Each participating nation has now played its opening game in Brazil, and what a week it has been! In those first 16 games, 49 goals were scored, reaching an average of 3.06 goals per game. The one letdown was the scoreless draw between Iran and Nigeria, but still, at this stage of the competition (one game per team), this is the highest number of goals per game since the World Cup became a 32-team competition in 1998. The 2014 edition beat the 2002 one by three goals.
Most of all though, it comes as a great contrast compared to the 2010 event in South Africa, where only 25 goals had been scored in the first 16 games, an all-time low. As the number of goals in soccer has consistently been going down since 1994, the Brazilian World Cup is finally picking the numbers up. So far, only three games ended with less than three points on the scoreboard (Iran 0-0 Nigeria, Mexico 1-0 Cameroon, and Russia 1-1 South Korea). And it is worth noting that during Mexico-Cameroon, two valid Mexican goals were denied by the referee.
One of the most prolific World Cups?
The last time a World Cup averaged more than 3 goals per game was in Sweden in 1958, the year French Just Fontaine set the record for most goals by a single player with 13. A different era! The last time the tournament averaged more than 2.75 goals per game? 1982. When the cup was played in the United States in 1994, 141 goals were scored in 52 matches for an average of 2.71 goals per game.
The overall record for most goals per game was set in Sweden in 1954 with 140 goals in 26 games and an average of 5.38. Such a number seems unattainable in today’s game, but if the goalfest continues, this 20th edition of the World Cup could easily finish in the top ten of the most prolific tournaments ever.
The stars are coming forward
Despite the high number of injuries among world-class players (Ribéry for France, Falcao for Columbia, Reus for Germany, Walcott for England to cite just a few), the star strikers have generally met expectations – so far, each scoring at least a goal except for Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) and Wayne Rooney (England). On the American team, captain Clint Dempsey scored the fifth quickest goal in World Cup history only 30 seconds after kick-off. Even Lionel Messi, who is famous for underperforming with Argentina scored a goal worthy of his golden days with Pep Guardiola in Barcelona. Among others, Cavani (Uruguay), Balotelli (Italy), Rodriguez (Columbia), Ayew (Ghana) have all put the ball in the back of the net once. Neymar (Brazil), Benzema (France), van Persie and Robben (Netherlands) even scored twice in their first game, while 24-year-old German star Müller tops the rankings for best scorer with a triple against Portugal.
Scoring first is not winning
While scoring first often represents an undeniable advantage, this is not as evident this year in Brazil. Of the 16 first games, six ended with the victory of the team who was originally trailing on the scoreboard: Brazil against Croatia, the Netherlands against Spain, Costa Rica against Uruguay, Switzerland against Ecuador, and Belgium against Algeria. In other words, a team that concedes a goal first still has more than 35 percent chance of winning! To put this in perspective, four years ago in South Africa, the team who conceded the first goal of a game won in less than 5 percent of cases.
For its return to Brazil 64 years after the 1950 edition, the World Cup has been keeping its promises. And after Mexico tying the host nation thanks to goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s heroic performance, everything seems possible. Let’s just hope this second scoreless draw of the competition is only one cloud in an otherwise beautiful horizon