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.

Is World Cup 2010 boring so far?

June 16, 2010

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 charts.

Up until this point, World Cup 2010 is boring. That’s what they are talking about right now on Argentine TV. As I listened to the Argentine pundits talk, I thought it might be interesting to run some numbers comparing this World Cup against previous World Cups.

If you like goals and dislike ties, then this World Cup is boring, according to the numbers.

Every team has played one game, so we can compare pretty easily against what had happened in previous World Cups. I went back and calculated the number of goals in the first set of games of group play for each World Cup back until 1970.*  It is worth noting that 1970-1978 had only 4 groups. 1982-1994 had 6 groups. 1998-now has had 8 groups. So, to some degree we are comparing apples to oranges.

Year Goals per Game
2010 1.56
2006 2.44
2002 2.88
1998 2.31
1994 2.5
1990 2.25
1986 2
1982 2.83
1978 2.75
1974 2
1970 2.5

Or, if you prefer, in chart form:
World Cup 2010 Boring?

2002’s stats are somewhat inflated because Germany scored 8 goals. 1982’s stats are inflated because Hungary scored 10 goals (look it up!) in its first game and Scotland scored 5. In the future, I might design a modified stat to strip away the outliers. However, even if you stripped away Hungary and Scotland’s extra goals, there were still more average goals per game in 1982 than in 2010.

Goals aren’t everything, of course. People will probably tend to think that a World Cup is boring if more games end in ties.

Year How many games end in a tie?
2010 37.5%
2006 18.8%
2002 25%
1998 31.3%
1994 25%
1990 25%
1986 33%
1982 41.7%
1978 25%
1974 25%
1970 12.5%

So is this World Cup boring? Lke I said, if you like goals and you want to see one team win or lose…then this is a boring World Cup so far.

I choose to focus on the positive: ties now mean that the last set of games for group play is meaningful. Plus, blowouts aren’t very interesting to me even if they mean more goals for the highlight reel. Plus my teams – US, Argentina and Holland – have all had good opening results. So, while thus far 2010 features a definite paucity of goals, let’s hold off before labelling it a boring World Cup. The goals could still come pouring in…especially if they would ban the vuvuzela.

* A note on methodology:  The statistics presented above are for the first set of games for group play, which is where we are in World Cup 2010: finished with the first set of games for group play.  Every team has played exactly one game as I write this before South Africa v Uruguay.  I did not take the average goals per game of all of group play for previous World Cups, as that would be an apples to oranges comparison.    Nor did I take the average goals per game of the entire World Cups. For those of you who care, you can see the spreadsheet here.

UPDATE: You can see my explanation for why there are so few goals at the World Cup.

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