Still Searching For 2010 World Cup Goals: A Historical Comparison

Few goals doesn’t automatically mean a bad World Cup. I’m not going to patronise Pitch Invasion readers with lectures about the value of 0-0 draws and 1-0 games. Shit, I’ll just say: Switzerland 1-0 Spain.

But we have now completed the first round of group games, and there have been 25 goals in 16 games. In 2006, there were 39 in the same first set of 16 games; in 2002, there were 46 in the first 16; in 1998, there were 37. Before that, the first 16 teams did not involve an even number of games by an even number of teams, as there were not 32 teams in the World Cup finals. So, we are well down this time.

As I mentioned last week, a decline in the number of goals in the tournament as a whole was, as a continuation of a historical trend in the World Cup finals tournament, only to be expected.

Right now, we are averaging 1.56 goals per game for the 2010 World Cup. It seems highly unlikely statistically this will continue. To reiterate from that piece, here are the final goals scored averages from every tournament in World Cup history:

Uruguay, 1930: 3.9 goals per match
Italy, 1934: 4.1
France, 1938: 4.7
Brazil, 1950: 4.0
Switzerland, 1954: 5.4
Sweden, 1958: 3.8
Chile, 1962: 2.8
England, 1966: 2.8
Mexico, 1970: 3.0
Germany, 1974: 2.6
Argentina, 1978: 2.8
Spain, 1982: 2.8
Mexico, 1986: 2.5
Italy, 1990: 2.2
USA, 1994: 2.7
France, 1998: 2.7
Korea/Japan 2002: 2.5
Germany, 2006: 2.3

As we can see, the trend is downward. But in modern times — say from the 60s on, when the World Cup started to resemble what it is today — there has not been much statistical variation from one tournament to the next, either. The largest change from one World Cup to another is the jump from 2.2 goals in Italia ’90 to 2.7 goals at USA ’94, but that was partly because of FIFA fiddling with the rules in the interim period to increase the chances of goalscoring, due to the shit soccer we saw in Italy.

I’m no statistician, having last taken a math class when I was 15, but the likelihood is — given there haven’t been dramatic changes to the game in terms of rules since 2006 — that the number of goals will eke up from its current pitiful 1.56 average by the end of the tournament in South Africa.

At the same time, we’re now a quarter of a way through the tournament, so there would have to be quite a lot more goals from now on for this World Cup to even match Germany 2006, the second lowest total so far in World Cup history. I’m going to stick to my prediction that we’ll end up with 2.1 goals per game, the lowest in World Cup history, a number that will cause FIFA and television executives some concern. Oh yeah, and Adidas.

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