WOITALLA: Expecting thrills from final eight

By Mike Woitalla
in Hanover

Predictably, German tabloid Bild provided in-depth coverage of David Beckman vomiting on the field during England's 1-0 win over Ecuador.

Under the headline, "David Barfman," Bild ran sequence photos of the incident accompanied by possible reasons why he lost his lunch.

"Did he drink English beer instead of German beer?"

"Can a metrosexual get pregnant?"

"Did he see his wife's credit card bill?"

"Did the quality of the game make him ill?"

The last is the least far-fetched. Like half the games in the round of 16, England's victory included little entertainment.

The knockout round began promising enough. Germany beat Sweden, 2-0, with a relentless attack and scoring opportunities abounded. Argentina's 2-1 win over Mexico provided the most spectacular goal of the tournament and a fair serving of exciting, skillful ball.

Then came four games -- including the England game and the scoreless Ukraine-Switzerland overtime snoozer -- in which three goals were scored. That's one goal for every 130 minutes of soccer.

That may not be emetic, but sleep-inducing for sure.

On the last day of the round of 16, the tournament woke up again. Brazil scored early against Ghana, which meant that Ghana could not execute a defensive game plan even if it wanted to. Both teams created numerous chances. The Brazilians won, 3-0.

Spain, one of the few attack-minded teams at this tournament in which playing with a lone striker is a popular strategy, faced a patient French team that focused on defense but found the net, beating the Spaniards, 3-1.

So heading into the quarterfinals, with 56 games played, this tournament is averaging 2.36 goals per game.

The 1990 finals set the mark for fewest goals per game at 2.21. The 2002 World Cup was second lowest, at 2.52. It would take 30 goals in the last eight games of this tournament to top the 2002 mark.

As at the 2002 World Cup, scoring here has decreased in the knockout stages. When there's more on the line, teams get more defensive, take fewer risks, and produce fewer scoring chances. In 2002, the four quarterfinal games
produced just five goals.

This World Cup's quarterfinals begin on Friday. Seven of the final eight teams are soccer powers. Six are former World Cup winners. Besides Ukraine, none can use the underdog's excuse for packing the defense and depending on the counterattack.

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