Through the first 20 games in this World Cup there have already been five times as many scoreless draws as there were in the entire tournament four years ago in Russia.
Friday’s goalless game between the U.S. and England was the fifth of the tournament, just two shy of the World Cup record of seven. That happened four times, most recently in 2014.
“I certainly think the gap in talent and competitive balance between international teams has certainly closed with the globalization of the game,” Fox Sports commentator Alexi Lalas, a two-time World Cup player, said when asked to explain the lack of scoring. “But so often we desperately try to ascribe meaning and reason to this game, and sometimes it’s really just simply the result of some random and unpredictable things happening. Kind of like life."
Tab Ramos, a teammate of Lalas on the 1994 World Cup team and now an analyst for Telemundo, agreed.
“I don’t think there is a particular reason for some unusual scores, other than teams just adapting to the different weather, time change, kickoff time of the matches and the competition itself,” he said.
World Cup games have kicked off as late as 10 p.m. local time while others have been played in the heat of the desert afternoon. For some players coming to Qatar from clubs in Europe, the transition has been difficult.
Croatia-Morocco, Mexico-Poland and Denmark-Tunisia also ended without a score; the only such game in 2018 was a group-play finale between Denmark and France.
The lowest-scoring World Cup in history was the 1990 tournament, with 115 goals or an average of 2.21 per game. Through the first 20 games this year teams averaged 2.45 goals a game, down from the 2.64 average for the 64 games in Russia. The numbers in Qatar, however, have been skewed by England’s 6-2 win over Iran and Spain’s 7-0 rout of Costa Rica. Take out those results and games are averaging 1.89 goals.
They could have played all night — and almost did
It doesn’t just seem like World Cup games are getting longer. They are getting longer: According to the statistic site Opta Joe, the five longest periods of stoppage time for a single half at any World Cup have all been recorded in this tournament. And that’s by design.
FIFA referees committee chairman Pierluigi Collina has directed officials “to offer more show to those watching the World Cup.” That generally meant play on and teams are taking advantage of that.
Friday’s Iran-Wales game was scoreless after 90 minutes, but Iran scored twice after the eighth minute of stoppage time to post a 2-0 win. The U.S.-Wales game four days earlier started on Monday but ended on Tuesday, thanks to nearly a dozen minutes of stoppage time. Saudi Arabia had to wait out 14 minutes of stoppage time before celebrating its win over Argentina, and there were 15 minutes added to the first half of the England-Iran match, partly due to an injury to Iran’s goalkeeper.
Neymar out for Brazil, but who knows for how long?
Neymar will miss Brazil’s match with Switzerland on Monday but will remain with the squad while undergoing treatment for his ankle injury, the team doctor said Friday.
Rodrigo Lasmar said the Paris St.-Germain forward sustained a ligament injury late in the second half of Brazil’s tournament-opening win over Serbia and will not be fit to play in the second game. Lasmar did not give a timetable for Neymar’s recovery. He said the situation of defender Danilo, who has a left ankle injury, was similar to Neymar’s and he would also miss the game against Switzerland.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.