Exploring the effect of altitude on the Eagles as they confront Ethiopia

This article considers the effect altitude might have on the World Cup 2014 Qualification play-off between the Super Eagles and the Walya Antelopes this Sunday

By Babajide Alaka

Addis Ababa is 2355m above sea level and is regarded as a high altitude area compared to La Paz, at 4385m, which is the highest altitude at which football has been played in the world.

Even the serial world Player of the year, Lionel Messi, fell to the vagaries of the weather – he vomited on the pitch when Argentina played a World Cup qualifier there earlier this season.

The Super Eagles fly into Ethiopia on Friday, meaning they do not have the luxury of at least the three days required for partial acclimatisation, let alone the longer period needed for full acclimatisation. The Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia have been in camp since mid-September and are well conditioned for this showcase in world football. The Nigerians, on the other hand, just got together on Tuesday in Abuja to prepare for this encounter.



Altitude (m)

Altitude (ft)


Addis Ababa












And we know that medically, at least in longer running events, one side effect of thinner oxygen is the reduction of the athlete’s performance, however, over short distances, their performance increases.

The Ethiopians have been in a closed camp since mid-September and will be ready physically for the encounter. “We are in good shape. We will fight against Nigeria," coach Sewnet Bishaw said on Wednesday.

Does that ‘fight’ simply mean that they will be ready to run the Eagles ragged if the Nigerian team permits it? Bishaw then added: “The only thing we will do is give 100% effort. If you give that, why wouldn't you have a 100% chance of qualifying? You are equal."

So, in effect, the Super Eagles must endeavour that their passes—at least the majority are over short distances in order to reduce the exertion on the lungs

We also know that objects that are thrown in thinner climes travel faster, cover more distance and stay longer in flight. Therefore, when the ball is in the air it can actually be misjudged, giving an advantage to players who have trained under those conditions.

At this high altitude, the Walya Antelopes are quietly confident that they will get a win, and their most potent striker, Saladin Said, is very sure that Ethiopia will win the first leg; "We will win in Addis. The away leg won't be easy but that will send us along in securing our passage," he said.

So, for the 11 Super Eagles players starting on Sunday, there cannot be any wasted passes, there must be economy in their movement and they must be ready to endure some breathing hardship if they want to get a good result. Surely combating the thin air will be the major task facing the players.