Last-gasp goals a Hallmark in Russia

Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer scoring an unfortunate own goal against Costa Rica. Bryan Ruiz's stoppage-time penalty crashed against the bar, only for the ball to hit the custodian and rebound into the net. The Group E decider finished 2-2 on We
Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer scoring an unfortunate own goal against Costa Rica. Bryan Ruiz's stoppage-time penalty crashed against the bar, only for the ball to hit the custodian and rebound into the net. The Group E decider finished 2-2 on Wednesday.PHOTO: REUTERS

The VAR system and fatigue are factors that have contributed to the glut of late drama

VOLGOGRAD • If you like late goals that turn football matches on their head, this is the World Cup for you.

Players like Marcos Rojo, whose dramatic 86th-minute volley against Nigeria kept Argentina's hopes alive, have scored many more vital late goals in the group matches than at the same stage of the previous two World Cups.

The thrilling finales have included the one that saw the shock exit of champions Germany on Wednesday.

As the first stage of the World Cup closed on Thursday, figures show how consequential much of the late action has been.

In the group matches, 26 goals were scored after the 80th minute, of which 13 - or 50 per cent - have been winners or equalisers, according to an analysis by Reuters of data provided by sports data firm Opta.

The total does not include other late goals that while dramatic, were inconsequential to the final outcome, such as the second of Brazil's stoppage-time goals against Costa Rica.

By comparison, during the group stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, 26 goals were also scored after the 80th minute but only eight - or 31 per cent - were decisive.

In 2010, in South Africa, five of 20 similarly late goals - or 25 per cent - settled group-stage matches.

  • GOALS IN 90 MINUTES AND ADDED TIME

  • 16%

    20 out of the 122 group-stage total.

  • 55%

    Goals (11) that were decisive.

  • HOW THE 20 WENT IN

    Left foot 9

    Right 7 (two free kicks)

    Head 1

    Own goals 2

    Penalties 1

  • VAR: 3 (two offside decisions and a penalty)

"There are so many late goals being scored that you need some luck as well," Germany's Marco Reus said after his team's win over Sweden in Group F last Saturday, which was clinched by a Toni Kroos strike just seconds before the final whistle.

While Germany were stunningly knocked out a few days later, after the nerve-racking climax of their game against modest South Korea, the late-goal drama has mostly favoured the bigger teams competing in Russia.

Harry Kane scored in stoppage time to secure England's 2-1 win over Tunisia in their first match of the tournament, while Uruguay left it late to beat Egypt with an 89th-minute goal from Jose Gimenez.

But the underdogs have had their fun too. Iran slotted home a penalty in the 93rd minute of their match against Portugal, which ended 1-1, and Morocco went ahead against Spain in the 81st minute, only for the 2010 World Cup winners to level in stoppage time.

There have been 20 goals scored in the 90th minute or later. The profusion of so many late and important goals in Russia seems to be connected with the introduction of the video assistant referee (VAR) system.

Alex Olshansky, an independent football analyst based in New York, said matches were tending to run a bit longer because of the use of VAR during games, adding to the amount of stoppage time being played and increasing the chances of late goals.

"Defenders also get tired," he said. "It's easy for us to watch on our couches and not realise that these guys have just run six miles (about 10km) over the last two hours. Sometimes, teams lose their shape towards the very end."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2018, with the headline 'Last-gasp goals a Hallmark in Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe