The FIFA World Cup kicked off in Russia early this month with the hosts hammering a poor Saudi Arabia side 5-0 in the opening match. It has been a tournament of firsts, from the implementation of VAR to the World Cup debuts of Panama, Iceland and Achilles the psychic cat…
At time of writing, there hasn’t been a single goalless draw in the tournament in 30 matches, and England have just hit 6 goals in a match for the first time in their World Cup history. There is no doubt that this World Cup has been a joy to watch and the stats are only adding to the viewing experience. In this article we take a look at some of the stand-out stats from the tournament so far and see what it can tell us.
This World Cup has been called ‘boring’ by some spectators recently, but the statistics beg to differ. As well as there not been a single goalless draw in 30 matches, there have been a healthy 78 goals scored at an average of 2.6 per game.
In modern times that’s pretty impressive, the highest goals per game since 1970 has been 2.7, so with a further 34 games to go there’s a chance this tournament could break a few records. The flurry of goals in Russia is perhaps indicative of the state of the global game at the moment, with many managers favouring the adoption of attacking, pressing football.
Whereas for example, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa epitomised the footballing landscape of the time. There were on average, 2.3 goals per game in that tournament as teams opted to play in two distinct ways – slowly suffocating the opposition with possession, or playing tight, defensive football.
England striker Harry Kane currently sits atop of the goal scoring charts with 5 successful strikes in 2 games. That haul would have made him joint top-scorer in 2010 and 2006, and in second place in the vast majority of tournaments played.
On average, 6 goals will guarantee a player top scorer in the World Cup, which isn’t to be sniffed at, considering there are only 7 games available to score in. However this World Cup looks like it will be a record breaking one for the Golden Boot.
Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo both sit behind Harry Kane on 4 goals score a piece and don’t show any signs of slowing down. Just Fontaine holds the record for the most goals scored in a World Cup, with 13 during the 1958 finals, if current trends continue, that record could be changing hands in mid-July.
There have been 16 spot-kicks awarded in 30 games so far, which puts Russia 2 off the all-time record of 18 awarded in a tournament, back in 2002. Experts and pundits alike are telling us that the reason for this is VAR, claiming that the review system has helped to punish previously unseen fouls in the boxes.
Yet out of the 16 penalties awarded in Russia, only 3 of them were given as a result of VAR reviews. Perhaps the real reason for the plethora of penalties is FIFA’s crack down on grappling in the box. All 32 teams were shown videos of incidents that would be penalised by referees in the build-up to the tournament and grappling was one of them.
In England’s 6-1 victory against Panama, 2 penalties were given by the referee, one for grappling in the box and another for a clear foul in open play. Perhaps in the knock-out phases, players will be more cautious and the amount of penalties being awarded may well drop.
Germany go long
Germany have struggled so far in Russia, losing their opening game 1-0 to Mexico and narrowly edging past Sweden 2-1 courtesy of a stunning last-minute goal from Toni Kroos. Die Mannschaft have been a joy to watch in recent tournaments and have entertained with their fast, aggressive football.
However, in previous tournaments the Germans controlled games with short-passing and quick possession football. Yet in Russia, two of the top three players hitting long-balls are German, Jerome Boateng and midfield maestro Toni Kroos. Players from Iceland, Australia and Costa Rica make up the rest of the top 10.
These passing stats go some way to explaining why Germany are struggling, as they seem to have abandoned their usual passing style.
Shots mean goals…
Not necessarily, top-scorer Harry Kane doesn’t make the top 10 for shots per game despite bagging 5 times. In contrast, Argentinian striker Lionel Messi is top of the charts with an average of 6 shots taken per game and surprisingly no goals scored.
Most impressively, Michy Batshuayi is in second place after hitting 6 shots in just 22 minutes of football when he came on as a late substitute for Belgium in their clash against Tunisia.
You might expect to see the Panama ‘keeper or the Icelandic stopper at the top of the saves list, but instead that spot is taken by Mexican Guillermo Ochoa. The veteran ‘keeper has made 14 saves so far, showing that the Mexican defence has been somewhat porous so far and they have their number one to thank for keeping them out of trouble.
Although some of the stats mentioned in this article have been for fun, it’s important to remember just how much emphasis Gareth Southgate and co will be placing on the numbers. Games are often won and lost on small margins, so having a better idea of your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses makes sense.
In the final group game against Belgium, every England player will have their performance monitored in detail. Not only to see if how successful they are with and without the ball, but to analyse their energy levels ahead of a crunch period of knockout football.
If the victory against Panama showed anything, it’s that England are a well-prepared side ready to take advantage of anything and everything. The smart free-kick that led to John Stones opener and the Three Lions danger from corners is testament to that. If they continue with that attention to detail, football could well be coming home.
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