x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

World Cup 2010: here come the goals

After a frugal start to the tournament, the floodgates opened. Euan Megson looks at why scoring was so hard.

Thomas Sorensen keeps out Holland's Robin van Persie in the Group E opener.
Thomas Sorensen keeps out Holland's Robin van Persie in the Group E opener.

A World Cup goal drought has turned into a goal glut as the psychological shackles of the opening group matches look to have been unlocked. After Spain's shock 1-0 defeat to Switzerland, every team in the tournament had played once and the opening 16 games had yielded just 25 goals - a ratio of 1.56 a game. That number was far short of the 2.21 goals per match that were scored at Italia '90 - history's most goal-shy World Cup. Four years ago, the first 16 games featured 39 goals, an average of 2.4 goals per game.

But, having got past the milestone of that first game, the goals started flying in. Three for Uruguay and four for Argentina in two of the second round of games helped improved the ratio. So why such a goal shortage in the opening stages of South Africa 2010? Was it just an anomaly? Various reasons have been put forward: The ball. Goals would be up if Adidas, the makers of Jabulani - the controversial ball specifically designed to produce more goals - had their way. But players have spent a lot of time criticising the ball's unpredictability instead of exploiting it.

The ball was made the scapegoat after a costly mistake by England's Robert Green. After admitting culpability for letting Clint Dempsey's timid strike slip through his grasp, Green added: "I don't often miss the ball by that much." In Algeria's opener with Slovenia, Faouzi Chaouchi committed a similar clanger. Noise. According to players, the vuvuzela is not helping matters. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal captain, was not the first player to bemoan the incessant din caused by thousands of horns blaring simultaneously, or the effect it has on teams' performances.

"It is difficult for anyone on the pitch to concentrate," Ronaldo said. "A lot of players don't like them, but they are going to have to get used to them." At least every team has experienced the vuvuzela noise in a game situation, so that can no longer be used as excuses for absence of goals. Altitude. Balls travel faster and further in thinner air and a higher number of goals was expected at high altitude. The statistics, however, show that nine goals were scored in the three games at Johannesburg's Soccer City, which stands at 1,694 metres, while the five were scored in two matches at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, lying eight metres above sea level. Rising standards. The so-called "lesser" sides are no longer pushovers. Results such as Hungary 10 El Salvador 1 (1982) or Germany 8 Saudi Arabia 0 (2002) are unlikely to be replicated. Asia had a solid opening week as South Korea and Japan both won. North Korea performed valiantly in losing 2-1 to Brazil.

"We knew it would be difficult, big countries do not dominate international football like they used to," said Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, after their draw 1-1 with Paraguay. Spain were one of 11 teams that failed to score in their opening match, but the prospect of elimination should see games opening up as teams get more desperate, and goals start flying in. emegson@thenational.ae