Secret of extra time is in the gel, says expert

England players Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Harry Kane, Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire, Jamie Vardy and John Stones celebrate after Eric Dier of England scores the winning penalty against Colombia. Picture: Getty Images
England players Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Harry Kane, Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire, Jamie Vardy and John Stones celebrate after Eric Dier of England scores the winning penalty against Colombia. Picture: Getty Images
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The result was never in doubt, the England faithful insisted. But Tuesday’s clinching of victory from the jaws of defeat may have been a closer-run thing than anyone cared to admit.

As the euphoria subsided and the build-up to Saturday’s quarter final began, one Yorkshire academic was crunching the statistics and concluding that the longer the match, the greater the law of diminishing returns.

Dr Liam Harper, an expert in nutrition science for professional footballers, said it would take not just hope but also carbohydrate gel for Gareth Southgate to get the best from his team during the extra time periods the rest of the World Cup is likely to see.

Left to their own devices, he said, the players would be 20 per cent less efficient at keeping the ball in play during the last half hour.

Dr Harper, a senior lecturer in sport at Huddersfield University, who researched the consequences of extra time for his doctor’s thesis, said that only “intervention strategies” were likely to be able to combat the fatigue that set in after the first 90 minutes.

“When you watch a game on TV that goes to extra time, they have the cameras on the players and you will see that the practices could definitely be improved,” he said.

Stored carbohydrate, known as muscle glycogen, is the source of energy that contributes most to high-intensity running and sprinting, he added.

“Towards the end of a 90 minute game you start to reduce the amount of muscle glycogen. So it’s likely that it reduces further during extra time.”

He said the application of carbohydrate in gel form before the start of extra time, could help players cope with the extra demands of the final 30 minutes.

But Dr Harper said a survey of 46 football professionals had revealed that most gave their players only water before the start of the extension.

“Providing something that can hydrate the players as well as provide carbohydrate will likely be more beneficial,” he said.

From 1966 onwards, most of England’s games in major tournaments have gone to extra time in the knockout stages.

Dr Harper, who collaborated on his research with Barnsley FC, said: “Four years ago in Brazil, half of the knockout games went to extra time – the highest number ever – and it will probably be pretty similar this year.

“When you get into extra time you start using fat as a fuel more predominantly, which is not as effective for those bouts of higher-intensity running.”

Some of the most memorable World Cup moments have come during extra time.

In the 2010 quarter-final, in which Uruguay beat Ghana 4-2 on penalties, Luis Suarez was sent off after blocking what looked like a certain goal with a handball, and with the last kick of the game, Asamoah Gyan hit the crossbar with his penalty.

In 1970, the semi-final between Italy and West Germany saw five goals in 13 minutes, with Italy going on to the final.

But the 1966 climax at Wembley is still the most famous, and, to some, controversial period of extra time, following an incident in the 101st minute when Geoff Hurst’s shot into the crossbar and down on to the line was ruled to have gone in by the Soviet linesman, Tofiq Bahramov.

From that moment, the game seemed won, and Hurst sealed the deal in the closing seconds with a final goal in the top corner.

It happened as the BBC commentator, Kenneth Wolsenholme, was in mid-sentence about fans running on to the pitch. “They think it’s all over,” he said.

With great presence of mind, as Hurst hit the spot, he added: “It is now.”