Sleeping tablets reportedly is to blame for the England national soccer team's sleepy performance in a disappointing 1-1 draw against Poland this week in World Cup qualifying.
England was a strong favorite going into the game, but it appears its players may have been caught out when the contest was rescheduled from Tuesday to Wednesday night because of a waterlogged pitch caused by heavy rain in the Polish capital of Warsaw.
Several English newspaper reporters were alerted to the fact that members of the squad, who reportedly use caffeine pills to boost their energy levels ahead of games, struggled to sleep on Tuesday night once the postponement was announced.
Team doctors then prescribed sleeping pills to those unable to get their beauty sleep – but that decision has been widely questioned in the British media as Roy Hodgson's side looked sluggish and unconvincing against an opponent ranked 49 places below it at No. 54 in the world.
"When you're fired up, pumped up, you've had your massages and you're ready to go, that's not ideal, but we're professionals," captain Steven Gerrard told reporters. "We're playing at the top level and we had to get ourselves up for this, but I didn't think we were totally at the races. I slept fine. I won't use the delay and conditions as an excuse."
While no individual was directly quoted for the information regarding the sleeping pills, the uniformity of the reports across several publications suggests the tip-off must have come from an official source within the camp.
"I had the impression earlier in the week that the players were looking sharp and lively," head coach Hodgson said in his postgame press conference. "I didn't have that impression today. I don't know if that's due to the extra night, the sodden pitch or that we didn't play well on the day."
The English Football Association refused to confirm or deny the reports, which bring a measure of embarrassment but are relatively tame in comparison to the stormy headlines that have greeted the variety of mishaps afflicting this team in recent years, such as former captain John Terry's court case and disciplinary hearing over racism charges.
The draw in Poland was not a catastrophic result, but it denied England the chance to gain a stranglehold on Group H, from which the top team will qualify directly for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. The second-place finisher goes into a do-or-die playoff.
Montenegro is now almost certain to overtake England at the top of the group when it takes on San Marino, officially the worst team in the world, at home next month. As time goes by, the reality that this may not be a simple qualification process should override any temporary focus on tablets.
For all the media and public surprise, a pair of former England players, Rio Ferdinand and Phil Neville, were swift to point out on Twitter that professionals have routinely used caffeine and sleeping pills for years. In the end, the players may be grateful, having been handed a ready-made excuse that perhaps was not warranted.
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