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

June 25, 2010

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.


Why are there so few goals in World Cup 2010?

June 16, 2010

As I noted below, there are no goals in World Cup 2010. But why? There are a few possible candidates: parity, vuvuzelas, the new ball, altitude and just variance.

World Cup 2010 Boring?

1. Global spread of the game has increased parity. The World Cup expanded in 1982 and then again in 1998. You can see spikes in the number of goals, which is probably logical, as more weak teams qualify when the field expands and thus lose by a large number of goals.

2. Vuvuzelas. Those things are so obnoxiously deafening that they make it hard to communicate.

3. Jubulani. The ball has received lots of complaints from lots of players. The ball has been used in this year’s Club World Cup, African Nations Cup, the MLS, and the Argentine first division.

4. Altitude.

5. Variance. Only 16 games have been played so far. That’s a very small sample size. Perhaps by chance all the first round matchups were very even.

My take:
* It’s not the vuvuzelas. In the 2009 Confederations Cup, largely held at the same venues, scoring was not down in the slightest bit. So wipe that possible explanation off the list.

* It’s not the altitude, obviously. Nor is it just the ball. But maybe the altitude combined with the new ball, according to this ESPN post by Chris Jones:

Early games here at the World Cup have been marred by poor play and few goals, which several players have attributed to the unpredictable flight of the Jabulani, the new ball by adidas.

In tests and in trials, in Germany’s Bundesliga as well as professional leagues in France, Argentina, Portugal and the United States, the Jabulani received few complaints. But its introduction to the rarefied air of South Africa’s World Cup venues has been far from controversy-free.

After defending the ball repeatedly, Thomas Schaikvan, an adidas spokesman, conceded yesterday that the Jabulani and altitude might not mix. “We want to create a more stable ball,” he told Press Association Sport. “But playing at altitude is not the same as playing at sea level. That is just plain science.”

A common line of defense for the ball — “The Germans didn’t seem to have a problem with it,” repeated time and again after Germany’s 4-0 opening defeat of Australia — now has heard its rebuttal. The Germans played at Durban, one of only three South African venues at sea level.

* The lack of scoring is probably mostly just variance, but I think that there is a non-zero parity effect since the World Cup field hasn’t been expanded recently. And perhaps there is something to the Jabulani combined with the altitude.

We will get more evidence when more games have been played, of course. As I write this, the first game of the second set of group play matches is at 3-0. That’s mean reversion!

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