SALVADOR, Brazil – The eyes of two nations will be glued to it no matter what happens, but statistical history from this World Cup suggests that the United States' round-of-16 showdown with Belgium on Tuesday could turn into a high-scoring classic.
Because if you want to see goals galore, you'll see them in Salvador.
The previous line was more than a terrible attempt at rhyming. A genuine trend has seen 21 goals rattled in over the course of just four games at Arena Fonte Nova. Forwards such as U.S. captain Clint Dempsey, who has already struck twice in the tournament, and Belgium's Eden Hazard, who has yet to score, will be licking their lips.
Not since 1958 has a World Cup venue averaged so many goals per game, leaving soccer experts baffled. Scoring has been up in general at this tournament, but Salvador has been the epicenter of the goal glut.
"It is quite unprecedented in modern times," said John Ley, a soccer statistics expert for the Daily Telegraph in London. "Football was very different going back half a century or more and there was a higher number of goals in general. For there to be so many in Salvador is remarkable."
It all began on the second day of the tournament with the Netherlands' devastating, swashbuckling deconstruction of a Spain team that was defending its World Cup crown and had won the last two European Championships. The 5-1 victory was striking enough, but it could have been more as the rampant Dutch wasted a couple more clear chances at the end of the game.
A state government campaign known as Gol Verde (Green Goal) pledged to plant 1,111 trees for every goal scored in Salvador in a bid to curb widespread deforestation in the Atlantic Forest, part of the state of Bahia. The problem was that, with so many more goals being scored than expected, funding began to run out.
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"As they've scored quite a lot of goals already we need more trees and so are looking for new partners," consultant Patricia Mazoni told Reuters.
And then lowest scoring of all but perhaps the most surprising was Bosnia-Herzegovina's win over Iran last Wednesday. The 3-1 score wasn't necessarily an anomaly until you consider that the teams had previously scored just once between them in four combined matches.
Many reasons have been given for the increase in scoring at the World Cup, ranging from the ball to the conditions to the sheer excitement surrounding this event and its location. It could be argued that there are effectively two tournaments taking place due to the differing weather climates, with more scoring in the hotter and more humid northern venues.
"When teams get fatigued mistakes creep in," Ley said. "Mistakes lead to goals and that is part of it. With Salvador it is obviously hot and then you have had high-quality teams, strongly motivated to prove a point."
If form is any indicator as to what we can expect on Tuesday, the U.S. scored four goals and conceded four in its three Group G games, while Belgium was also on target four times but conceded just once in sweeping to three victories and topping Group H.
After it hosts the Americans and Belgians, Salvador has just one more game on its schedule: a quarterfinal between the Netherlands and Costa Rica on Saturday. Barring a stalemate or a low-scoring snoozer featuring the U.S., the stadium will stay on course to etch itself a place in modern World Cup history.
The highest average number of goals for a World Cup stadium that has hosted more than one game is 7.3 at St. Jakob's Park in Basel, Switzerland. During the 1954 tournament, 44 goals were scored there in six games, including Hungary's 8-3 thumping of West Germany in the group stage. The Germans, however, settled the score when the teams met again in the final with a 3-2 win in Bern.Norrkopping in Sweden averaged 6.33 goals in 1958 and Zurich had 5.6 goals per game (also in 1954). Naples saw 11 goals in two games in 1934 for an average of 5.5. Those are the only stadiums currently ahead of Salvador's average of 5.25 goals per game.
For what it is worth, a local politician believes he has the answer to the conundrum.
"It is though all the saints of the world, and all the gods of football, have come to watch the games with our fans," Jacques Wagner, governor of the Bahia region, told FIFA.com.
However many goals are scored on Tuesday, the Americans will hope some of those soccer gods are smiling upon them.
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