The Appeal of Nil-Nil Draws
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From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
Is the grindingly low scoring in the World Cup soccer tournament a bug or–as I’m finally starting to suspect–a feature? Could it be that the World Cup’s global popularity is not so much despite all the nil-nil draws as because of the grimness of the scores?

The three-match mini-season that opened the 2010 World Cup set a new record for futility with the 32 teams scoring only 101 goals in 96 tries, or just 1.05 per team per game.

The American team, despite seemingly not noticing that its games had started until about a half hour had gone by, was, relatively speaking, an offensive juggernaut, scoring four times in its three group stage games. The only squad the USA managed to beat, Algeria, didn’t score at all in 2010. Portugal, led by the world’s most celebrated striker, Christiano Ronaldo, tied Argentina for most goals with seven, but all were notched against North Korean famine victims. Portugal’s other two encounters sputtered out 0-0.

Six of the 48 games ended 0-0, thirteen 1-0, six 1-1, and six 2-0. In contrast, there was only a single 3-2 game, the final score that na??ve American viewers would typically pick as the ideal balance of entertainment and rigor. ...

Scoring trends have diverged in the cousin sports of soccer and American football. In the American cool weather game, scores have gradually risen as competence increased. In the 1970 NFL season, for instance, teams scored 3.5 times per game: 2.2 touchdowns and 1.3 field goals. (I’ll ignore point-after-touchdown conversions as vestigial.) That was 2.4 times the 1970 World Cup scoring rate of 1.48 goals per team per match.

By the most recent year, NFL teams were up to 4.1 scores per game (2.6 touchdowns and 1.5 field goals), while World Cup teams were down to 1.05. Hence, the NFL now sees almost four times as many scores as the World Cup.

Yet, both enterprises have flourished extravagantly over the last four decades.... It seems likely that the two kinds of football, in their different but both triumphant evolutions, are giving the people what they want. Hard as it can be for Americans to believe, people like soccer’s offensive ineptitude.

The appeal of high-scoring American football–with its action, expertise, and comebacks against the clock–is as obvious as the appeal of American summer movies.

In contrast, low-scoring soccer fulfills other human desires: such as ...

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it here.

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