Goalies, not the goals, are the big story so far
Through 60 games, a total of 138 goals have been scored. Unless there is a barrage of goals in the semifinals, third-place match and championship game, this year’s total will mostly likely fall short of the 161 goals scored during the 2002 World Cup. Before that, in 1998, a record number of 171 goals were scored. (The fewest amount was 115 in 1990.)
The high scoring was expected to continue this year. Goalkeepers feared the new official ball “Teamgeist,” lighter and faster than previous ones, would be difficult to catch. In addition, FIFA told the referees to relax offside violations
There are a number of factors affecting the goal scoring at this World Cup. First is the defensive-minded approach. Kim Dae-gil, a soccer analyst with KBS Sports, said because there is more parity in the soccer universe, teams tend to engage in low-scoring battles.
“I certainly expected there would be more goals scored by now, especially with the new ball,” Kim said. “But except for Serbia and Montenegro and Costa Rica, teams have performed on a relatively level playing field against the traditional soccer powers.”
The heat has also been a cause for the low-scoring World Cup. For games that kick off in the afternoon hours, local time, the temperature has invariably hovered around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). English players blamed the hot and humid conditions for their lethargic performance against Paraguay in the first round, and several players suffered muscle cramps during their matches.
“There have been many scoring chances in the last 10 or 15 minutes of the games,” Kim said. “Defenders have suffered mental lapses under the heat. But offensive players haven’t converted a lot of those chances because they were often just as exhausted.”
Another major reason for the lack of goals is reduced playing time for players, due to the record number of yellow and red cards.
Through the quarterfinals, a total of 323 yellow cards and 27 red cards have been issued, beating the previous marks of 272 yellows set four years ago and 22 reds from 1998.
Talented offensive players such as France’s Zinedine Zidane and Ghana’s Michael Essien have missed matches on accumulated yellow cards, while others, such as England’s Wayne Rooney and Deco of Portugal, were ejected during games.
Kim, the KBS commentator, argued that FIFA’s plan to crack down on hard fouls has backfired.
“I am sure FIFA’s intention was to create more space for strikers and encourage more offense,” Kim said. “Instead, attacking players haven’t been as aggressive as they could be because they fear they might receive a yellow card or get ejected altogether.”
These factors have created a possibility that for the first time in World Cup history, there may not be a hat trick scored for the entire tournament.
There were seven hat tricks at Switzerland in 1954. Four years ago, Portugal’s Pauleta and Germany’s Miroslav Klose had three-goal hauls.
This year, Klose is the leading scorer with five strikes. Of seven players tied for second with three goals each, only Klose’s teammate Lukas Podolski and France’s Thierry Henry are still in the tournament.
But the prospects of those players’ pulling the tri-factor remain slim.
Germany’s opponent in the semifinal is Italy, which has given up only one goal, an own marker, so far in the tournament. France faces Portugal, which has also allowed only one tally and has successively shut out the vaunted offenses of the Netherlands and, in regulation and extra periods, England in the knockout stage.
by Yoo Jee-ho