RIO DE JANEIRO: Young, fresh legs can play a significant role in this World Cup on the evidence of the opening matches writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Gerard Houiller, former France manager who heads up FIFA’s technical study group at the World Cup, picked up on a Spanish eakness already noted by Holland coach Louis Van Gaal.

In the wake of Holland’s 5-1 demolition of holders Spain in Group B on Friday, Van Gaal had remarked that La Liga is the latest of all Europe’s major league to conclude and that Real Madrid’s players had then had the added mental and physical stress of the Champions League Final.

Houllier echoed the underlying issue in a morning post-mortem of events the night before.

He said: “Freshness is a key criteria and ingredient for success in a big competition . . . because speed and power combined with a high level of skill plays an important part in a big competition.

“Fortunately [for the World Cup], apart from the teams that played the Champions League Final, all the teams had time to recover properly.

“But a number of players from Spain [Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Diego Costa] had played the final which was a nerve-breaking type of final which drains a lot of your energy.

“Maybe next time they’ll be better. Remember, Spain also lost their first game in South Africa and still finished as as champions so you never know what’s going to happen.”

Video replays

Houllier welcomed FIFA’s readiness, at least, to study the validity of new ideas such as video replays to assist referees. This had been suggested by FIFA president Sepp Blatter earlier in the week and had been justified, possibly, by controversial decisions in Brazil’s win over Croatia and Mexico’s defeat of Ivory Coast.

Houllier said: “It shows that FIFA has an open view on everything. For example, we are now using goal-line technology after what happened between Germany and England at the last World Cup so FIFA has made a decisive step forward in that respect.

“The FIFA president wanted to say that it was open to any kind of thoughts and there is a decision to be made in the next years.”

Houllier also approved the use of vanishing spray to hold a defensive wall in place and predicted that this would lead to an increase in the number of goals being scored direct from free kicks.

Other issues

Local World Cup organisers indicated that searches of fans would become more rigorous after the explosion of several fireworks at matches.

FIFA also confirmed that yellow cards will be ‘wiped’ after the quarter-finals. This would avert any reptition of the incident at the 2002 finals when Germany’s Michael Ballack missed the Final after collecting a second yellow card in the semi-final.