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A Game Apart

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Nation-by-Nation guide to the World Cup Training Camps

NEAL COLLINS is a sports writer who has made frequent trips to South Africa in the build up to Africa’s first World Cup. During the England cricket tour over Christmas he visited many of the camps chosen by the 32 qualifying nations to prepare for the tournament and was able to visit most of the major venues, including Soccer City, venue for the final on July 11.

He was the first British journalist to visit England’s Rustenburg training camp and discovered Germany had only just realised they needed a training ground at Velmore in January – when they started digging a football[-pitch sized hole! He has even written a novel about his experiences as a footballer and journalist in South Africa under apartheid during the 1980s called A GAME APART in which he explains just how miraculous it is that the Rainbow Nation can host the world’s greatest footballing event so soon after Apartheid.

In this guide to the official World Cup camps announced by FIFA this week, he points out: “Remember, altitude could be the vital factor. Games in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Rustenburg, Bloemfontein and Polokwane will be played at around 1500m or 5,000 feet, the height of the average European ski resort. The air is thin, and acclimatisation is vital. Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town are, obviously, at sea level, Nelspruit lies somewhere in between.

“As a teenager based in Pretoria, I found I could run forever if we went on tour to Durban or Cape Town at sea level. You had more red blood cells. But when they came to play us, they felt breathless and tired easily.

“Many of Britain’s finest middle distance athletes – Seb Coe and Kelly Holmes among them - have trained at high altitude in Johannesburg as they are able to perform far better when they return to sea level. Their blood is highly oxygenated after pushing themselves in the thin air of the appropriately-named Highveld.

“Rugby coaches who visit South Africa regularly know that training at altitude is the key. Sir Clive Woodward has passed on that kind of information to the FA. You can pop down to sea level without losing your conditioning. Then return to altitude. That preparation could be the key to this World Cup.”

With that key factor in mind, not to mention the 1,067 miles between Cape Town (where it rains in winter) in the south and Polokwane (where it is bone dry in the middle of the year) in the north, here is your nation-by-nation guide to the World Cup bases...

Algeria, Zimbali Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal

Strange one this. They’re playing Slovenia in far-off Polokwane and the USA in Pretoria at altitude, either side of their game against England in Cape Town at sea level. Yet they looked at Mthatha in the Transkei and East London further south... and have ended up in Zimbali, 30 miles north of Durban. It will be hotter and more humid there than anywhere else. Algeria only squeezed past Egypt in a controversial play-off... on the face of it, their choice of training camp will not help their cause in a tough Group C.

Verdict: They’ve got it all wrong, on all fronts: 4

Argentina, High Performance Centre, Pretoria

This is where England’s cricket performance squad train. I was there in December, great venue, everything a sports person needs. The Swedish women’s swimming team were there the same time as the cricketers, which they apparently quite enjoyed. Many top athletes choose the venue in Hatfield, one of central Pretoria’s better suburbs, for their high altitude training. Diego Maradona had a look in January and said he loved it. There have been complaints since though, and the centre is traditionally filled with cricketers and rugby players. Given they play all their games at altitude – two in Johannesburg, one in Polokwane, altitude was a must.

Verdict: Pretty close to perfect, ask our cricketers: 8

Australia, Kloofzicht Lodge, Muldersdrift

Lovely area this. Muldersdrift, Gorgeous resort near the newly-built Cradle of Mankind tourist hub. I’ve been and seen plenty of facilities for fly fishing, walking, and they’ve even got their own brewery. But as for football... not many international-class pitches around the area, which is about 40 minutes away from Centurion and Sandton but close to Lanseria airport, which should make transport easy. The Socceroos kick off in Durban at sea level against Germany but will be back at altitude for Ghana in Rustenburg and Serbia at Nelspruit, where they’ve just relaid the surface for a third time.

Verdict: They’ll be comfortable: 7

Brazil, Fairways Hotel, Randburg

The Brazilians were looking at neighbouring nations Namibia and Zimbabwe in their long search for a base...FIFA had them based in Cape Town but in reality  they’ve ended up in Johannesburg, a far wiser plan. It’s a five-star hotel with golf course, neatly situated for their two games in Johannesburg. Their opening two games against North Korea and Ivory Coast are both local, at Ellis Park and Soccer City... and their final Group G game is in Durban against Portugal. All close to 800 miles away. And after their 2-0 win over Ireland at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium at the start of March, they look like one of the sides to beat. But then, it was ever thus.

Verdict : Ended up in the right place: 7


Cameroon, Oyster Box, KwaZulu-Natal

The rebuilt Oyster Box housed England during their cricket tour over Christmas, it’s a fabulous hotel about 10 miles north of Durban in a popular seaside resort called Umhlanga Rocks. Perfect for getting to the impressive new Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, but they’re not actually playing there. British people can swim here in mid-winter, but I doubt the Cameroonians will be interested in the ocean. T or the nearby National Sharks Board. They’ve got Group E matches in Bloemfontein (Japan), Pretoria (Denmark) and Cape Town (Holland) to worry about. Durban will do them no good at all.

Verdict: Umhlanga’s great, but nowhere near where they need to be: 5

Chile, Ingwenyama Conference Centre, Mpumalanga

A bit of a coup for Chile this. They’re up near newly-fashionable White River and not far from the world famous Kruger Park, a game reserve the size of Britain. Forget all that. This is a sports and team-building centre of excellence, right up there with the best at this World Cup. The only problem? It’s a bit remote and it’s in the lowveld, about half as high as Johannesburg. Their first game is in nearby Nelspruit, then they go down to Port Elizabeth and finish their Group H fixtures against Spain in Pretoria. They’ll need more than a nice training camp to see off the European champions.

Verdict: Impressive choice, good for pre-game game: 8

Denmark, Simola Hotel Country Club, Knysna

Knysna is one of the most sought after coastal resorts in South Africa, along the picturesque Garden Route between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Great beaches, fabulous golf courses... but not a football club in sight. The hotel is a five-star beauty with swimming pools and golf course... but they’ll have to travel for a decent training pitch. Even if they find one, for the Great Danes, this is a strange choice. Lovely views from Simola... but they all distinctly oceanic. Their Group E games against Holland, Cameroon and Japan are in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Rustenburg, all at around 5,000 feet.

Verdict: Hope they take the oxygen tanks with them: 4

England, Bafokeng Sports Campus, Rustenburg

You’ve probably heard all you need to about this one. One of the highest altitude camp in the world at 1200m, still under construction, but purpose-built for Fabio Capello before they open it up for the rugby teams, athletes and swimmers in 2013. This was all planned 18 months ago, and England – incredibly – got the perfect draw in Group C with an opening game against the USA in Rustenburg. Then it’s off to Cape Town and Port Elizabeth... but back to Rustenburg’s Soccer Palace stadium for their first knock-out game if they win the group.

Verdict: If it’s finished as promised: 9

France, Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa, Knysna

Already talked about Knysna being a lovely town and the French have been all over it preparing their camp. Pezula is an incredible resort, with great views, lovely climate, a championship golf course, swimming, spa, luxury. Wonderful. Everything Fabio Capello appears to eschew. They start off their Group A campaign against Uruguay in Cape Town, a 40-minute flight away. Then they’ve got Mexico at high altitude Polokwane and hosts South Africa in Bloemfontein.

Verdict: Not a bad French connection: 7

Germany, Velmore Estate, Centurion

Velmore is another of those luxury bases in the middle of nowhere. About ten minutes outside the Erasmia between Pretoria and Centurion, it’s a brand new luxury hotel, perfect for weddings. On our two visits there, we saw no sign of German speaking staff though officials have been out several times. The staff aren’;t used to a full hotel but it will be heaving in June. Strangely, they only began building a football pitch out the back next to the Hennops River in January. It should be ready for Michael Ballack and Co by June... but only just. Has a nice Spa, the best cheese shop in the area down the road – and should be fine for their tough Group D (that’s D for Death) matches in Durban, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.

Verdict: Typically efficient choice: 6

Ghana, Rhoode Valley, Pretoria

Interesting choice for Michael Essien and the lads. Known as “The Black Stars”, they were originally headed for Mpumalanga with Chile, then for Pretoria, next to the Argentinians at the local university. Officially, they’ve ended up a thousand miles away in the Eastern Cape at sea level. I think FIFA meant the Roode Valley north of Pretoria. Some confusion perhaps? Again, they’re in tough Group D, the “Black Stars” will be the popular choice locally to emerge after games neatly localised in Pretoria, Rustenburg and Johannesburg against Serbia, Australia and Germany. Certainly Pretoria makes more sense given their fixture list.

Verdict: Nicely positioned, good outside bet: 6

Greece, Beverly Hills Hotel, Umhlanga

The Greeks will be based right next to Cameroon in this luxury high-rise hotel in Umhlanga, north of Durban. This is where the rugby Springboks stay before playing at King’s Park, the giant rugby arena next to the Moses Mabhida stadium. Umhlanga is a lovely resort, warm and comfortable even in winter. But given their Group B games take them to Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein and Polokwane, it’s another strange choice. Still, they may return to Durban for the semi-finals. But it’s a long shot!

Verdict: It’s all Greek to me: 6

Honduras, The Indaba Hotel, Johannesburg

Forget all you’ve heard about Joburg. It ain’t that bad. During the cricket tour in January, I went out in the city centre with some old university mates and had a great time. And anyway, Honduras are a tough bunch and their luxury four-star hotel with spa is closer to Sandton than the old gold mining hub. Indaba is an Africa word meaning “meeting” or “conversation”. Plenty of that will be needed if they are to emerge from Group H after games against Chile, Spain and Switzerland in Nelspruit, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein.

Verdict: Low cost option, well thought out: 6

Italy, Leriba Lodge, Centurion

The Italians stayed at Leriba, in the middle of Centurion, for the Confederations Cup last year. They obviously like it, they’re back. They’ll be training at the nearby Zwartkops Hoer School, where a special pitch has been laid for the Italians and the New Zealand All Blacks when they come over for Tri-Nations games. Leriba doesn’t look much from the outside, but it’s a luxury lodge with a spa... and they’re busily renovating the place as I write. Italy have experience of playing at altitude in South Africa and there are plenty of Italians in the Rainbow Nation to support them in their Group F matches in Cape Town, Nelspruit and Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

Verdict: Worked for the Confederations Cup: 7

Ivory Coast, Riverside Hotel & Conference, Vaal, Gauteng

The 1997 Lions under Fran Cotton stayed at the Riverside. Lovely place. The Vaal is not your typical African river, it dominates the area like a brown Amazon and provides a warmer, moist microclimate in an area where it never rains in winter. Didier Drogba and Co may think they’re secluded an hour from Johannesburg, but the locals will be all over their training as they prepare for Group G games in Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Nelspruit. With Brazil and Portugal in their group, they’ll need all the help they can get.

Verdict: Interesting choice, if they get the transport right: 7

Japan, Fancourt Hotel & Country Club, George

Ernie Els will be the best-known neighbour for the Japanese on this tremendous golf course estate – George is near Knysna and nearly as beautiful on the Garden Route. Their Group D travels will take the Japanese to Bloemfontein, Durban and Rustenburg, all at least an hour’s flight away. But hey, they’ll be able to lower their handicap if nothing else as they attempt to squeeze past Holland, Denmark and Cameroon for a place in the knock-out stages.

Verdict: Off to a tee but a fairway to go: 7

Mexico, Thaba Ya Batswana, Johannesburg

The Mexicans have based themselves at an eco-lodge in the Klipriviersberg nature reserve near Johannesburg. Lovely. They even have Green Days, probably more to do with saving the planet than saving Mexico, who happen to wear the right colour. They’ll train at the nearby football club and play in the opener against hosts South Africa at nearby Soccer City. That’s followed by France at Polokwane and Uruguay in Rustenburg. All in the near-vicinity. Keep an eye on the Mexicans if they emerge from Group A. They’re used to these conditions.

Verdict: Eco-friendly, Mexico-friendly: 8

Holland, Hilton, Sandton

Lots of criticism of the Dutch for choosing downtown Sandton as their base. But it’s near the Sandton Sun where our cricketers always feel at home. They’ll be training at Milpark, the home of local Premier League club Wits University. Apparently they’ve asked to do most of their preparation on the rugby pitch next door because they’re worried about the main motorway between Johannesburg and Pretoria overlooking their sessions. Unfortunately the University residences overlook the rugby pitch. And the Dutch fans have booked dozens of rooms to spy on their own team.

Verdict: Better than it looks: 8

New Zealand, Serengeti Estate, Gauteng

A dramatically good choice. Located on the N51 which links Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Oliver Tambo international airport, the Kiwis have got the perfect position for their long-awaited assault on the World Cup. It’s a brand new development, secure, glittering, luxurious, a combination of golf course and game park. They may have a bunch of lower league players in their squad with Blackburn’s Ryan Nelsen but if preparation wins tournaments, the All Whites have got a chance. They need to be at altitude for Group D games in Rustenburg, Nelspruit and Polokwane against Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay

Verdict: Location, location, location: 8

Nigeria, Hampshire Hotel, Ballito

Based in Ballito Bay, further north of Durban than Umhlanga, this will be one of the warmest, most humid of the training camps. Lovely coastal holiday resort, not sure about the place as a venue for an international football team in the middle of winter. Hotel looks nice enough and there are plenty of local grounds. They open up with a fascinating clash against Argentina in Johannesburg, then Greece in Bloemfontein and finally, for the side so lucky to slip through qualifying at the last minute, they face Korea in Durban, about half-an-hour south.

Verdict: Nice waves, poor choice: 6

North Korea, Protea Hotel Midrand, Johannesburg

Low cost option for the last of the Communist strongholds. The Protea is the kind of place ordinary families would stay – based in Midrand, which as the name suggests, is the sprawling area between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Older readers will remember when North Korea last played in the World Cup – in England in 1966 they were based in Middlesbrough. This is much the same. They face Brazil in at Ellis Park, Portugal in Cape Town, Ivory Coast in Nelspruit. Yup, Group G won’t be easy.

Verdict: Budget option, as expected: 6

Paraguay, Woodridge Country Estate, KwaZulu-Natal

This one’s up in near the Drakensburg mountains inland from Durban, where the surfers go for their holidays. It’s a world of fly fishing and Zulu dancing in what Durbanites still call the Midlands. Not far from Pietermaritzburg, birth place of the legendary Kevinn Pietersen. Oh, there’s golf and horse riding. No mention of football. Not much night life for the Paraguayans there either. But lovely scenery. They face epic journeys in Group F to play Italy in Cape Town, Slovakia in Bloemfontein and New Zealand in Polokwane. Nobody will travel further. Paraguayan fans will find the domestic flights a little pricey if they haven’t booked yet.

Verdict: would have been hard to find anywhere for the trips they have to do: 6

Portugal, Valley Lodge, Gauteng

Here’s what the gumph says: “A tranquil 4-star retreat on the banks of the Magalies River, only an hour from Johannesburg and Pretoria. Idyllic surroundings, with swimming pool, tennis courts, golf centre, gym, bird sanctuary.” And it’s high. Yet the Portuguese play all their games on the coast in Group G. They’ve got Ivory Coast in Port Elizabeth, Korea in Cape Town and finally, the big one. Brazil in Durban. Perhaps they’re preparing for the latter stages at altitude.

Verdict: Far-sighted, as long as they get through the group: 7

Serbia, Sunnyside Park Hotel, Johannesburg

The Serbs have chopped and changed throughout the build up. They were looking at a place in Benoni but switched a week ago, describing it as “a dump” and have ended up in the more plush Sunnyside Park hotel. It’s a four-star urban hotel in well-to-do Parktown east of the commercial capital but like Holland, they will spend most of their time in downtown Johannesburg. Not everyone’s cup of tea. Still, the only travel 30 miles to Loftus Versfeld for their opening game against Ghana on June 13. Their Group D fixtures then take them to Port Elizabeth to play Germany and then nearly 800 miles north to face Australia in Polokwane in the far north of the country.

Verdict: Tough draw for the Serbs, in the right place though: 7

Slovakia, The Villas Luxury Suite Hotel, Pretoria

Slovakia find themselves slap, bang in the middle of Pretoria, opposite the US Embassy, which hasn’t always been the most comfortable of locations. Still, it’s got all the amenities and a local school has spent months preparing their ground for Slovakia’s finest players, not yet household names in South Africa. They may become better known if they survive New Zealand in Rustenburg, 90 minutes away, then Paraguay in Bloemfontein, which is a 400 mile trek, and Italy at Ellis Park, 50 minutes up the N1.

Verdict: Pretty good spot. May see the Argies at night. 7

Slovenia, Hyde Park Southern Sun, Johannesburg

The Slovenians have booked into the brand new Southern Suns hotel in plush Hyde Park, a busy suburb between Sandton and Johannesburg. It’s a state-of-the-art hotel near the Wanderers cricket ground where England were thumped in the last Test of the winter series. They start off with a trip north to play Algeria in Polokwane, then the USA at Ellis Park barely 20 minutes away and finally England, 700 miles away in Port Elizabeth.

Verdict: They’ll be happy, Hyde Park is a busy spot. 7

Spain, NWU Campus, Potchefstroom

The Spanish find themselves camped in Potch, at the centre of excellence where the South African cricketers prepare for their big tours. It’s a university town, not great for nightlife but the facilities will be good with the side staying on campus rather than according to their original plan, staying at the plush Hunters Rest hotel near Rustenburg. The Spanish, European Champions two years ago, are heavily fancied and play Switzerland in Durban, Honduras at Ellis Park in Johannesburg before finishing a suspiciously easy Group F with a clash against Chile at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld, home of rugby’s Super 14 champions, the Blue Bulls.

Verdict: Like England, it’s a sports-friendly environment at altitude: 8

South Africa, Southern Sun Grayston, Sandton

The hosts have made a right hash of this. They were due to stay at the Centre of Excellence in Esselen Park, but are now talking about training at Sandown High School. They switched just a week ago, amid reports that, unbeknown to them, the Esselen Park venue needed “a major upgrade”. And they’re the home team! Still, the hotel looks nice enough. South Africa have it all cut out with that opening clash against Mexico at Soccer City on June 11, then further Group A games against Uruguay in Pretoria and France in Bloemfontein.

Verdict: They’ve made a mess of it but they’ve got Kevin Pienaar: 4

South Korea, Hunters Rest Hotel, Rustenburg

South Korea, joint hosts eight years ago, find themselves where the Spanish were headed. The Hunters Rest is a great spot, but hardly a footballing centre. It’s a 6,000 hectare resort with wildlife and fishing on tap, perfect for “weddings, conferences and relaxation”. Not quite clear where they’ll actually train, though they may rely on a quickly-built training pitch like the Germans at Velmore. They go to Port Elizabeth (Greece), then Johannesburg (Argentina)... and finally Nigeria in Durban.

Verdict: You’ve got to love the Magaliesburg mountains: 7

Switzerland, Emerald Resort & Casino, Vanderbijlpark

Vanderbijlpark was once famous only for its ironworks – it used to be home of Iscor, the local steel manufacturers. But they’ve worked hard on this resort, a combination of Las Vegas and Tarzan, with roulette wheels and thatched roofs on the banks of the mighty Vaal River. Quite a statement from the Swiss really. Gambling in Africa and all that. They’ve got a tough game against Euro 2008 champs Spain in Durban, 400 miles away, to start with. Then Chile in Port Elizabeth and Honduras in Bloemfontein. Still, it’s quite handy for the final at Soccer City. But I can’t quite see that worrying them.

Verdict: They’ve gambled and lost: 6

United States, Irene Country Lodge, Centurion

Lovely place, Irene Lodge. It’s where my dad had his 70th birthday, where my best mate’s sister was married. Lovely lake, you can eat on a deck over the water. They’ll be training at Southdowns, the local private school, on reasonable surfaces. The Yanks will go down in a bomb in Centurion and they are still accused of selling the most tickets for this World Cup, ahead of England and Germany. They start of against England in Rustenburg, about 90 minutes away, then it’s Slovenia at Ellis Park about 45 minutes away in Johannesburg and finally Algeria in neighbouring Pretoria.

Verdict: Perfect choice given the venues: 8

Uruguay, Protea Hotel Kimberley, Kimberley

Strange choice this. Kimberley is a diamond town, famous for its “big hole” mine. And really, Kimberley is just that. A big hole. Not high altitude, not coastal, cold in winter. The hotel is nothing special, but I guess the locals will adopt the Uruguayans, who only got through after a highly-controversial play-off against Costa Rica (think France v Ireland with bells on). Uruguay are drawn in Group A with the hosts, South Africa. But they start against France in Cape Town, then play South Africa in Pretoria and Mexico in Rustenburg. None of those are anywhere near Kimberley, believe me.

Verdict: Strange choice in every way: 4