TORONTO - Tropical beaches. Warm ocean breezes. Sun-baked grasslands where the giraffes frolic.
That is the popular notion of what conditions in South Africa might be like when 32 teams congregate this month for the World Cup.
In reality, it will be far from that.
“It’s really cold here at night, Zize. Bring a winter coat and sweaters,” Canadian Soccer Association general secretary Peter Montopoli advised in an e-mail.
Montopoli has spent the past few days in the World Cup venue of Rustenburg which, like fellow venues Polokwane, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg, are situated more than a mile above sea level.
Because the tournament is being played in the southern hemisphere for the first time since Argentina played host in 1978, South Africa finds itself in the middle of its winter.
South African winters, for the most part, are mild. But in some venues, thanks to a combination of wind and altitude, teams could find themselves playing in freezing temperatures during night games.
Altitude could be even more of a factor. Only twice has the World Cup been played at higher elevations, those both occurring in Mexico during the 1970 and 1986 tournaments.
Some teams strategically prepared for South Africa 2010 by holding their World Cup training camps in similar conditions, both in terms of climate and altitude. Both Italy and Portugal held their training camps in the mountains of their respective countries, hoping to get accustomed for what awaits in South Africa.