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How travel & fatigue could harm some teams’ Euro 2020 chances

The last 16 teams of Euro 2020 now know their route to the final at London’s Wembley Stadium, and whether that route goes via Rome, Munich, Baku or Saint Petersburg

With the tournament being held across an entire continent at the end of what, for some players, has effectively been two seasons of non-stop soccer, fatigue and lack of preparation time could influence the outcome of some games.

Last summer’s break was almost non-existent, meaning that some players are being pushed to their limits. According to CIES Football Observatory, since the COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent break in European soccer in spring 2020, players from England’s squad had played an average of 4,442 minutes of games before the start of Euro 2020. Portugal and Germany played the next most minutes, while players from the Netherlands only played 3,927 minutes on average, and those in Belgium’s team played just 3,399 minutes.

Belgium and the Netherlands have also rotated their squads more than most in the group stage matches. Belgium have used 24 players so far, and given at least 45 minutes of soccer to 19 players, while the Netherlands have used 21 players and given 17 players at least 45 minutes of action. Italy and Denmark have rotated their teams the most, and Wales have used the fewest players.

England have rotated their side more than most, in part due to Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell being forced to isolate themselves from the rest of the squad, but while Gareth Southgate’s decision to play Kieran Trippier as a left back surprised fans and pundits, rotating his full-backs could turn out to be a smart move when it comes to match freshness.

Belgium’s fixture against Portugal is one of the more exciting match-ups in the last sixteen, and Belgium will likely be the freshest team going into that match. As well as playing fewer minutes over the last year-or-so, and rotating more than Portugal, they will also have had two full days of extra rest since their last game. Ukraine also have two full days of rest more than their last 16 opponents, Sweden, which could be vital as Ukraine have used fewer players than anyone bar Wales.

Switzerland have three days of rest more than France, but they’ll need that time to catch up on jetlag. By the time they reach Bucharest for their game against France, the combined distance between the cities Switzerland have played in will be over 5,000 miles. That ignores any extra travel to hotels or training camps located elsewhere. France, on the other hand, will have traveled less than 1,000 miles in total.

Austria’s long trips to and from Bucharest could add to the challenge of playing Italy in the next round, while Denmark’s rotation and lack of travel could hand them a small advantage when it comes to their match against Wales, who do have an extra day of rest.

Doesn't include distances to hotels / training camps situated elsewhere.

The long break between the group stage and the knockout rounds means the effect of all this travel won’t be as pronounced as it could be when the tournament reaches its latter stages.

With just three full days between the quarter-finals and semi-finals, those teams who play their quarter-final matches in Rome or Munich could have a slight advantage over anyone playing in Baku or Saint Petersburg.

Should Wales repeat their success of 2016 and reach the semi-finals, they could clock up over 7,000 miles of flights. And if they were somehow to play England, their local rivals should be fresher, having only traveled to Rome and back.

In a tournament of as narrow margins as the European Championships, where many knockout games will go to extra time and there’s little chance to prepare for the next match, all these small advantages and disadvantages add up.

There’s still the randomness of Covid-19 cases, injuries and weather which could all add to fatigue. But well-rested teams that have managed to rotate their sides are better placed to cope with whatever comes their way.