Australia and Argentina have criticised Fifa for scheduling their last-16 match only three days after their final World Cup group games, saying the short turnaround treats players like “robots”.
The Socceroos defeated Denmark on Wednesday night and now face a high-profile knockout clash with Lionel Messi and Argentina on Saturday at 10pm local time.
Argentina have even less time to recover, having played their 2-0 win against Poland from 10pm – four hours after Australia’s 6pm kick-off against Denmark – in a situation described as “crazy” by their coach, Lionel Scaloni.
At Russia 2018, teams who qualified for the knockout stages were given at least four days between their last group game to and the last 16.
“How can the Fifa organisation [do this] at such a high-prestige tournament,” said the Socceroos assistant coach, René Meulensteen. “The four-day turnovers were already short, and after the group stages they go even shorter. If you want high-quality performance in a World Cup, you think could they have managed it slightly differently.
“It’s also the same for the other team, I have to say that. But we’ve got almost no time to let it all sink in. It’s recovery, recovery and getting their brains ready again for that challenge.”
Both teams played their three group matches four days apart as part of Qatar 2022’s condensed timetable of 29 days – three fewer than were used to stage the 2018 tournament and Brazil 2014.
The regular 32-day schedule utilising five full weekends was not available because of the compromise Fifa made with European leagues and clubs when it dropped the tournament into the middle of their domestic seasons to avoid Qatar’s oppressive summer heat.
The unusual November-December slot also means clubs did not release their players until a week before the first match – a significant decrease from the extended preparation afforded to national teams in the lead-up to previous instalments.
In 2018 Australia had members of its squad in a pre-tournament camp in Turkey more than a month before the tournament and then made the short flight to Russia five days before their first fixture against France.
This time around, some had played for their clubs less than seven days before their opening World Cup fixtures. The unique circumstances prompted the international players’ union, Fifpro, to warn the accumulated workload – along with the hot conditions – created an unprecedented injury risk.
“It’s something Fifa needs to consider, that we’re not robots, that we are humans and that we do need to recover,” said the Socceroos defender Miloš Degenek. “That we can’t just play day after day. You know, we need a break as well.
“And not just me, [it’s] especially the boys who played three in a row, they have a short turnaround now again.”
Scaloni, too, was critical after Wednesday’s late-night result, which confirmed Argentina’s progression as winners of Group C and set up the date with Australia – Group D’s runners-up.
“Today we are happy but not euphoric, because I think it’s crazy we are playing in just over two days,” he said. “I can’t really understand this. It’s almost 1am, tomorrow is Thursday. We could have had more rest.
“I want to make it clear that it doesn’t seem right to me that we have just two and a half days of rest after being first in the group. These conditions aren’t great.”