Preparing to face the world

What is the ideal way to prepare for a FIFA finals tournament? It is a question that consistently provokes a whole host of contrasting replies. Is it advantageous to test yourself against top opposition, which has obvious pluses but carries the risk of fatiguing players ahead of the competition itself? Or is taking on less taxing adversaries a superior alternative?

The questions continue. When is the ideal time to arrive in the host nation? Is it best to acclimatise in a neighbouring country before? Is heading straight to the venue of your first match beneficial? With so many questions, looks to the participating teams of the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 for the answers.

Early check-ins
USA were the first visiting side to arrive in China PR, touching down on 28 August, 14 days before their curtain-raiser against Korea DPR. The two-time champions elected to head to Shanghai initially, before making the trip to Chengdu on 6 September, the day after their opening rivals pulled up in the city from Beijing.

"The main reason we are here early is to get adjusted to the time zone differences," said USA head coach Greg Ryan prior to the departure for Chengdu. "There is 15 hours' difference from LA where we departed from, so we're doing everything we can to speed up that process. The other thing is just to get settled, get used to the conditions, the heat, the humidity and the rain, so we can be training in the same conditions we're going to be playing in. We have more time zones to travel than most of the other countries so that puts us here a bit early."

Ryan also explained the decision to avoid going directly to Chengdu. "In Shanghai we have a very good training facility at Shenhau FC and we also wanted to give the players some variety, a change of locations, to see different parts of China." England, meanwhile, chose to spend two weeks acclimatising in Macau, just off the southeast coast of mainland China, before heading for Shanghai on 3 September.

Ghana were also eager to settle into their temporary surroundings early, entering Chinese borders one day after USA. Argentina arrived on the same day as England, 3 September, one day ahead of Brazil and two before Australia and Nigeria.

Big tests or big wins?
A number of teams will go into the three-week festival of football having competed against one another in the month leading up to the big kick-off. Sweden edged Denmark in a friendly, China PR lost two close games to Australia before narrowly overcoming England, and Brazil, who defeated a formidable club side in Sweden's Umea, were beaten by Japan.

The Japanese also played out a goalless draw with Canada, and the Canucks' head coach believes testing themselves against tough opposition will serve his troops well. "This game served as an almost perfect tune-up for the World Cup," said Even Pellerud.

Some of the aforementioned outfits also chose to compete against non-China 2007 qualifiers, and will hope the confidence gained from their resounding victories will imbue confidence. Australia undid both Hong Kong and Chinese Tapei by seven-goal margins, Japan brushed aside Vietnam and Thailand by 8-0 and 5-0 scorelines respectively, and USA claimed a big win over Finland.

Korea DPR, who will meet USA in their opener on 11 September, will also tee off their campaign having recorded morale-boosting successes. Chinese Tapei fell to a 6-0 defeat against the Koreans, who then put 19 unanswered goals past Hong Kong to book their place at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008.

Eleven months before the Olympic Games begin, though, the eyes of the watching world will be fixed on another event taking place on Chinese soil. Only time will tell which of the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007's 16 sides have come best-prepared.