A cautious approach from many teams in the opening round of the World Cup was behind a record-approaching number of goalless draws at the tournament in Qatar, FIFA’s technical study group said on Saturday.
But they predicted the games would get more expansive, and goals begin to flow, once teams had a chance to qualify for the knockout stages or were facing the prospect of an early exit.
There were four goalless games in the opening 16 matches – an unprecedented 25% return in the first round of group games – and a fifth on Friday as England and the United States played out a stalemate in their second game of the tournament in Qatar.
The record number of 0-0 draws at the World Cup stands at seven, which happened at four different editions of the tournament, but Qatar 2022 is already close to that tally with only 20 of the 64 scheduled games completed before Saturday’s matches. At the last World Cup in Russia, there was a single goalless draw, when Denmark and France failed to produce goals in a group phase clash.
“Teams have not wanted to take too much of a risk,” said former Nigeria international Sunday Oliseh, part of FIFA’s panel of experts who are studying trends at the tournament.
“Past data shows that some 70% of teams who lose their first game at a World Cup go out after the first round and I think teams are aware of that,” he added at a news briefing on Saturday.
“Clearly many teams are relying on a cautious approach,” added colleague Alberto Zaccheroni, who won Serie A with AC Milan and the Asian Cup when he was coach of Japan.
“There were a number of teams who fielded five defenders and played very tight and compact. They wanted to assure a minimum of a point from their opening game and if a chance came along try and grab it to win the game. “But as the tournament progresses we will see teams become a bit braver,” he predicted.
FIFA said the early matches had thrown up several interesting tactical trends, notably much more counter pressing with multiple players and increased attacking success from crosses. There have been 14 goals at the tournament in Qatar from crosses in comparison to three at the same stage at the last World Cup four years ago.
Oliseh also said he expected the high intensity on display at the tournament to continue even if there was an energy-sapping schedule of a match every four days in the early group phase.
“This is a very different World Cup in that players get to sleep in the same bed every night and each team has its own base. There is no traveling from venue to different venue.
“It’s like they are all playing at home. They are not facing the fatigue that comes with constant travelling around and I don’t see the players getting tired any time soon,” he added.