World Cup teams draw mixed fortunes at high altitude

By Barry Moody

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The World Cup draw has handed varied fortunes to the top teams, not only in the strength of their opponents, but in how many games they have to play at energy sapping high altitude in South Africa.

Many of the 2010 World Cup venues are in thinner air, especially in the high veldt around Johannesburg and Pretoria, where coaches are concerned their teams will be at a disadvantage unless they are properly acclimatized in pre-tournament training.

From this standpoint, Argentina seem to have fared the worst of the top seeds, playing all three of their group stage games at high altitude in Johannesburg and Polokwane, in the north.

In contrast, England, Germany and the Netherlands have two games each on the coast and only one at altitude in the group stage.

The bookies' favorites, Spain and Brazil, both have two games at altitude and one on the coast, as do former champions France, considered the most dangerous floaters.

UPSET SEEDS

But Portugal, who could also upset the seeds, have drawn the best altitude card, with their first-round matches in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Durban, meaning they will not face the altitude until the second round, if they go through

Champions Italy, who got what is considered one of the easiest groups, have one match on the coast and one in Johannesburg at high altitude.

Their third match is at Nelspruit, at 600 meters in the low veldt, giving them another advantage.

Italy did not make it out of the group stage in last June's Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, and coach Marcello Lippi said they were not properly acclimatized for the high altitude games.

"Altitude is not a problem. Last summer, it was, because we were not prepared but this time we will be prepared," he told reporters before the draw.

(Editing by Alison Wildey)