Danish and Dutch suffer at high altitude

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JOHANNESBURG - Dutch and Danish players were united on Monday in their belief that playing at an altitude of 5,750 feet (1,753 metres) had a big impact on their poor opening Group E match at Johannesburg's Soccer City.

The game, played in warm weather under clear blue skies and ended in a 2-0 win for the Dutch, was a slow, stop-start spectacle for more than 83,000 fans in the stadium which is hosting eight matches in the tournament including the final on July 11.

The match was the third at high altitude in Johannesburg but the players of South Africa and Mexico who drew 1-1 in the tournament's opener on Friday made no reference to it as they were more used to the conditions.

The high altitude of Argentina's match against Nigeria at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday did not seem to bother those players either.

LOW-LYING

However the first match between two European teams, and those from low-lying countries at that, did have an effect, according to Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt who scored his team's second goal five minutes from time.

The Dutch went ahead through a Daniel Agger own goal in the first minute of the second half.

"Both teams had to adjust to the higher altitude which was different," Kuyt told reporters when asked to explain why the first half especially was so poor.

He agreed the match was not a great spectacle for the fans, adding "that had everything to do with the altitude."

Netherlands skipper Giovanni van Bronckhorst, winning his 100th cap, said he could not understand why they struggled to cope after three weeks of high altitude training, with two weeks in Austria and a week in South Africa.

"The first half was very tough, I felt strange and had a dry mouth all the time - but it improved after the break," Van Bronckhorst told Reuters.

Denmark defender Daniel Agger confirmed that it was harder to cope in the conditions and that the players were being economical with the amount of running they did, thinking ahead about when to put pressure on an opponent.

"I'm exhausted," he said. "I thought we played really well in the first half, but in the second half, after they scored, they could relax, play with the ball on the ground, and we had to do all the running."

THINNER AIR

Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen said that the higher altitude and thinner air influenced the flight of the ball.

"You feel you are breathing a bit heavier," he said. "But the main difference for me is that the ball comes out quicker.

"It's harder to control, but that's what the teams have to deal with, and whoever deals with it the best may get to the final.

"Most of the games are played up here, so you're not going to win if you can't deal with it. The ball is tricky and not just for the keepers but for all the players."

Netherlands will play the matches against Japan and Cameroon at sea level, while the Danes will stay at a higher altitude with matches in Pretoria and Rustenburg.

Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban, three of the nine venues being used are at sea level, but the six others are at high altitude.

Johannesburg is the highest venue, followed by Nelspruit (1741 metres/5700 feet), Rustenburg (1500 metres/4900 feet)), Blomfontein (1400 metres/4600 feet)), Pretoria (1370 metres/4500 feet) and Polokwane (1312 metres/4300 feet).

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