Colombia team and altitude: myths, realities and anecdotes in La Paz – International Football – Sports

To go to play in La Paz, you have to prepare for war. Whoever enters that Bolivian court knows in advance that the muscles can weaken, that the air is breathed but it seems that it does not enter, that they may well suffer a faint in the middle of the court or a confused attack in the middle of the goal, and that not even sitting on the bench is exempt from a tachycardia, vomiting or an unbearable migraine. Unusual visitors to this inhospitable territory that is 3,640 meters above sea level are exposed to all this. That monster that also plays in green faces Colombia this thursday at the qualifying for the Qatar World Cup.

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There is no escape. The tie marks with an X that tortuous journey to the height of La Paz. No matter the complaints or the regrets or the subsequent nightmares. You have to play there, where you don’t always lose, but where it costs a lot to win, and run and breathe. That is why each team that visits La Paz concentrates on designing such a rigorous plan that it begins months before traveling and only ends on the plane back, and that seems more like a strategy for survival than for a soccer game. In La Paz, the doctors play with the number 10 jersey.

Colombia, on this occasion, set up its operations center in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which is 416 meters away, to travel to La Paz the day before the game or the same day. That, experts say, minimizes the degree of damage to the body of athletes. The technician Reinaldo RuedaIn addition, he designed a plan with several players accustomed to the height, that of Bogotá, Pachuca (Mexico) or Guarne, in Antioquia. All of this helps when altitude is rival number 12. “Minimizing the impact of altitude is what clubs and national teams do in these cities, to spend the least amount of time so as not to have the impact of height,” said Rueda. .

But nothing is a guarantee. Every time Argentina goes to La Paz, it prepares an arduous medical scheme. And yet in 2013 Angel Di Maria he collapsed and had to receive oxygen on the pitch in front of thousands of spectators and television viewers. And own Lionel Messi threw up in the intermission. Is that the ‘altitude sickness’, that monster with 3,600 heads, does not respect surname or shirt.

Di María receives oxygen in La Paz in 2013.

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In La Paz you don’t just play, in La Paz you suffer. Those who have been there say it. “Height is not easy, it is not a myth, it is a reality. Breathing at altitude was a predominant symptom for us when we went. Several boys from the National Team couldn’t even sleep, it cost us a lot, but we were able to cope with that, “he says. Augustine Julio, who as a goalkeeper for the Colombia National Team lived that drama firsthand, in October 2007. They came out with flying colors. They tied 0-0.

Play against height

Several times Fifa has tried to eradicate high-altitude venues from their calendars, but the mere insinuation raises a lot of ground. In 2007 there was a veto to play at altitudes greater than 3,000 meters, to take care of the health of the footballers, but the Bolivian defense to protect its impregnable headquarters was fierce, a matter of State. The measure was lifted. So La Paz remains the torture of the tie.

Theoretically, what happens when the unaccustomed footballer faces that monster of the height, is that he suffers a deficit of oxygen in the blood.

Alexánder Niño, a former doctor for the Colombian National Team, explained it this way in EL TIEMPO, on the team’s last visit to La Paz: “As there is physical effort, the oxygen deficit increases. Not enough oxygen reaches the muscles and the reaction is not as fast. Low power and the cardiopulmonary part is affected. The player feels fatigued, with tachycardia, and at the brain level loses concentration due to the lack of oxygen. Loses speed of reaction and decision, “he said.

There are footballers who claim not to have felt anything out of the ordinary. There are even teams that risk attacking, running, as Ecuador did on its most recent visit, taking a 2-3 victory. Others prefer prudence. Argentina, which lost 6-1 there in 2009, has a lot of respect for it. This time he played to hold and won. But nobody can be trusted. In 2004 the Colombian National Team Francisco Maturana he wanted to attack and took four goals. That is why drawing there is not always a bad result. Especially since that is a game that sometimes starts to lose before playing it.

Ferreira stayed hand in hand with the goalkeeper and told us that he did not know what to do because the amount of oxygen that went up to his brain was not enough to make an adequate decision

Agustín Julio has a clear memory, he seems to be feeling now the suffocation, the headache.

“Upon arrival at the hotel that night it was stormy, because more than one of the players had to sleep with oxygen, suffer that impasse. Personally, I had a migraine before the game started, very difficult, so much so that at the end there was a play in which (David) Ferreira was hand in hand with the goalkeeper and told us that he did not know what to do because the amount of oxygen that going up to the brain was not enough to make a proper decision, “says Julio.

The former defender Carlos Valdes He was also there with the Colombian National Team. He also suffered from the inclemencies of the altitude. Consider that there is a mental factor that makes everything even more difficult. “You always hear how difficult it is to play in La Paz, the feeling of feeling like you’re short of breath. Sometimes everything that is said manages to suggest you and works against it. At the airport, everywhere in La Paz there are oxygen tanks to assist people. That makes it a bit scarier to have to play 90 minutes there. And in the field you feel the lack of oxygen, but I think that the challenge, beyond the preparation, is mental ”, he says.

Viagra, oxygen, and other aids

The teams that arrive in La Paz no longer arrive drinking mate or very smiling; They do it with face masks in their mouths and exhausted looks without having started the real battle. The campuses carry extra oxygen, there are tubes watered in the visiting dressing room of Hernando Siles and some portable tanks arranged near the field. You never know when someone with low oxygen saturation in their blood will cry out, on their knees, for help.

In La Paz, oxygen tanks are as important as wearing a uniform or gloves. They are used in the hotel, after the warm-up, at the start of the game, at halftime and even at the end of the game, or on the way to the airport. Never missing.

In 2017, a very famous image on social networks was the one published by the Brazilian Neymar, in which his colleagues were slumped in a room, still in shorts and each one with his portable tank and mask. “It is inhumane to play in those conditions, field, height, ball … all bad,” Neymar wrote that day.

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Oscar Murillo, the Colombian defender who plays at the height of Pachuca and who could start this Thursday, has already sentenced him, so that his teammates, those who have not gone, are prepared. “You finish and you have to have your oxygen bullet to recover… Before the game you have to be on oxygen, during and after. The height is complicated! ”He said recently on ‘Blu Radio’.

There are other aids that cannot be lacking in the medical kit: sildenafil, which called that says nothing, but its commercial name does attract attention, it is the famous Viagra, whose main function is to treat sexual impotence, but which in the case of visitors to the height, is a strategic ally. The effect of Viagra, according to the doctor Niño at the time, is that it is a drug that helps treat pulmonary hypertension problems, which are common in visitors at altitude, since the pulmonary arteries dilate due to oxygen deficiency . Several clubs have come to his aid. Did San Lorenzo from Argentina in 2014, or Blooming himself, who is from Bolivia but not tall.

In a 2017 Copa Libertadores match, River Plate he chose to prepare a special mixture for his footballers: Viagra, aspirin and caffeine. The cocktail helped them counteract the lack of oxygen in Oruro, a Bolivian city at 3,700 meters. It was a precaution that was accompanied by the sports strategy, so that nothing would fail in that meeting.

River lost 2-0 …

But if it is about oxygen, a help that the Colombian National Team had in 2007 under the technical direction of Jorge luis pinto was that of the famous hypoxic chambers, a training tool for the body to improve its functioning during competitions in cities with altitudes equal to or greater than 2,000 meters above sea level, such as Bogotá or La Paz. Its effect is that the body artificially acquires more red blood cells to facilitate the transport of oxygen in the blood.

Colombia selection

Jorge Bermúdez, at the La Paz airport, in 2000.

The methods are varied. In fact, it is also said that the coca leaf is a good alternative to avoid altitude sickness, since it contains glubolin, which improves blood circulation. What happens is that its use is not authorized in athletes, yes for other mortals. Pope Francis asked the authorities for the famous coca leaf to chew on, as soon as he set foot in Bolivia.

Already on the court, it is known that the ball runs more, that it is not reached, that going after it is like going on an uphill field. But for many years there was a myth that in La Paz the balloons were inflated with helium and not with air, this to increase, even more, the speed, due to the lower atmospheric pressure. Thus, the ball would bounce more and take unusual effects. What a problem for archers.

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In a note from EL TIEMPO in 2003, for a National Team match in Bolivia, it is stated: “Goalkeeper Oscar Córdoba was so restless with the story that here they inflate the ball with helium, that Gustavo Moreno Jaramillo, manager of the National Team He managed to get the Brazilian referee team to arrive with deflated balls in his dressing room, so that they could breathe them in, then weigh and mark them. For that he convinced the Uruguayan Juan Daniel Cardelino, the referee inspector ”.

Height is a reality, not a myth. More when we talk about La Paz, Cerro de Pasco, etc. The well-trained player must race in La Paz. The one that does not, logically does not yield.

In any case, there are those who think that although height also plays, the most important thing is to be well prepared, well trained. “Height is a reality, not a myth. More when we talk about La Paz, Cerro de Pasco, etc. The well-trained player must race in La Paz. The one that does not, logically does not yield. For me it is playing and understanding football well ”, says the experienced physical trainer and coach, Diego Barragán, who visited that territory nine times. “I lost only one,” he says proudly.

The time has come for Colombia to face that dreaded territory again. There is no shortcut, you have to face it. The plan has already been made, the precautions go in the luggage, and in the head of each player. The monster already roars, overwhelms, scares, but there is still football, and medical tricks, to fight the war in La Paz.

Editor of EL TIEMPO

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