“It’s inhuman to play in such conditions,” he wrote on Instagram, where he posted a picture of him and several of his teammates using oxygen masks after the game. “The pitch, altitude, ball . . . everything was bad.”
The 25-year-old Paris Saint-Germain star added to laughing emojis, then wrote, “But we’re happy about the team’s performance even under these conditions!”
La Paz sits nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, higher than any other world capital, and for a brief period last decade, FIFA rules prohibited World Cup qualifying matches from being played in locations higher than 8,202 feet above sea level. Buoyed by concerns from some non-Bolivian South American players at the time, in May 2007, FIFA ruled playing matches at such a height was unfair and even medically dangerous for visiting players. However, after protests from Ecuador and Colombia, whose capitals Quito and Bogota sit 9,350 feet and 8,661 feet above sea level, respectively, FIFA revised the ban to exclude only cities above 9,842 feet. That basically left only La Paz hanging in the balance.
Bolivian President Evo Morales called FIFA’s ban “soccer apartheid” and campaigned heavily for FIFA to reverse the order, which the organization did a year later, when it backpedaled on its original concerns over possible adverse health effects.
“The FIFA Medical Committee have recommended that teams must acclimatize properly if they play at high altitude. The Committee wants to examine this, and other extreme playing conditions such as heat, pollution or humidity,” former FIFA President Sepp Blatter said during a May 2008 news conference (via the New York Times). “The Chair of the Medical Committee wishes to consider the wider implications of soccer under extreme conditions, so the Executive Committee has provisionally suspended last year’s decision against playing at altitude.”
FIFA has never reinstated the ban.
The Brazilian team did not arrive in La Paz until hours before the game Thursday, so players did not have much of a chance to acclimatize. This likely played into some of the exhaustion experienced by Neymar and others, including Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus.
Unlike his counterpart, however, Jesus didn’t complain about the conditions after the match, although he noted it was his “first time” playing at such a high altitude.
“To feel it, it’s normal,” Jesus said (via ESPNFC). “We managed to play, set the rhythm. Unfortunately, the ball didn’t go in today.”
He continued: “It’s [time] to rest so that in the next games we can play another good game and score goals. Physically it takes a lot. Possession of the ball is in relation to the field. That wasn’t nice, but we can’t complain. It’s to enter the field and play, to confront problems.”
Brazil is set to host Chile on Tuesday in Sao Paulo.