Why the goal-crazy World Cup is being hailed as the best ever
Goals galore and shock results have got the fans purring, but what's different this time?
After an action-packed opening weekend the World Cup in Brazil is already being hailed as one of the best ever.
Netherlands' extraordinary rout of Spain on Friday sent shockwaves through the tournament, while Costa Rica's stunning win over Uruguay on Saturday could end up being crucial to England's chances.
Sunday was illuminated by a special goal from Lionel Messi as Argentina overcame Bosnia, and France showed that they will be a force to be reckoned with as they impressed against Honduras.
So what makes Brazil 2014 so different to its predecessors?
The first 11 games of the tournament have yeilded 37 goals at an average of well over three per game, the highest figure since 1958. After the same number of games in 2010 there had been just 18 goals. Only three of the 22 teams to be in action so far have failed to score.
If things carry at anything like the same rate, Brazil 2014 will become the highest scoring World Cup ever.
What is the reason? An emphasis on attack is one obvious answer, but a more technical one involves the number of different formations being used. "The ubiquity of 4-2-3-1 four years ago has become more nuanced with a variety of formations creating interesting clashes. Spaces and overloads lead to goals," says Sky Sports.
Results in every game
After four days and 11 matches there has yet to be a draw, let alone a dreaded 0-0, and we've had a fair share of comebacks. The most dramatic came in Switzerland's clash against Ecuador on Sunday. The Swiss went behind in the first half but equalised early in the second, and he game looked to be heading for a draw only for the Swiss to conjure a winner in the third minute of stoppage time, soon after Ecuador nearly scored themselves.
Ivory Coast, Costa Rica, Netherlands and Brazil have also come from behind to win.
Once again, Sky provides a reason for this. "It may seem self-explanatory but goals change games and cause tactical tweaks that alter the dynamics of matches. Goals bring more goals."
A country like Netherlands never goes into a game as massive underdogs, but no-one would have been surprised if they had lost to Spain. The fact they came from a goal behind to beat the World Champions 5-1 is extraordinary.
Just as remarkable was Costa Rica's comeback against Uruguay, a team tipped by many to go a long way in the tournament.
Even games where the result was expected have threatened to go against the grain. Croatia taking the lead against Brazil, for example.
There is a "glorious unpredictability" about the tournament, says Jonathan Liew in the Daily Telegraph. These days football fans are fond of statistics, he says. But relying on statistics to predict the outcome of games is just "an attempt to donate some sort of meaning to the essentially meaningless... The mistake people make is in confusing knowledge with fortune-telling."
Stars in form
Forget Wayne Rooney for a moment, the other stars of the tournament have all turned up when required. Neymar scored twice on the opening night, Lionel Messi produced a moment of magic against Bosnia, Robin van Persie provided an iconic World Cup moment with his header against Spain, and his team-mate Arjen Robben followed suit with a special goal of his own.
Italian master Andrea Pirlo almost scored one of the great free kicks against England, which left Joe Hart rooted to the spot, and Mario Balotelli did find the net.
Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast did not score, but certainly inspired his team against Japan.
A decent ball
They say a bad workman blames his tools, but this time there is no excuse for the players, because the World Cup finally has a decent ball, and that means the players can make it sing.
The Jabulani of four years ago was widely panned and the players did not trust it. There were gripes about the balls in 2002 and 2006 as well (one was too light, the other too heavy). This time round there have been few complaints about the Brazuca and it is clear that the stars of the show know how to use it. ·