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Far removed from the media frenzy that surrounded the FIFA World Cup final between Italy and France (and the rematch at the Stade de France two months later), many games were untouched by the limelight, Palestine’s encounter with Tunisia in the Arab women’s football championship in April being one of countless examples. However, many of the 1,200 other international matches played last year posed various challenges when it came to clarifying details. For example, even the most seasoned travelers might not immediately associate venues such as Hostert, Katlehong and Virgin Gorda with Luxembourg, South Africa and the British Virgin Isles respectively.
While 2006 ranks only seventh in the annual totals of men’s internationals for the last decade, it would be inaccurate to deem 804 matches as a low figure given the surge in the number of games over recent years as well as the fact that there were more matches in 2006 than in any previous FIFA World Cup year. If the recent trend continues, the year 2008, when qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup TM in South Africa will be in full swing, could potentially better the record 1, 065 matches that were played in 2004. The average number of international games the last five years now stands at 844. By comparison, an average of 873 matches were played each year during the 1997 – 2001 period.
Major events can have a decisive impact on the overall statistics. For example, as a result of the pre-tournament preparations of the 32 nations that qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals, friendly matches constituted 58% of all the fixtures in 2006. Almost one third of games were qualifiers for continental final competitions, while the FIFA World Cup finals and the 2006 African Cup of Nations contributed just 12% of the total.
Breaking down the 804 matches by continent indicates that intercontinental (200 or 25%) and all-European match-ups (191 or 24%) were the most common in 2006, while all-African and all-Asian games came next. Interestingly, only 10% of all the matches brought North or South American teams head to head and there were no all-Oceanian clashes. In addition to the 191 all-European fixtures, the continent’s predominance in the statistics is underlined by the fact that 136 intercontinental matches – or two out of every three – involved a European team. At the other end of the scale, only eight matches involved Oceania representative. All were intercontinental fixtures – against top opposition from Europe, South America and Asia – and in each case, the Oceania side was New Zealand.

Some familiar names head the list of names that played most matches during 2006. With 24 matches, Saudi Arabia was the most active team last year followed by Korea Republic who played one game fewer. FIFA World Cup TM hosts Germany took to the fields 18 times, while FIFA World Cup runners-up France and their conquerors, Italy, were not far behind with 17 and 16 matches respectively. In total 186 countries lined up for international matches last year, making an increase on the 174 that played in 2005. The average number of 8.6 matches played by each national team in 2006 barely differed from the figure for the previous year and was therefore far lower than the 11.6 game average recorded in 2004.
There was once more a string of exciting matches with plenty of goals. In all, 36 closely contested games produced five or more goals apiece. For example, Antigua overcame Anguilla 5 – 3 in a 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifier at the end of September, and Croatia recovered from a poor start to their EURO 2008 qualifier in Tel Aviv in November to beat Israel 4 – 3.
While Guam had world football’s leakiest defense in 2005, last year’s biggest thrashings were split a little more evenly among several teams and it is perhaps worth noting that newcomers Timor-Leste and Comoros emerged unscathed in this respect. Germany recorded the biggest win of 2006 (and also in European international football history) with 13 – 0 thrashing of San Marino, while Palestine and Kuwait also managed to hit double figures. Nevertheless, the long-standing average of 2.7 goals per game was not quite reached in 2006 with the year’s 804 matches producing 2.6 goals apiece.