As the club season draws to a close, anticipation for the 2018 World Cup will sweep the nation. Fans temporarily put aside their club rivalries and unite together in the hope that this year will finally be the year their country wins the World Cup. There are many fans who expect entertaining summer football, where they hope to see the biggest stars in world football and shock results along the way. My question is will the 2018 World Cup live up to its lofty expectations?
One of the main reasons why expectations are so high is the quality of the offensive football displayed in the world’s best club competition, the Champions League. In 2016/17 the average goals per game in the Champions League was 2.90. The 2017/18 season of the Champions League has so far produced an astonishing 3.20 goals per game. The firepower from the finalists Liverpool and Real Madrid have thrilled fans throughout the competition while even semi finalists Roma produced some outstanding results at home, behaving in an almost un-Italian like manner with fine goal scoring displays at home to Chelsea, Barcelona most famously, and in their semi final defeat on aggregate to Liverpool.
The goals per game ratio at recent World Cups cannot compete with those set in the Champions League which have spoiled us over the past two seasons. The last World Cup was unusually high scoring, with 2.70 goals per game. In South Africa 2010 there were just 2.23, in Germany 2006 only 2.30. Most worrying of all was last significant International tournament, the expanded Euro 2016 produced only 2.12 goals per game. One of the main reasons for this is that nations are only given a couple of weeks a year to meet up for their national teams. There is little time to prepare detailed, repetitive training sessions that promote attacking football and combination play that club sides are afforded and are able to display on a weekly basis. Defensive coaching is less challenging than at international level, as it is easier to organise a defensive system designed on a low block that can play on the counter attack in the short space of time managers have to coach their teams. This leads to dull football, where games contested are basically attack against defence rather than the end to end football that the Champions League has provided on many occasions for us this season.
Despite the worrying statistics detailed above, I believe that there are still some reasons to be optimistic for the 2018 World Cup. One of these is individual performance levels of players. In World Cup qualification there were numerous examples of individual players performing at their maximum level to help their nations qualify for Russia. Robert Lewandowski broke the record for most goals in the European qualifiers for the World Cup with 16 goals and an average of a goal every 56 minutes for Poland. Christian Eriksen was able to overcome the defensive traps laid out by the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup play off qualifier at the Aviva Stadium as he produced one of the best individual displays I’ve seen at international level with him scoring a memorable hat trick away from home to send Denmark through to the World Cup. The Dane finished a fine campaign with 11 goals and 3 assists. Mohammed Salah’s two goals against Congo in a decisive 2-1 victory, one of which was a last minute penalty guided Egypt to their first World Cup finals since 1990. In a relatively modest Group A including the hosts Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia, you wouldn’t bet against Salah bringing his outstanding goal scoring form from Liverpool to the International stage. There is also the hope that an unexpected star emerges at the World Cup, similar to James Rodriquez’s fine performance in 2014 which earned the Colombian a move to Real Madrid.
Having watched some of the recent friendly games in March between some of the top nations in fixtures such as Spain 6-1 Argentina, Germany 0-1 Brazil and Germany 1-1 Spain, I was somewhat relieved that as the tournament progresses into the latter stages, we can expect that the heavyweight encounters between the top sides will bring entertaining games along with moments of great quality. Players from these nations are used to facing each other at Champions League level, are unfazed by the big occasions and are instructed by their managers to play the game the right way to deliver World Cup glory that their fans expect.
Written by @CescAssist