Players compete in the opening match of the FIFA World Cup between Russia and Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

World Cup 2018: At This FIFA World Cup, The Better Half Comes After The Break

If you happened to miss the opening half of any FIFA World Cup game in Russia, chances are you wouldn’t have missed a goal.

That’s because the first prominent trend this time is drab first 45 minutes followed by frenzied, action-packed second halves. A total of 74 second-half goals have been scored in the 48 matches played so far — compared with 48 before the break. Thirteen of the 74 second-half goals have been scored in the last 10 minutes of games.

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The icing on the cake in this World Cup is the three “extra” games. In the 48 matches played till date, a total of 300 minutes — or over three full games — have been added by the referees as extra time, netting 18 goals. Or five goals per match on an average — double the tournament average so far. What makes the extra time special?

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Of the 18 goals scored in extra time, nine have been game-changers — be it in Brazil’s win over Costa Rica, Spain’s last-gasp victory over Sweden or Switzerland’s nail-biting finish against Serbia. If not for these goals, these footballing giants could have been out. The same can’t be said for defending champions Germany, who tasted extra-time victory against Sweden only to be eliminated by extra-time goals from South Korea.

The VAR or Video Assistant Referee — in use for the first time at a World Cup — has had a big impact. So far, 23 penalties have been awarded, with VAR’s role in 14 of them. The new technology has played a part in crucial decisions like offside goals and handing out cards to players.

If the trend of scoring late goals persists in the knockout stages, fans are in for a treat. This means the age-old trend of matches in the final 16 yielding fewer goals is set to be shaken.

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