Floodgates should open after slow start

June 17, 2010

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The opening group stage matches at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa produced only 25 goals in 16 matches, 14 less than the same stage of the competition at the 2006 event in Germany.

The low average of just 1.56 goals per game can probably be attributed to a number of factors: the much-criticised World Cup ball, cagey defending by teams playing against stronger opposition and even unfamiliar weather conditions for this time of the year for all non-African teams.

But it seems the main reason goals have been hard to come by is the tactical and technical progress second-tier teams have made, as epitomised by Switzerland’s shock 1-0 win over European champions Spain and one of the tournament’s hot favourites.

In what has so far been arguably the most entertaining match of the tournament, North Korea – widely expected to be the whipping boys of Group G – also showed how thin that line can be when they pushed Brazil to the limit in their 2-1 defeat by the five-time World Cup winners.

Serbian coach Vladimir Vermezovic, who is in charge of South Africa’s first division side Kaizer Chiefs, concurred with the opinion that the quality of football so far has been better than the disappointing scoring ratio might suggest.

“The fans have been left wanting so far but it’s not because the quality of the football has been poor, on the contrary,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“Teams which are not top contenders have become much harder to break down because they have improved, some of them beyond recognition,” added Vermezovic, who steered Partizan Belgrade to a Serbian league title in 2005 before he moved to South Africa.

“Everyone is cautious in the opening round because no one wants to lose the opening game but I am quite sure goals will start coming thick and fast now that teams have to start taking risks.”

Uruguay, who drew 0-0 with France in the tournament’s most tepid game so far, seemed to corroborate Vermezovic’s theory when they beat South Africa 3-0 in the opening second round match of the group stage.

Argentina did so too with a 4-1 victory against South Korea in the most entertaining game of the tournament on Thursday.

Others should follow in their footsteps as a series of goalless draws are unlikely to be enough for a berth in the knockout round and we may yet see a flurry of goals in the first World Cup on African soil.

PHOTO: North Korea’s Ji Yun-nam (8) shoots to score a goal past Brazil’s goalkeeper Julio Cesar during their 2010 World Cup Group G soccer match at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg June 15, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Charisius

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