If, as a popular idiom reminds us, the devil is in the details, the ongoing Fifa World Cup in Brazil has done a good job proving otherwise. A close look at Brazil 2014’s statistics has not returned a frown of disapproval or unease for that matter. The numbers game has made for a refreshingly different reading. The numbers have been such a beauty to behold.
An impressive 136 goals were scored at the group stage. The average, which stands at nearly three goals per game, leaves the mind boggling at what is by all accounts a spectacle. It may be some way off the insane average of 5.38 goals per game registered in 1954, but is certainly no mean feat. The 1954 World Cup in Switzerland was a freak of footballing nature, if you will.
A still unprecedented eight hat-tricks were registered at the finals. Brazil 2014 had by the time of penning this piece only mustered two trebles thanks to Germany’s Thomas Muller and Swiss ace Xherdan Shaqiri. That should not take anything away.
If, for instance, the nearly three goals per game average is maintained in the remaining World Cup matches (possibly a big ask since goals always dry up at the knockout stage), Brazil 2014 will eclipse the record for most goals scored in football’s biggest showpiece. That record was set at France 1998 when 171 goals were scored.
Brazil 2014 has not only been about a goals glut though. The revival of a three-man back-line hasn’t escaped your columnist’s eye. Mexico have recently been the poster child for a back three. They fielded a 3-4-1-2 at Germany 2006 before going with a 3-4-3 four years later in South Africa. This time round they have caught the eye with a fluid 3-5-2.
Rafael Marquez, the skipper, has played as a sweeper, with Francisco Rodriquez and Hector Moreno executing the man-marking duties.
The Dutch (who play Mexico in Fortaleza today), Italians, and Chileans have also fielded a back three. Another eye catchy trend has been that of teams having to do without pure No.9s. The tournament was deprived a pure No.9 when Radamel Falcao, probably the purest of them all, was forced out with a knee injury. The other player remotely close to a pure No.9, Diego Costa, flopped spectacularly as Spain failed to play to his strengths.
With No.9s few and far between, we have seen Germany turn to a false 9 and Brazil wing forwards. Mario Goetze’s performance as a false 9 has been quietly effectively.
Goetze’s intelligent runs have drawn defenders to him, creating space in which the likes of Muller have thrived. Elsewhere, the hold-up play of Fred has been vital in ensuring that Neymar executes the role of a wing forward with such lethal effect.
While goals have come to define Brazil 2014, Africa has not covered itself in glory with grumbles over match bonuses. The whines date back to West Germany 1974 when Zairean players threw their toys out of the pram, Nigeria being the latest entry to this hall of shame.
The West Africans take on a free-scoring French side in Brasilia tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how they fare.
TOP SCORERS AS AT JUNE 27
l Thomas Mueller (Germany)
l Lionel Messi (Argentina)
l Neymar (Brazil)
l James Rodriguez (Colombia)
l Karim Benzema (France)
l Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
l Robin van Persie (Netherlands)
l Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
l Enner Valencia (Ecuador)
l Memphis Depay (Netherlands)
l Islam Slimani (Algeria)
l Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
l Gervinho (Ivory Coast)
l Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)
l Jackson Martinez (Colombia)
l Tim Cahill (Australia)
l Wilfried Bony (Ivory Coast)
l Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
l Mario Mandzukic (Croatia)
What we now know....
We know that if the national football team, The Cranes, manages to jump the Equatorial Guinean hurdle before them, they will be placed in a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualification group that has Ghana, Togo and Guinea.
We know that making it out of that group will pose such a frightening prospect for either Uganda or Equatorial Guinea.
They might have not made it out of a World Cup group that had Germany, USA and Portugal, but Ghana’s Black Stars showed that they are a decent side especially whilst sharing four goals with the German machine. We also know that Cameroon only made it to the World Cup after getting a boardroom win over Togo.