Goal drought blights World Cup

Germany 2006 has been a FIFA World Cup as notable for its covering tackles and clean sheets as for its glittering goals.

After an opening match that produced six goals, with hosts Germany actually drawing criticism for their leaky defence as they put four past Costa Rica, the scoring dried up as the tournament went on to average the lowest goals-per-game total since Italia 90.

As Technical Study Group (TSG) member Andy Roxburgh noted, 28 out of the 32 teams in the competition used a four-man defence, and only two of the four that went with three at the back advanced to the Round of 16, with none progressing to the quarter-finals.

Those four-man back lines were made even more difficult to penetrate in many cases by the presence of two deep-lying midfielders. The tournament finalists, France and Italy, are perfect examples of this defensive structure, with France's Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele mirroring Italy's Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso.

Another TSG member Teofilo Cubillas explained that most teams tried to counter these defensive schemes by adding a second creative midfielder and playing with just a single forward. Though Germany's potent combination of Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski were a rare exception, the other three semi-finalists each played with just one natural forward -- France with Thierry Henry, Portugal with Pauleta and Italy with Luca Toni.

As one would expect in a tournament where tacticians loaded up the middle of the pitch, some of the best battles in these finals were fought by the midfielders. Whether it was France's Zinedine Zidane looking ten years younger against Brazil, or Argentina's Maxi Rodriguez stabbing a dagger through Mexican hearts with a stunning volley in extra time, or England's David Beckham striking a trademark free-kick to eliminate Ecuador, midfielders stood out the men who decided matches.

The influence of the goalkeepers' union should not be ignored either. With Shaka Hislop like a stone wall for Trinidad and Tobago in their 0-0 draw against Sweden, and Portugal's Ricardo and Germany's Jens Lehmann saving their teams in penalty shoot-outs, the often-overlooked men between the sticks did not go unnoticed here.

Source: Xinhua

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