From Couva To Bangkok – A Global Football Journey
The year 2007 brought three continenta championships and 929 international matches in the men’s game, with 443 women’s matches (including the Women’s World Cup) almost setting a new record.
The 2007 International season was concluded at the end ot December by the King’s Cup in Thailand — in Asia, where it had begun more than 50 weeks earlier wkh matches in Sanaa (Yemen) and Singapore – as well as in Couva in Irinidacl and Tobago. Ac rhc centre of attention were the 78 games played at the Copa America the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Asian Cup, the qualifying matches for the European Championship and the Africa Cup oi Nations, and the qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which is already under way in four zones.
The super clasico between Brazil and Argentina in Maracaiho, the Arab summit between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the CONCACAF classic USA v. Mexico and European crackers such as Greece v. Turkey and England v. Croatia were balanced by intercontinental friendly matches between Colombia and Montenegro and Japan and Egypt.
The 4.35 friendlics dominated the overall numbers (47%), with matches in continental competitions accounting for a further 40% and World Cup qualifiers 10%. As ever, some or the venues had FIFA, along with the majority of football fans, resorrting to a “Google” search as Hesperange (Luxembourg), Suzhou (China PR) and Orapa (Botswana) all had the pleasure, along with 323 other cities, of staging an international fixture.
The 929 matches played represent the fourth-highest total in the history of the men’s game, us only 2000- 2001 and 2004 saw more international football. Interestingly, 2007 set a new record for the number of matches in a post-FIFA World Cup year. It is certainly conceivable that just like in 2000 and 2004, the Olympic year of 2008 will also see the 1,000 mark breached and possibly another new record. If we look at the average number of games played over the last five years, we notice that, at 885, the figure is much higher than for the same period in the previous decade (1993-1997:731).
Rather more unsurprisingly, when the 929 matches are broken down by confederation, the three biggest confederations (UEFA, CAF and the AFC) all claim a share of at least 20%.
One in every seven matches was of an intercontinental nature and Oceania also made a statistical comeback in this category with nearly 30 intercontinental games (3%), having not played a single match against opposition from another confederation in the whole of 2006.
Top spot in the list of countries that played the most in 2007 Is claimed once again by Saudi Arabia (22 matches), followed closely by Mexico and the United Arab Emirates on 2 1 games apiece. Brazil (18 games) are the only team from the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking 10 appear in the upper reaches of this category, which is dominated by Asian and South American teams. A total of 190 teams (four more than in 2006) played ai least one game, the only newcomer being Montenegro, who gave a very creditable account of themselves in their first five matches. Although the average number of matches per team (9.8) was considerably higher than in 2006 (8.6). it was still significantly lower than the all-time record figure of 11.6. set in 2004.
Ten or more goals were scored in half a dozen games, including, rather unusually, a qualifying match in Central America where Nicaragua were steamrollered by Honduras. High-scoring games can also be hugely exciting affairs, though. Four matches ended 5-3, including the FIFA World Cup qualifier between Venezuela and Bolivia. Japan managed one of the biggest comebacks, recovering from two goals down to beat Switzerland 4-3. The long-term average of 2.7 goals per game found impressive confirmation in 2007, as it was matched exactly.
I he year 2007 will also be remembered tor various feats by leading teams and outsiders alike. The USA, for example, won seven consecutive matches en route to Gold Cup glory, whereas the illustrious trio of Portugal, Brazil and Spain all posted 12-match unbeaten runs. Costa Rica drew six games in a row, while France and Cote d’lvoire went six without conceding a goal. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan scored at least once an amazing 13 times in succession, and the most valuable game in FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking terms was, of course, the clash between Brazil and Argentina in the Copa America final, which ended in a 3-0 win for the Selecao.