DOHA, Qatar (AP) — More crosses creating more goals. Winning penalties with “total genius” like Cristiano Ronaldo. Pressing opponents to quickly win back the ball.
FIFA’s expert analysts picked their World Cup trends Saturday from the first 16 games after each team played once.
What the Technical Study Group saw was more and better crosses bearing fruit with a big increase in the number of goals — 14 instead of three — coming from wide areas compared to the 2018 tournament at the same stage.
The nine penalty kicks awarded in the first 16 games put this World Cup on track for a record 36 in the entire 64-game tournament. There were 29 given by referees in 2018 when they first had video reviews.
Clever players should get as much credit as new technology, according to Sunday Oliseh, a midfielder who played at two World Cups for Nigeria and is studying games in Qatar for FIFA.
“Maybe the strikers are getting smarter? If you look at the penalty that Ronaldo got,” he said about the Portugal star seeming to tempt a Ghana defender into a tackle that was judged a foul.
“People can say what they want about this man, but the smartness and the ingenious thought to just being patient and wait for that split second to touch the ball first before you,” Oliseh said, “and continue my leg so that your contact will hit my leg.”
“That is total genius,” he added.
Ghana coach Otto Addo might disagree. He described the penalty as “ a special gift from the referee.”
Ronaldo got off the turf to open the scoring in Portugal’s 3-2 win, one of the seven penalties converted among the 41 total goals in 16 games through Thursday.
That’s a solid average at a World Cup — a rate of 2.56 per game compared to the record of 2.67 at a full, 64-game tournament.
Helping make up for the four scoreless draws, the FIFA analysts highlighted, was the impressive delivery from wide areas.
The 14 goals stemming from crosses resulted from a better supply in Qatar where 56 crosses have led to goal attempts compared to just 35 in Russia four years ago, FIFA’s analysis said.
Four games without goals — when the first 36 games in 2018 failed to produce a 0-0 draw — can be explained by teams’ caution to avoid losing their first game.
Oliseh said the Portugal-Ghana game was drab until Ronaldo’s penalty “then it became a funfair” with a rush of second-half goals.
“As the tournament progresses we will see teams becoming a bit braver,” said Alberto Zaccheroni, the Italian coach who led Japan at the 2014 World Cup.
Teams that committed to pressing opponents deep in their own half were rewarded with regaining possession in dangerous areas and avoided chasing back toward their own goal, Zaccheroni said.
FIFA data showed England, Spain, Germany and Argentina were most effective at “counter-pressing” tactics many players routinely use at their clubs.
Coaches now having five substitutes meant their teams could keep “physically very taxing” energy levels high for the full game, Zaccheroni said.
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