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Goals down, drama up

Intensity makes up for low scores

Even with scoring down, there's been no shortage of drama at the World Cup.

That was the view of FIFA's top technical analysts yesterday.

With eight games remaining, this World Cup has produced 132 goals in 56 matches, an average of 2.36 a game. Of the 17 previous tournaments, only Italy 1990 averaged fewer goals per game at 2.21. Overall, the tournament average is 2.93.

Sophisticated defenses, good coaching and the heat of the German summer have all played their part in the tournament to date. Not to mention the rash of fouls and record number of yellow and red cards.

``The game is not as open as it was. But I don't necessarily think that it makes it any less dramatic," said Andy Roxburgh, UEFA technical director and a member of FIFA's technical and development committee. ``You can get a game that's won 5-0 and it's a terrible game because one team wins easily and the other's hopeless.

``What you really want to have is a drama in the match. And if we get a drama, like we've had in some of the games here, if you watch Mexico-Argentina as an example, it's a fantastic example of football played at the highest level . . . We saw everything in the game. That's also football. It's not just about the goals count. The goals count can be an indicator, but it's not just about that. You can have a wonderfully exciting match that ends up as it did with Argentina-Mexico, 2-1 into extra time."

Players share blame
Franz Beckenbauer thinks players who simulate fouls should share the blame for the high level of discontent with World Cup referees.

The German soccer great and head of the local organizing committee said referees had been too quick to issue yellow cards, but players diving and faking injuries hoping to get rivals cautioned were making it ``extremely difficult for referees to do their job."

``The players aren't making it easy when they fall over," he said. ``It's so exaggerated now -- players simulating -- we must protect the referees."

Some matches here have turned on contentious refereeing decisions when players have exaggerated falls after challenges or faked injuries in collisions.

Beckenbauer said FIFA, the sport's governing body, should review the problem after the World Cup and try to stamp it out.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been critical of World Cup referees for being inconsistent, reflecting a typical complaint from players, coaches and fans.

Beckenbauer said Valentin Ivanov, who handed out a World Cup-record 16 cautions and four ejections in Portugal's 1-0 second-round win over Netherlands, was ``too generous with the cards and . . . lost control of the match."

English ref quits
English referee Graham Poll, who showed a Croatian player three yellow cards before sending him off in a World Cup match, is quitting international officiating.

Poll told Britain's Sky Sports television that he considered retiring from all soccer after his blunder, which meant a Croatian player stayed on the field three minutes longer than he should have. The result of the match was not affected and Croatia was eliminated.

However, the 42-year-old referee said he will continue to referee in the English Premier League.

Brazil's edge
France falls well behind Brazil when it comes to national fervor for soccer.

Just ask Thierry Henry.

France faces Brazil in the quarterfinals. The Brazilians are seeking a record sixth World Cup title, while France has won one, and Henry said there's a reason: Brazil has the edge when it comes to skill and technique.

In France, kids spend most of their days in school, Henry said. In Brazil, that time is spent playing soccer.

``So the technique comes easily," he said. ``When I used to ask my mother if I could go outside and play, she would say no."

Getting bigger
World Cup players are taller and heavier than they were in 1974.

The study focused on the nine teams that qualified for both tournaments -- data on the 1974 Dutch team was unavailable -- and each showed an increase in size and weight. Players are an average 2 inches taller now, up 3 percent, and 6.6 pounds heavier, a 4 percent increase.

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