"With 20 games to go, football buffs can expect plenty of action and goals galore. "
By Santosh Rao

Gone are the days when teams at the FIFA World Cup were paranoid about losing and happy to somehow manage a sole point. The new mantra is attack, attack and attack. The result is that the goal count has crossed the 100-mark at the group stage itself.

The thinking and philosophy of teams has changed. The mindset is no longer defensive, they do not look to splitting points at any cost.

In the World Cup in Brazil, a place where the soul of the beautiful game resides, the samba spirit seems to have caught on.

With 44 matches played out of 64 and the group stage ending Thursday, 129 goals have already been scored at an average of 2.93.

In the last edition in South Africa in 2010, the average was 2.3 with 145 goals being scored.

The Netherlands, who thrashed defending champions Spain 5-1 in their opening game, lead the scoring chart with 10 goals, followed by Colombia with nine and hosts Brazil, France and Switzerland with seven each.

The Dutch, who will take on Mexico in the round of 16 Sunday, have scored all their 10 goals from open play. France, though, have been the most efficient team.

The French have had a whopping 62 attempts at goal in just three matches with the tournament average being 35.2.

Spain, who were knocked out by Chile after a 0-2 loss, as expected have been the passers. The much-heralded Spanish tiki-taka style might not have taken them past the group stage, but it sure got the passing metre going.

The Spanish completed an amazing 1,703 passes in their three matches at a completion rate of 82 percent.

Two of South America's biggest names - Lionel Messi of Argentina and Neymar of Brazil - lead the scoring charts and the race for the Golden Boot with four goals each.

In South Africa, Thomas Mueller of Germany won the Golden Boot having scored five goals.

That year, Germany reached the semi-finals and beat Uruguay to finish third, giving Mueller plenty of opportunity to rack up his goal count.

If Brazil or Argentina go that far, surely Neymar and Messi would be close to doubling their goal tally and easily overhauling Mueller.

There are seven players - Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie (both Netherlands), Karim Benzema (France), Thomas Mueller (Germany), James Rodriguez (Colombia), Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland) and Enner Valencia (Ecuador) - who have scored three each.

The tournament has seen many top attackers hitting top form and that has already led to 11 braces being recorded.

Benzema, Mario Mandžukic, Jackson Martínez, Messi, Ahmed Musa, Neymar, Van Persie, Robben, Luis Suarez, Valencia - have all scored two goals in a match.

Neymar, playing his first World Cup finals, is the only player to have scored two braces while Mueller and Shaqiri are the only players to have recorded a hat-trick.

One reason for the high scoring rate is the number of penalties that have been awarded.

Ten penalty kicks have been awarded and nine converted. Benzema is the only player to have missed a spot-kick.

The World Cup has also seen three own goals with Sead Kolašinac, Marcelo and Noel Valladares being the culprits.

In fact, the first goal of this year's World Cup was an own goal by Marcelo of host nation Brazil against Croatia in the opening match.

The goals have been coming thick and fast and another example of teams going on an all-out attack right from the word go was when Clint Dempsey of the United States scored one of the fastest goals in the World Cup finals.

The American striker opened the scoring against Ghana in a Group G match with just 30 seconds on the clock, the fifth fastest in a World Cup final.

The fastest goal in World Cup history came back in 2002, when Turkey's Hakan Sukur scored 11 seconds into a third-place match against South Korea.

Incredibly, the Turkish striker was able to accomplish the feat even though South Korea kicked off the match.

The latest goal in a match without extra time was when Silvestre Varela of Portugal scored in the 90+5 minutes against United States to keep his team in the tournament.

With recently eliminated Iran scoring in their final game at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, every country included in the tournament field managed to net at least one goal for the first time since 1998 at the World Cup in France.

With 20 games to go, football buffs can expect plenty of action and goals galore.

(Santosh Rao is a Reporter with IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached [email protected])

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