Socceroos sweat on Tim Cahill recovery for WC playoff vs. Honduras
Tim Cahill's social media output is unlikely to have been monitored as closely as it has been in the days since turning his ankle during Melbourne City's A-League meeting with Sydney FC last Friday.
As Australian fans cross their fingers, hoping their talisman can be available to work his magic again, the Socceroos' medical department has been working overtime with the veteran forward -- he turns 38 next month -- to prepare him for the two legs of the crucial 2018 World Cup playoff with Honduras.
There was surprise in some quarters that coach Ange Postecoglou made the decision to take the former Everton man on the arduous journey to Honduras for the first leg. But football strength and conditioning coach John Kobiela believes the decision could pay off if everything is managed correctly.
"It depends on the severity of the injury," Kobiela, an Australian who works within the Malaysia national system, said. "They've had it scanned and it's seems that there isn't a fracture, so it depends if the damage to the tissue is severe.
"Your legs swell when you travel on a plane, and also there's a 15-hour time difference, so there will be issues to be overcome relating to deep sleep as well. You have to try to bring everything into balance.
"But Tim being Tim, he's tough and he knows he hasn't got much longer left and that this is his last shot at playing at another World Cup. He has such a strong mentality and he will do whatever he can to be involved."
Cahill's recovery will continue to feature regular icing and compression, with the veteran likely to have his ankle encased in a Game Ready dressing designed to allow for cold compression and lymphatic drainage.
But the experience of the team around him will also be key, stresses Kobiela.
"With injuries like this, it's easy to forget the other parts of the body, because they swell as well when you fly," he said.
"You have to be conscious of that, but Les Gelis, the Socceroos' physiotherapist, has been there a long time and has worked with Tim and has all of his historical data.
"He will know him better than anyone and he'll work with him to decide what are the best options. They will have every piece of equipment they can on hand to prepare him."
While Cahill's injury will need to be managed, the bigger issue likely to affect the Sydney-born attacker -- and the entire Socceroos squad -- will be the impact of the lengthy journey and the move across numerous timezones over the course of such a short period of time.
Postecoglou and his Australia-based players, including Cahill, arrived in Honduras at the end of a three-leg, 30-hour journey.
After five days, they will have to fly a similar distance back to Australia for the second leg on Nov. 15. The time between the end of the game in San Pedro Sula and kick off in Sydney will be around 107 hours, during which both teams have to travel halfway around the planet.
Research shows that the biggest single hurdle facing the Socceroos -- apart from Jorge Luis Pinto's Honduran team -- will be the effects of the long-haul trip, and in particular the travel from west to east during that return journey to Sydney.
"Long-haul transmeridian travel can impede team-sport physical performance," said Peter M. Fowler in a study on the effect of long-haul transmeridian travel on player preparedness.
Published earlier this year, Fowler and his associates conducted research on the impact long-distance travel had on the Socceroos during their trip to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
"Specifically, travel east has a greater detrimental effect on sleep, subjective jet-lag, fatigue and motivation," they said. "Consequently, maximal and intermittent-sprint performance is also reduced following travel east, particularly within 72 hours following arrival."
With that in mind, the Socceroos will be keen to ensure they begin the long journey back to Sydney as soon as possible after the final whistle blows at the Estadio Olimpico on Friday evening. They have organised a charter flight from San Pedro Sula, which should see them arrive in Australia well ahead of the Honduran squad, who are flying commercially.
"It will take at least two days to get back on track," Kobiela said. "The players will jump in for a swim at the pool to take the swelling down. It's important to get the mobility back and regain the strength.
"It's a different time zone and when you aren't meant to be sleeping, the body wants to be in a deep sleep and that makes things difficult.
"A lot of the players in Europe are used to dealing with that, and that's really more important than the issue of injuries. There will be more importance placed in preparing the team for that. Craig Duncan and the sports science team will know how to deal with that."
Cahill's enforced absence from the training field could also have a detrimental impact on his fitness. But Kobiela believes the Socceroo's conditioning, coupled with additional fitness work done away from the football field, will keep Cahill sharp.
"Against Syria, Tim played for 120 minutes. To do that as a 37-year-old shows how fit he is," Kobiela said. "He's incredible, his general fitness is good enough.
"If he has recovered from the injury, he can play 90 minutes. It's Tim and he can do whatever he wants."
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch