The most vehement criticism of soccer from those who aren’t fans of the sport has always been “there’s not enough scoring!” Noted sports columnist and troll Dan Shaughnessy from the Boston Globe has been writing since 1990 that there is no “natural or organized progression to the goal in soccer. It’s 90 minutes of nonstop turnovers.”
I wonder what Shaughnessy and his ilk think now, after seeing more than 100 goals scored in the 36 games played so far in Brazil. That average of 3 goals per game is up from 2.3 in South Africa four years ago at this same time. Yellow cards, which often stem from “turnovers,” as Shaughnessy calls them, are down significantly from (as of press time) 3.8 to 2.7, and teams are completing an average of 387 passes per game, instead of 353 as they did in 2010. While I grant you that the merits and value of passing figures is a hot topic amongst those who analyze statistics, it must be said that teams are managing to keep the ball more, and in much more difficult conditions than in South Africa.
As of press time, we’ve seen 11 of those 94 goals (11.7%) scored in the last ten minutes of a game to either tie the game, put one team ahead by a goal, or put one team ahead by two goals to seal the match. Three of those occurrences, in fact, happened yesterday, with Divock Origi winning the game for Belgium against Russia in the 88th minute, and Clint Dempsey seemingly lifting the US to victory with his chest nine minutes from time against Portugal, only to see Cristiano Ronaldo’s jaw-dropping cross headed in by Silvestre Varela to equalize with the latest goal ever scored in normal time in World Cup history. They’ve been playing these things since 1930. Fourteen players have all scored two goals or more at this tournament, including five players with three tallies each.
The unpredictability of each game makes those ninety minutes must-see television.
The traditional big boys, like Spain and England, who will also be leaving the tournament early after losing their first two group matches, seem to have made way for some new faces. Colombia, missing their best player and goalscorer due to injury, who haven’t even qualified for a World Cup since 1998, are in pole position to win their group and are candidates to make a deep run on Brazilian soil. Costa Rica, whose last World Cup appearance in 2006 ended with three defeats in three games with nine goals conceded, will likely win their group and perhaps seal England’s embarrassment. Nigeria hasn’t advanced to the knockout round since 1998 and hadn’t won any of their previous six World Cup games, and they are likely to move on. Fellow African nation Algeria hadn’t won a World Cup game since 1982, and played perhaps the most attractive game of the tournament yesterday in beating South Korea 4-2 and moving a step closer to the knockout rounds.
This World Cup has been a dream so far. Millions of people around the country are doing the same thing as me, watching games at their desks during work, and then hurrying home to catch the rest of the late kickoff. The excitement and fervor generated by the United States team is probably a major contributing factor in this; as long as they stay in the tournament, you can count on record viewing numbers. With that said, though, even when the US get knocked out, soccer (much to Shaughnessy’s chagrin) has reached the masses in this country. The sport is here, and it will only keep growing.