Today the women’s soccer World Cup final will take place in France. The road to the final was tough for the teams: both teams having to play 6 matches in less than 25 days. With little time to recover between these matches, fatigue may play a role in the final. American players showed signs of fatigue towards the end of their semi-final match already. And the Dutch team had to play overtime which clearly has induced extra fatigue in these players. But what causes these signs of fatigue? And will both teams be recovered in time or is fatigue going to influence the performance in the final? In this blog, we will try to find answers to these questions.
As most people may recognize, players cover fewer distances at the end of the match due to fatigue. This reduction in running performance is not surprising if you know that the energy stores of the leg muscles are largely depleted at the end of the match(1). In order to be ready for the next match, these energy stores have to be refilled. Unfortunately, the repletion of these stores is a relatively slow process (i.e. it takes on average up to 2 or 3 days to completely restore (see Figure 1)(1). Indeed, research has shown that if matches are less than 48 hours apart, players show reduced running performance in the second match due to incomplete recovery of the energy stores. However, it has also been shown that if consecutive matches are played with 3 or more days in between them (i.e. energy stores are restored), players are able to maintain their running performance in the second match(2). Since the semi-finals and the final are more than 3 days apart, running performance is not likely to be affected by fatigue in the final.
Muscle soreness is another factor which most people will associate with the signs of fatigue. In soccer, this feeling is caused by muscle damage resulting from the performance of explosive actions (e.g. accelerating, decelerating and changing direction)(1). In addition to this feeling of muscle soreness, muscle damage is also responsible for a reduction in maximal force production. If the muscles have not recovered in time, the opponents will be able to change direction quicker, accelerate faster and jump higher in the match. Therefore, it is important to know that this recovery process takes at least(!) 3 days (see Figure 1)(1,4). Since the recovery process of strength-related abilities is slower than that of running abilities, players may be able to maintain their running performance in the final, but might have more difficulties in maintaining short, explosive performance.
Influences on the World Cup final
What do these results mean for the upcoming World Cup final? The American team had 5 days to recover from the semi-final match. Therefore, fatigue is likely to have a smaller influence on their performance in the final. On the other hand, the Dutch team had one day less to recover and had to play extra time in the semi-final, which even further lengthens their recovery process. Therefore, the Dutch team is likely to be affected more by fatigue than the American team. However, fatigue will likely not influence the running performance of the Dutch team. Rather, the Americans might have an advantage over the Dutch on explosive performance: being able to accelerate faster, change direction quicker and jump higher. Furthermore, since the American team has been known for their explosive starts of matches this tournament, they might be able to overpower the Dutch team in the first 20/30 minutes of the match. On the other hand, the Dutch team has scored deciding goals at the end of the match several times already. (i.e. they have great running abilities). Therefore, they might be able to make the difference at the end of the match. So both teams need to aware of, and make use of, their own strengths in order to win the World Cup!
- Nédélec, M., McCall, A., Carling, C., Legall, F., Berthoin, S. & Dupont, G. (2012). Recovery in Soccer. Part I – Post-match Fatigue and Time course of Recovery. Sports Medicine; 42(12): 997-1015.
- Carling, C., Le Gall, F. & Dupont, G. (2012). Are physical performance and injury risk in a professional soccer team in match-play affected over a prolonged period of fixture congestion? International Journal of Sports Medicine. 33(3), 36-42.
- McCormack, W., Hoffman, J., Pruna, G., Scanlan, T., Bohner, D., Townsend, J., Jajtner, R., Stout, J., Fragala, M. & Fukuda, D. (2015). Reduced high-intensity-running rate in college women’s soccer when games are separated by 42 hours. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 10, 436-439.
- Silva, J., Rumpf, M., Hertzog, M., Castagna, A., Farooq, A., Girard, O. & Hader, K. (2018). Acute and residual soccer match-related fatigue: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine. 48, 539-583.
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