The Half-time Whistle has yet to be truly excited by this World Cup. Well, that’s not quite true; there was the giddy excitement of the opening day of the World Cup, complete with schoolboy optimism and piss-your-pants in anticipation expectations (just me then?).
The World Cup is now ten games in (the eleventh being played between Italy and Paraguay as we type) and there has been a grand total of 16 goals. This compares with 23 in 2006, 29 in 2002, and 26 in 1998. In 2006, the opener was a great game, Germany 4-2 Costa Rica with two lovely strikers from Lahm and Frings. We’d also had Mexico 3-1 Iran, Angola 0-1 Portugal (far more interesting than the scoreline suggested), Argentina 2-1 Ivory Coast and Italy’s 2-0 win over the bombastic Ghana. 2002 gave us Germany 8-0 Saudi Arabia, France 0-1 Senegal, Paraguay 2-2 South Africa and USA 3-2 Portugal – a great game.
So why have the games not been quite as exciting in 2010? The opener between South Africa and Mexico was certainly entertaining. England’s 1-1 draw with USA was probably a good game for the neutrals, and I think we all enjoyed Germany’s 4-0 win over Australia. A lot of the other games, however, have been regulation wins. So far, no winning side has conceded a goal. Often, a seemingly functional 2-0 win can turn into an entertaining game with a goal for the losing side, prompting the ‘kitchen-sink’ tactic of everyone bombing forward in the desperate hope of a goal, but this hasn’t happened yet.
It’s easy to blame the Jabulani ball – and Adidas are quick to defend their ball – but it’s interesting that the one team to really turn on the style this tournament are Germany who have had the ball in the Bundesliga since January and who selected all 23 players from their domestic league. We have seen a lot of balls being overhit culminating in attacking moves breaking down before a goal can be scored, which has undoubtedly contributed to the paucity of goals so far, although that could be down to players being out of form or just shit as much as anything else.
We’ve not seen too many examples of players connecting really well with the ball and thwacking the ball into the back of the net from distance, a la Thorsten Frings in 2006 which could suggest that the ball is to blame. Certainly no direct free kicks have come close to testing a goalkeeper yet, and there have been no 30 yard piledrivers that the English love so much yet.
Could altitude be playing a part? It certainly surprised John Terry (really, John? What part of playing at attitude surprised you?). But most teams have been training at altitude for some time and should now be fully prepared and able to play at altitude.
What about the vuvuzela? God I’m bored of hearing about the vuvuzela. A little piece of me died as I typed that word out. As mentioned on the exceleld Off The Post blog, Patrice Evra blamed the vuvezela for their dour 0-0 draw with Uruguay, seemingly forgetting Ribery’s most notable contribution being falling over his own gammy legs.
Are the teams, many of whom have players who have played in a long hard European season, adopting a more pragmatic approach in this World Cup? Looking at the tactics, there’s not too much evidence of the dreaded 4-5-1 formation, so it doesn’t seem as though that can be to blame.
One thing’s for sure, it’s not been a classic so far, but that’s no reason to be pessimistic. After the first round of games things will be a bit clearer and there will be games that teams need to win. It’s hard to comprehend a team going out of a World Cup with a whimper, and it it’s likely that as teams have to stretch to win crucial games, we’ll see more goals, drama, and excitement. And yes, I apologise for sounding like the voiceover man from Sky Sports just there.
That all being said, the 1-1 draw between Italy and Paraguay was entertaining, and another game to feature a goalkeeping blunder. But still no winning team has conceded a goal in this tournament.