Record low for World Cup scoring still in sight

A group at BigSoccer has been tracking the total number of goals since the World Cup started, and everyone seems relieved that we’re not likely to break the record for fewest goals per games.

The current record: Italy ’90, 115 goals / 52 games = 2.212 goals per game

This year so far: 139 goals / 62 games = 2.24 goals per game

So our scenarios from the last two games are:

  • 0 goals: 2.17
  • 1 goal: 2.19
  • 2 goals: 2.20
  • 3 goals: 2.219
  • 4 goals: 2.23
  • 5 goals: 2.25 even
  • 6 goals: 2.28
  • 7 goals: 2.30 (tying Germany 2006)

This Cup has no chance of catching up with the others. Even with a wide-open third-place game, which is often the case, this will be the third-lowest scoring Cup in history at best.

Other Cups, ranked lowest to highest:

  • Germany 2006: 147 / 64 = 2.30
  • Korea/Japan 2002: 161 / 64 = 2.52
  • Mexico 1986: 132 / 52 = 2.54
  • Germany 1974: 97 / 38 = 2.55
  • France 1998: 171 / 64 = 2.67
  • Argentina 1978: 102 / 38 = 2.68
  • USA 1994: 141 / 52 = 2.71
  • England 1966: 89 / 32 = 2.78
  • Chile 1962: 89 / 32 = 2.78
  • Spain 1982: 146 / 52 = 2.81
  • Mexico 1970: 95 / 32 = 2.97
  • Sweden 1958: 126 / 35 = 3.60
  • Uruguay 1930: 70 / 18 = 3.89
  • Brazil 1950: 88 / 22 = 4.00
  • Italy 1934: 70 / 17 = 4.12
  • France 1938: 84 / 18 = 4.67
  • Switzerland 1954: 140 / 26 = 5.38

Friday Myriad: Enjoy the USA-Ghana game for what it is

At some point, it’s just about the game.

If Landon Donovan scores a hat trick in a crushing 5-2 win over Ghana tomorrow, it won’t suddenly fill every MLS stadium and push Fox Soccer Channel’s MLS broadcasts to NFL levels. Nor would a 3-0 loss send U.S. soccer back to 1985. (The year, not the excellent Bowling for Soup song.)

Saturday’s game is a great opportunity for the USA to match its best modern-day World Cup finish (no, I don’t count 1930 as modern-day in this case) and perhaps move on to more. Nothing more, nothing less.

And it’s part of this complete weekend, which includes the return of MLS.

HEADLINES

Poker: Most recent world champions are Ayaz Mahmood (heads-up no-limit hold’em) and Valdemar Kwaysser (pot-limit hold’em). Phil Ivey won his eighth WSOP bracelet in H.O.R.S.E., but he’s not in the H.O.R.S.E. world championship due to end Friday. The tournament of champions starts Sunday with 27 players and will be whittled to a final nine to resume next Sunday.

MMA: Like occasional U.S. wrestling teammate Ben Askren, Joe Warren has won a Bellator tournament. Russia’s Alexander Shlemenko is the middleweight winner. (MMA Fighting Stances)

FRIDAY

2:30 p.m.: World Cup soccer, Chile-Spain. Chile has two wins but technically isn’t safe — a loss here and a Swiss win would send us to goal difference (currently Chile +2, Switzerland 0 – so the Swiss would at least tie them with a win and Chile loss), goals scored (Chile 2, Switzerland 1) , then head-to-head (Chile). Not lots. Spain, the pick of many to win it all, would advance with a win or likely by matching Switzerland’s result (points AND goal difference on the day). The other wild-card scenario that would keep Spain out: a loss and a Honduras rout. ESPN/ESPN Deportes/Univision/ESPN3

2:30 p.m.: World Cup soccer, Switzerland-Honduras. See above. A rout would clinch Switzerland’s spot, but that’s not their style. Realistically, they need a win plus any of the following: Chile win, Chile-Spain draw, Spain rout. A draw does Switzerland no good unless Spain loses. Honduras needs a rout and a Spain loss. ESPN2/TeleFutura/ESPN3

9 p.m.: MLS, Salt Lake-San Jose. Welcome back to league play with a good one. Direct Kick/MLSSoccer.com

SATURDAY

7 a.m.: Wimbledon, ESPN2, over to NBC at noon

10 a.m.: World Cup round of 16, Uruguay-South Korea. Winner gets USA-Ghana winner. ESPN/ESPN Deportes/Univision/ESPN3

1 p.m.: Track and field, USA Championships. ESPN

2:30 p.m.: World Cup round of 16, USA-Ghana. No more to say. ABC/ESPN Deportes/Univision … NOT ESPN3

3 p.m.: Track and field, USA Championships. Should include men’s 400, men’s 400 hurdles, women’s 1,500, women’s 100 hurdles. NBC

4 p.m.: Action sports, Dew Tour Skate Open/ISF World Championships. Shaun White and Ryan Sheckler expected. NBC

7:30 p.m.: MLS, Toronto-Los Angeles. Can the Galaxy keep winning without Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle against the excellent Dwayne De Rosario and the less-excellent rogue’s gallery that fouls effectively? Fox Soccer Channel

10 p.m.: MMA, Strikeforce, featuring Fedor Emelianenko-Fabricio Werdum heavyweight bout. Also a women’s title fight between Cris Cyborg and Jan Finney, a rematch for Cung Le against Scott Smith, and a lightweight bout between Josh Thomson and Pat Healy.

SUNDAY

10 a.m.: World Cup round of 16, Germany-England. Just a bit of history here. ESPN/ESPN Deportes/Univision/ESPN3

1 p.m.: Track and field, USA Championships. Should have a healthy dose of live field events and taped track events. ESPN

2 p.m.: Beach volleyball, AVP Belmar (N.J.) Open, women’s final. ESPN2

2:30 p.m.: World Cup round of 16, Argentina-Mexico. For Spanish-speaking U.S. viewers, this is the non-USA game of the tournament. ABC/ESPN Deportes/Univision … NOT ESPN3

3 p.m.: Track and field, USA Championships. Includes men’s and women’s 200 finals, plus men’s 1,500 and 110 hurdles. NBC

4 p.m.: Beach volleyball, AVP Belmar (N.J.) Open, men’s final. Universal Sports

5 p.m.: MLS, Seattle-Philadelphia. ESPN2

6 p.m.: WPS, Bay Area-New Jersey (Gold Pride-Sky Blue). Front-runners break in new stadium against defending champs. FSC/WPS online

OLYMPIC SPORTS

  • Softball: Well, it’s still an Olympic sport to us. The World Championships are in progress in Venezuela. USA opened with 1-0 win over China and will continue pool play against New Zealand (Friday), Venezuela (Friday), Botswana (yes, really — Saturday), rival Australia (Sunday), Dominican Republic (Monday) and Czech Republic (Monday). Japan and Canada are in the other pool. Live stats at USA Softball.
  • Water polo: Women’s World League Super Final starts Monday in SoCal.
  • More events: Canoe/kayak World Cup, U.S. Rowing championships.

MORE MYRIAD

  • USA Track and Field Championships: Webcasting when not on TV.
  • World Series of Poker: How to follow.
  • College World Series (NCAA baseball): UCLA, TCU, South Carolina and Clemson remaining. ESPN/2/3 splitting coverage.
  • Full soccer listings at Soccer America.
  • Selected weekend listings at USA TODAY
  • ESPN3: Plenty of Wimbledon matches, Australian Rules football and poker, plus World Cup and college baseball simulcasts.
  • Tennis Channel: Wimbledon analysis and classic matches.
  • Universal Sports: Beach volleyball and triathlon.

Defending Italy — no, really

Far be it for me to defend Italian soccer in general. Every stereotype your soccer-bashing friends throw in your face is prevalent in the Italian game — nasty fans, match-fixing scandals, bad hair, exaggerated injuries and, of course, diving.

But diving to imply a foul that doesn’t exist and falling down to draw attention to an actual foul are two different things. The first is reprehensible. The second is more difficult to judge.

In the first half today, New Zealand’s Tommy Smith had a good handful of Daniele de Rossi’s shirt. De Rossi fell. Referee Carlos Batres of Guatemala whistled for a penalty kick.

Those are the facts. The interpretations varied.

While it’s easy to pile on Italy and particularly de Rossi, whose most notable contribution to a World Cup is a rearrangement of Brian McBride’s face, de Rossi’s actions don’t change the fact that a foul occurred. De Rossi could’ve pulled out a guitar and vuvuzela for a new folk song decrying the injustice that had befallen him, and he may have received a yellow for unsporting conduct. But the PK was still justified.

It’s not as if shirt-pulling in the box is some newly outlawed activity. Remember 1998, when U.S. referee Esse Baharmast was vilified and then exonerated when evidence emerged that he had indeed seen a shirt pulled in the Norway-Brazil game.

Wouldn’t all rather see refs be even stricter on such plays? After a few days of discussing Slovenia defenders bear-hugging American players in the box, a stronger stand on such contact seems justified.

Batres, to his credit, made the right call here. And he ignored a lot of less justified Italian tumbles.

Now if only we could go back and get rid of the blatant dive that saw Italy past Australia in 2006 …

The ball, negative tactics and the World Cup

Wrapping up a couple of Twitter discussions here:

Through two games — not exactly a large sample size — it appears the second game for each team in the World Cup will be a bit livelier than the first time through.

And so the question being posed to me is this: Does this disprove your concerns about the ball and negative tactics as you watched the first 16 games?

The short answer: No.

Frankly, I’m in a no-lose situation in this argument, and I don’t say that to be arrogant. If teams are indeed adjusting for the second 16 games, that bodes well, but it proves that the concerns I had over the first 16 — which surely tried the patience of soccer fans around the world — were valid. If teams fail to adjust even when they’re facing elimination, the debate is surely over.

Here’s why:

Tactics, macro level. I’ve been reading Inverting the Pyramid, and it has left me quite gloomy. From the historical point of view, it seems like we’ve been heading down a path toward overly cautious soccer for a long time, and I don’t see how it’s going to change.

To give an example: Some of the best attacking soccer we see these days is actually on counterattacks, particularly after corner kicks. What happens when coaches start to figure it’s not worth sending players forward on corner kicks? Suppose the risk of giving up a counterattacking goal is perceived to be too great?

Tactics, World Cup microcosm. “But it makes sense to play for a draw in the first game and then play for a win.” Is that what we’ve come to now? You get to the world’s biggest stage and immediately try to kill the game? Perhaps it makes sense, but isn’t that sad?

The ball. Overblown? Slightly, but it’s a legitimate issue. Can anyone remember seeing so many odd flights of the ball, misjudged crosses and flat-out bad passes at this level? It’s worth asking whether FIFA should reconsider introducing such a radical redesign so close to a major tournament. It’s a bit like showing up for The Masters and having Augusta National hand out balls that fly all over the place.

If the intent is to create more goals, it clearly backfires. For every goal that slipped through the fingers of Robert Green, we saw plenty of overhit passes and misjudged crosses, all to the detriment of the attack.

And several of the goals we’ve seen so far have been atrocious defensive misplays, not brilliant attacking plays. Is that what we want?

If teams are adjusting to it by Game 2, great. But doesn’t that prove the point that the ball was indeed an issue?

And the ball feeds into the tactical question. Would you play more cautiously if you’re concerned about the flight of the ball?

One observation from the first 16 games: I saw very little direct play. Some might say that’s a good thing — teams that rely exclusively on the longball can be dreadfully dull. But good teams mix up their play from time to time, and it creates more attacking options, particularly when play is bogged down in midfield. I may have zoned out and missed a few bits here and there, but I haven’t seen many long passes at all in this Cup.

Not all of the early games have been dreadful. South Africa-Mexico and USA-England weren’t bad. Germany and the Netherlands showed some attacking class in winning their games. And Group H — Honduras, Chile, Switzerland and the unfortunate Spain — produced better games than the 1-0 scores would indicate.

But it’s too soon to tell about the second time through. South Korea and Argentina, who just played a terrific game, were among the more positive teams in their first outings.

We can hope that Argentina and South Korea prove to be the rule rather than the exception for the rest of the tournament, and we can hope the knockout stages have little of the overcaution we often see in those games. But the long-term concerns will be valid no matter what. Negativity threatens the game. And FIFA should quit tinkering with the danged ball. What next — a ball that splits in half on the way to the goal? (Coaches would surely counter with the “sweeper-keeper” system, stationing a defender on the goal line.)

Virtual Viewing Party: Wednesday’s games

The first pass through the field of 32 comes to a merciful close today. Starting at 2:30 p.m. ET, teams had better pick it up a bit, or they’ll be booking plane flights out of Johannesburg.

On paper, Group H (first two games) should bring us out of the offensive doldrums today. But games aren’t played on paper — they’re played in the midst of thousands of vuvuzelas.

Our hosts are:

Honduras-Chile, 7:30 a.m. ET, ESPN
Spain-Switzerland, 10 a.m. ET, ESPN
South Africa-Uruguay, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
(all on ESPN Deportes / ESPN3.com / Univision)

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Virtual Viewing Party: Tuesday’s games

So if Kyle joins us today, might we actually see a few goals? Let’s hope so.

Our hosts are:

New Zealand-Slovakia, 7:30 a.m. ET, ESPN
Cote d’Ivoire-Portugal, 10 a.m. ET, ESPN
Brazil-DPR Korea, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
(all on ESPN Deportes / ESPN3.com / Univision)

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Virtual Viewing Party: Monday Monday

What? You’re going to work? Then you’ll simply have to follow along with us.

Our hosts are:

Netherlands-Denmark, 7:30 a.m. ET, ESPN
Japan-Cameroon, 10 a.m. ET, ESPN
Italy-Paraguay, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
(all on ESPN Deportes / ESPN3.com / Univision)

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Virtual Viewing Party: Sunday’s games

We’re going to keep this room open all day for people to stop by and chat in case Twitter’s down. During the day, you’ll see some Twitter highlights pop through.

Our hosts are:

Algeria-Slovenia, 7:30 a.m. ET, ESPN
Serbia-Ghana, 10 a.m. ET, ESPN
Germany-Australia, 2:30 p.m. ET, ABC
(all on ESPN Deportes / ESPN3.com / Univision)

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Virtual Viewing Party: USA-England

You may have heard something about this game.

Your hosts are Beau Dure and Jenna Pel, who covers the worldwide women’s game at All White Kit. Others from our rotating band of panelists may stop by.

USA-England, 2:30 p.m. ET
ABC/ESPN Deportes/Univision

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