Is 2010 a boring World Cup? Why are there no goals?

Back to the question I asked after the first 1/3 of group play: is this a boring World Cup so far? Well, it is a low scoring World Cup, whether you call that boring is your opinion.

Goals per game of World Cup group play

Through group play, 2010 is indisputably the lowest scoring World Cup in history.

After the first set of games in group play, there were only 1.56 goals per game, so scoring has gone up significantly since then. Some of that was helped by Portugal scoring so many times against North Korea (7-0), but almost every World Cup has at least one really one-sided blowout.

However, the number of ties per group play is fairly close to the mean.

By the way, although I titled the post provocatively for google, I do not think this has been a boring World Cup. While it is low-scoring, it hasn’t been boring in the slightest bit from my view. And my teams have done pretty well so far.

Why are there no goals?

I’m sticking with my reasons before: parity, variance, and — at least a little bit — the ball.

Parity: teams are just more equal.* With the exception of North Korea, teams were relatively equal. Italy might have had the easiest group and yet it still failed to advance. There weren’t really any teams who allowed 4-0 victories as there may have been in past World Cups. As noted in the previous post, the World Cup expanded in 1998 and 1982, which seems to correlate with more goals.

Variance: Tighter offsides calls, whatever. Sometimes teams just score less and there is no explanation.

The ball: while plenty of domestic leagues used the ball in the last year, it does seem to be flying differently in the high altitude of South Africa if you believe the players. Not sure if only this ball flies differently, or if the altitude is really the big factor here, but I’m inclined to believe that this is in fact an issue that is affecting play. I have no idea whether teams will become accustomed to the ball in further stages or not and thus increase scoring.



* I’d note that you could argue this the other way. You could say that teams falsely appear more equal because there is less scoring.

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14 Responses to Is 2010 a boring World Cup? Why are there no goals?

  1. […] World Cup 2010 boring so far? I have updated the information after group play. This is the lowest goals in a World Cup so far. Click the link for updated stats and […]

  2. fratrik says:

    So international. 2,6 🙂

  3. yankinsa says:

    Haha. Trust me, I strugged with GoogleDocs trying to get that formatted into a period and not a comma. I’m pretty sure GoogleDocs won’t let me because I’m in Argentina.

  4. Obi says:

    regarding parity: doesn´t the fact that the number of ties is close to the mean somewhat contradict your assumption that the teams have become more equal?

  5. Steve Sailer says:

    The long term trend in American football is toward more scoring as a reflection of increasing competence. In the World Cup, in contrast, scoring is either stagnating or, compared to a half century ago, headed downward. But that hasn’t hurt the World Cup’s popularity.

    That needs an explanation.

    I think soccer fans like low-scoring games because it means there isn’t a lot to remember. A 2-1 game just involves three scores, so the action is easy to remember. A 27-24 NFL game involves 9 scores, not counting extra points, and it’s hard to remember 9 events. American games tend to be described best statistically, and humans don’t naturally like to think statistically. They like to think in terms of narratives, with results described in terms of moral justice.

    Three events is about what the average person can remember when telling a story. A 2-1 soccer game has the same amount of cumulative scores as the number (three) of people killed in, say, gang fights in “West Side Story.”

    Three people killed or three goals scored seems like fate. Larger numbers start to remind people that the outcome is actually stochastic and people don’t really like statistics. Obviously, you know and I know that the smaller the sample size, the more random the results. But it doesn’t seem that way — it seems more like (if your side wins) that you deserved to win, or that if you lost, then the coach should be fired.

  6. yankinsa says:

    Obi —

    My intuitive reaction was no, but I wanted to think about it first before I replied.

    In the long-term, there should be a correlation between ties and parity. In the short-term though, I don’t think so. There are only 48 games right now in group play, which is an extremely small sample size. A few referee decisions is going to cause a massive amount of variation in the number of ties.

    My view is that games that were once 4-0 or 4-1 are now more likely to be 1-0, 2-1, or 2-0 because of the increase in parity.

  7. yankinsa says:

    Steve Sailer —

    Your comment appears to assume that scoring affects popularity. But every country has its own unique football culture, and it is probably the easiest game in the world to play, so the game keeps growing internationally. As long as that happens, no one really cares about aggregate World Cup scoring totals: they care about winning in a competetion that is much more meaningful to the world than anything else, including the Olympics.

  8. Steve Sailer says:

    A lot of people go hiking, but they don’t stay up late to watch Paraguay-Slovakia in the World Hiking Cup.

    I suspect that the World Cup is vastly popular not so much despite the futility and grimness of the play, but because of its offensive ineffectuality.

  9. yankinsa says:

    But what about all the counterevidence from other sports? What other sports support your 3 event thesis?

  10. Edward says:

    How does Steve Sailer then explain the popularity of allegedly anti-psychological comfort sports in the USA? Does he believe that Americans are ethnically superior compared to Brazilians, Argentines, etc.? Oh wait, I’ve answered my own question.

  11. hibikir says:

    Instead of just looking at just goals, look at the stats of items that indicate failed goal opportunities: Shots off goal, and shots on goal.

    If the ball has a lot to do with this, you’d see that the total number of shots trends differently, and it’s just that many shots aren’t going anywhere near where the striker wanted them to go.

    A comparison between shots on goal and actual goals will show if the goalies are failing to stop goal chances themselves.

  12. yankinsa says:

    hibikir —

    A shot is not a good indicator of a scoring chance, nor is it the most affected by the ball.

    The ball skips, it travels father, it is tougher to connect with on crosses. All those things are going to affect the number of opportunities in strange ways that you can’t control for by merely looking at shots on and off goal.

  13. Jim says:

    The ball — spare me.

    If this were the highest-scoring World Cup of all time, goalies would be saying the ball is too high-flying, and they just can’t stop it.

    Since it’s the lowest, the attackers are saying the ball is too high-flying, and they just can’t kick it.

  14. yankinsa says:

    Jim —

    Every recent World Cup, the goalkeepers complain about the ball. But pretty much only the goalies.

    But this is the first World Cup where _everyone_ has been complaining about the ball _since they got to South Africa._ That last part is key, because the ball had been tested in league play, but apparently not in any situations with altitude.

    Finally, if there wasn’t something different, how come this is the first World Cup where everyone is complaining? How come it is the first World Cup where I can see that the ball is performing differently? Even FIFA (an organization not known for recognizing its errors, to say the least) has acknowledged that the ball may have problems.

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