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Ramadan a challenge for Muslim World Cup players

Published:Tuesday | June 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In this Saturday, June 9, 2018 file photo, Tunisia's head coach Nabil Maloul (left) speaks with Yassine Meriah, who drinks water during a friendly match against Spain in Krasnodar, Russia.

GROZNY, Russia (AP):

Normally, footballers feigning injury is nothing new. This time it is.

For Tunisia players, their goalkeeper slumping to the ground and causing an extended break in play during World Cup warm-up games was a precious chance to drink water and eat food for the first time in more than 12 hours.

Ramadan, the holy month that requires Muslims to fast and refrain from drinking or eating from sunrise to sunset, has posed serious challenges for some of the teams in their build-up to the World Cup in Russia.

Tunisia had a plan.

Twice in recent weeks, goalkeeper Mouez Hassen fell to the ground during games, apparently exaggerating an injury, to allow his teammates to make their way to the sidelines, where back room staff offered water bottles and passed out containers holding dates.

Water and dates are the traditional Muslim way to break the fast during Ramadan. For the players, it also allowed them to get desperately-needed sustenance having not eaten or drunk the entire day of the game.

Tunisia needed the break during the evening game because the day's fast ended while they were playing. So, Hassen had to time his 'injury' just right - when he was certain the sun had gone down and the players were allowed to drink and eat again. On both occasions in the friendly games against Portugal and Turkey, sunset came early in the second half, leading Hassen to do his thing and the Tunisia players to seize the chance to refuel.

Tunisia is not the only World Cup team affected by Ramadan. All five of Africa's qualifiers - Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal and Nigeria - have Muslim players in addition to Saudi Arabia and Iran, who are also in the World Cup.

Two of the highest profile players from Africa - Mohamed Salah of Egypt and Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane of Senegal - are Muslims.


Big challenge


Ramadan is "a very big challenge and it's complicated," Egypt team doctor Mohamed Abouelela told The Associated Press in an interview.

And it's not just warm-up games, but training and general preparations.

"We have to change everything, sleeping patterns and the number of meals (players eat) since we will just have a six or seven-hour window during which we must have a good training (session) and at least two meals," Abouelela said.

Ramadan started in mid-May, meaning it affected teams for a month before the World Cup. It's due to end Thursday evening, the same day the World Cup kicks off with Russia versus Saudi Arabia. Egypt and Morocco both play their first games on Friday.

"We will have a very big problem of adaptation because we will be playing the first day after fasting (for a month)," said Abouelela.