Apart from the footballing challenge that awaits them, most the teams visiting Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup 2008 face the task of adapting to the change in time zone and chilly temperatures in the host country.
Playing in the Land of the Rising Sun at this time of year, especially for a tournament as important as the FIFA Club World Cup, is not something participants can afford to take lightly. Visiting teams can expect a warm and generous reception from their Japanese hosts, but also awaiting them will be chilly temperatures and problems posed by time zone changes, making anything but the most meticulous of preparation very risky.
The first sides to experience the conditions in Tokyo were southern hemisphere clubs, Adelaide United and Waitakere United. Hailing from Australia and New Zealand respectively, they swapped the warm weather of their early summers for a wintry chill and temperatures that have not risen above 12ºC.
Speaking before his side's victory over Waitakere, Adelaide coach Aurelio Vidmar had this to say about thier preparations: "We're used to playing in Japan, having come here twice in the AFC Champions League for our games against Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka." Their win on Thursday means the Australians have a chance to settle a score in the quarter-finals against Osaka, who beat them only last month in the final of Asia's premier club competition.
Despite Waitakere's assiduous preparations and extended acclimatisation, compared with the previous edition, they were still unable to conjure up a victory. "We prepared well. We had an additional week in which we trained hard and got better acclimatised," said their coach Chris Milicich.
Experience the key?
Another side to learn from their mistakes in 2007 are Mexico's Pachuca, who have undergone more extensive localised conditioning ahead of this year's event. The Tuzos decided to come to the Japanese capital to get used to the city's weather and time zone several days ahead of their quarter-final with Egypt's Al Ahly. Their build-up has even included several friendly games against local opposition.
"The acclimatisation is going well. For us it's very important to be capable of playing well in our first game, as only that way can we progress in the tournament. The cold is not affecting us and none of the players have any major concerns," said Pachuca coach Enrique Meza in the build-up his side's opening game in Tokyo's National Stadium.
The Mexican side's opponents, Al Ahly, also claim to be unperturbed by the cold weather despite coming from Cairo, where average temperatures are in the 20s at this time of year. Moreover, they will have been heartened by the words of Japan's Egyptian ambassador, Kaoru Ishikawa, who told the side before departing to "expect very cold weather at this time of year, but also to be warmed by the spirits of your Japanese hosts."
For all that, the Egyptians are no strangers to the Far East, having also competed at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in 2005 and 2006. "No, the cold does not concern us. We'll give everything we've got to try and put in a good performance," said Manuel Jose, the team's Portuguese coach.
Last but not least, the favourites
For their part, Liga de Quito will be making their FIFA Club World Cup debut this year, which explains why coach Edgardo Bauza has brought forward his side's arrival by six days to allow for ample acclimatisation ahead of their meeting with the winners' of Pachuca-Al Ahly. "Liga will be in good shape for that game, with enough match sharpness to put on a good show" the coach said.
Last to touch down in Japan will be Manchester United. Preceding match commitments will only allow the Red Devils four days preparation ahead of their 18 December semi-final against the winners of Gamba Osaka-Adelaide United. Time will tell if that is enough, even for the European champions.