Football - Pitfalls at every corner on the long road to Brazil

Pot-holed pitches, hostile customs officials, over-zealous police, unwelcoming hosts and marathon plane trips have turned the 2014 World Cup qualifiers into a via crucis for some teams despite efforts from FIFA to impose fair play.


Although there has been nothing approaching the so-called "football war" which followed an El Salvador-Honduras qualifier in 1969, the sparks can still fly as players and coaches face career-changing matches in unfamiliar conditions.

The last two weeks alone have seen Jordan's coach detained in Australia, a mudslinging session between the coaches of South Korea and Iran and Argentina's Javier Mascherano sent off in a bizarre incident involving a stretcher cart.

Meanwhile, three African teams have been put under investigation for fielding ineligible players and Togo's Alaixys Romao refused to travel to Libya with his team saying it was unsafe.

The days when bands would play outside a visiting team's hotel to keep the players awake may have past, but poor hospitality still causes numerous complaints.

South Korea coach Choi Kang-hee stoked the flames before his team's match at home to Iran on Tuesday by claiming his squad had been "badly treated" when they lost 1-0 in Tehran last October.

Rival coach Carlos Queiroz refuted the allegations and described them as a "humiliation" for the Iranian people.

Kenya were fuming after their players ended up training on a dusty housing estate before their match in Nigeria in March. Kenya said they were put in a low-grade hotel, and were made to wait in Lagos, rather than being flown straight to the match venue in Calabar.

In another incident Jordan coach Adnan Hamad was held for four hours and questioned by immigration officials in Australia after his side arrived for their World Cup qualifier in Sydney this month.

Australia Foreign Minister Bob Carr said he regretted "any embarrassment or inconvenience that may have been caused" but stopped short of an official apology.


Pitches are a frequently a bone of contention.

The United States are rarely happy with conditions in Central America and the Caribbean, complaining about long grass and an afternoon kick off in the heat of Honduras and playing on a cricket field in Antigua.

Yet, with a wealth of options for home matches, the U.S. chose to host Costa Rica in March in Denver and the game was played in a blizzard, prompting angry protests from the visitors which were dismissed by FIFA on a technicality.

Zimbabwe and Egypt clearly struggled to cope with a rutted field at Harare's National Sports Stadium, described as a "potato patch" by a local newspaper, while Cameroon faced swampy conditions as they lost 2-0 at Togo's Stade de Kegue.

That result could now be overturned as FIFA investigates allegations that Togo fielded an ineligible player, while Ethiopia and Equatorial Guinea face similar charges.

Teams in South America have to contend with a variety of difficult conditions, ranging from the steamy heat of Barranquilla in Colombia to the thin air of La Paz in Bolivia, at 3,600 metres above sea level.

Not surprisingly, tempers often flare and not just between players.

Mascherano was sent off in Ecuador for kicking the driver of a stretcher cart whom he said was going too quickly, while Ghana midfielder Derek Boateng said he was punched by a police officer after the 1-0 defeat to Zambia last year.

A spokesman at FIFA said the vast majority of matches in the competition had passed off without controversy and that conditions had improved considerably in the last few years.

Before the qualifiers began, he said a conference in Cairo was held for security officers from all the African national federations to lay down guidelines and ensure visiting teams were well treated.

FIFA have also pointed out that teams have to agree on venues and kickoff times and visitors can object if conditions are not suitable.

Nevertheless, trickery does go on as South Africa captain Itumeleng Khune pointed out after his team's 2-1 defeat in Ethiopia.

"I hope people from home saw what happens when you play away. Their goalkeeper kept going down (to waste time) and the ball boys kept throwing the balls away," he said.

South Africa also had first-hand experience of the travelling problems when they played Central African Republic in neutral Cameroon.

They arrived in the city of Doula to find that their connection to Yaounde had been cancelled and eventually decided to make the trip by road instead, a five-hour journey.

"Waiting at the airport for the next flight was not an option as there were no guarantees that it would arrive, and we didn't want to find ourselves stranded again in the middle of the night," said coach Gordon Igesund after his team completed a 36-hour journey.

"So we had to think on our feet and make a move. It is very frustrating to have to go through this, but I had warned the players that we should expect such things."

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