And the Spain game today was definitely the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back for me. This World Cup has a long way to go, of course, but after every team had played one match, only twenty-five goals were scored, for an average of just 1.56 per game. Compare that to 1990, which was the lowest-scoring World Cup in history, and in which teams' tactics were so negative that FIFA made important, if modest, rule changes afterward (the new backpass rule, and the increase in the value of a win from two points to three). In that World Cup, after each team's opening game (which was only twelve matches, rather than sixteen, because only 24 teams participated), there were 28 goals, or 2.3 per game.
In 1994 the opening matches yielded 2.5 goals per game, in 1998, 2.3, and 2002, 2.8, and in 2006, 2.4. Hopefully this year's opening matches are a statistical anomaly, but in every tournament mentioned except 1998, the goals per match went down after the opening games. That's because all you need to do is tie matches once you get to the knockout phase. A team could win the tournament without scoring a single goal after the first round, and winning matches on penalties.
It's also well worth mentioning that the goals haven't been coming despite the fact that, for the first time, assistant referees are calling offsides correctly, rather than systematically favoring the defending teams. And need I mention the number of goals that have been just plain garbage (think Green)?
As I see it there are two fundamental problems right now: most teams don't want to press forward and attack, and of the teams that do press forward and attack, even the ones who do it with competence and even a bit of creativity, aren't getting many goals.
So what should be done? I've already proposed various rule changes for soccer: most importantly regarding the awarding of penalties, offside enforcement, and the advantage rule, none of which require elaborate or complex fixes, which FIFA could easily implement.
In the next two posts I'll talk about one more rule that, in my view, desperately needs revising (the placement of free kicks), as well as how to change the World Cup tournament itself to encourage teams to play more like club teams (that is, well).
If Spain don't make it through the group phase I'm never watching another World Cup game I swear to God.