus­sia, the sun in St Pe­ters­burg will rise at 3.40am and set at 10.15pm, mean­ing fast­ing will equate to more than 18 hours with­out food or liq­uids.

“We will re­spect com­pletely what­ever the play­ers de­cide,” Saudi Ara­bia’s Ar­gen­tine man­ager Juan An­to­nio Pizzi said. “We have to be re­spect­ful.

“We as a tech­ni­cal staff will ex­plain to them what they will face at the World Cup in terms of the level of com­pe­ti­tion, so they will have all the in­for­ma­tion avail­able to them and can make their own de­ci­sion in a com­plete way.” Team chef Mo­hammed Ab­dul Fatah is Egyptian, but has worked with the Saudi fed­er­a­tion for more than a decade and grown to know their pref­er­ences. His spe­cial­ity is saleeg, a tra­di­tional Saudi dish con­sist­ing of chicken served on a bed of white rice cooked in milk broth.

But he also pre­pares bal­anced, high-nu­tri­tion meals us­ing pota­toes, fish, pasta, and lamb. The play­ers like their pota­toes fried, but Ab­dul Fatah re­sists.

“The dif­fi­culty is that Mus­lims in Ra­madan tra­di­tion­ally break their fast with high-sugar and high-en­ergy foods be­cause that’s what they are cul­tur­ally used to,” Worth ex­plained. “Their bod­ies crave en­ergy and they are used to eat­ing a lot of sweet or fried foods.

“But as ath­letes they have to un­der­stand the sen­si­tiv­i­ties of a healthy diet. They will still crave the high fats, but that’s ob­vi­ously not the best thing to pre­pare for a tour­na­ment.”

We will re­spect com­pletely what­ever the play­ers de­cide. We have to be re­spect­ful JUAN AN­TO­NIO PIZZI Saudi Ara­bia man­ager

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