All 32 teams in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa had played their first match by Wednesday, with the last one a showdown between Spain and Switzerland in Group H. The first stage saw a relative scarcity of goals, traditional powerhouses struggling, and better-than-expected performance by Asian teams.
◆ Goal Dearth
Goal celebrations add excitement to the World Cup, but this year there has been a notable lack of them so far. The first 16 matches produced just 25 goals, a mere 1.56 per game. That is significantly less than the 48 goals or an average of 3 per game in 2002, and the 39 goals or 2.43 per game in 2006.
Just four countries -- South Korea, Brazil, Germany, and the Netherlands -- managed to score more than one goal in the first game. Experts say the official ball, dubbed the Jabulani, affects not only goalkeepers but also forwards since it is difficult to give the ball a spin and it has huge resistance, preventing it from ending up in the right place.
It is yet anybody's guess who will be the top scorer. No player scored more than two goals in the first match, so Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina, who scored a hattrick against South Korea in the second match, is now sitting at the top of the list. Lionel Messi of Argentina, Wayne Rooney of England, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, and David Villa of Spain, who were widely tipped as winners, have not scored a goal yet. The least number of goals scored by the top scorer in a single World Cup was four.
◆ Struggling Powerhouses
Nine of top 10 in the FIFA's world ranking are competing in the World Cup, with the exception of 10th-ranked Croatia. However, only four of them -- No.1 Brazil, No.4 Netherlands, No. 6 Germany and No. 7 Argentina -- have won. Brazil narrowly beat 105th-placed North Korea 2-1. Second-ranked Spain fell to Switzerland 0-1, and No.3 Portugal, No.5 Italy, No. 6 England and No. 9 France got a draw.
Asia and Latin America looked strong while Africa and Europe did not seem very effective. Asia had always been marginalized in the World Cup, except for South Korea's remarkable fourth-place run in 2002. But this year, South Korea and Japan collected one win each over powerhouses and North Korea, despite its loss, impressed the world with its valiant effort against Brazil.
Five Latin American countries registered points without suffering a loss in the first match. Argentina, Brzail and Chile won, and Paraguay and Uruguay drew with European powers Italy and France. On the other hand, Africa, which is regarded as an emerging power, struggled. Only Ghana managed to win over Serbia, and the rest of the teams failed. It has been a struggle for European countries too, with just two wins (Germany and Slovenia), five draws and two losses.