In sport and in life the elements can play a crucial perhaps even deciding factor. Giving one side or the other the crucial 5%, 10% maybe even 1% difference that shifts things in their favour. At the battle of Trebia in the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage Hannibal defeated the Roman army by titling every little factor in his favour. He kept his men warm and well feed by fires in the winter weather at the top of a slight hill protected by the river. The Roman’s by contrast hungry for battle rose early without food and marched through the cold fording the icy river Trebia until finally they were in a position to attack Hannibal’s fresh army.
The battle was a stunning success for the Carthaginians. By making use of every little advantage Hannibal was able to tilt the conditions in his favour despite both sides being of similar numbers and rout the Roman army. The same kind of factors come into play in sport even if such tactics reek less of strategic brilliance and more of something underhand. Take for example the case of the Cambridge Utd manager John Beck whose titling the odds in his favour included making the grass longer in the corners so the ball would hold up when his team utilised their favoured long ball tactics. Rumoured were even more underhand tactics such as supplying only cold water for the opposition showers and providing them will low quality footballs for warmups. Such maneuvers helped Beck to lead Cambridge to there highest ever league position 5th in the old second division in the last pre-premier league season.
Such examples of ‘home advantage’ or gaming the system in your favour still exist in sport today. Perhaps the most notable example in modern day football is the Bolivian national side who play all their games in the capital of La Paz and have a truly exceptional record. The reason for which lies in the stadium’s high altitude which stands at 2,500m above sea level. Opposition players such as Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria have needed on pitch oxygen to get through games whilst playing at La Paz.
Conditions then can have a big impact on events they can take an underdog and enable them to win. I’ve written this piece because, I am going to take a punt that such a condition effected upset is about to happen again.Later this week Iceland play Croatia in a two legged World Cup qualifier. If Iceland qualify not only will it be their first world cup but they will be the smallest ever nation to compete. Now Croatia are a strong side featuring players like Luka Modric and finishing second in a qualifying group behind the hotly tipped Belgium team. On paper they are superior to Iceland in every department. However, the first leg is being played in Iceland in mid-November. The temperature is predicted to be minus 10 degrees Celsius with an added wind chill of up to eight more degrees. As someone who spent a year working in a place where temperatures can reach this level I can assure you it is an experience that gives you a new appreciation of what ‘cold’ is. At these kind of temperatures you can feel your nostril hairs.
The Icelandic players being the vikings that they undoubtedly are might be able to lather on some duck fan and go out and play. Maybe the feel of frozen brittle nose hairs will make them feel invigorated. I’m guessing that Croatian players acclimatised to London, Monaco, Genoa, Madrid, Southampton or Munich weather might not feel the same way. I’m betting the weather could be the deciding factor sending Iceland to the World Cup finals in Brazil. That’s if the match isn’t stopped by blizzard.