FIFA: This is the best World Cup ever

RIO DE JANEIRO - Few would have doubted that a World Cup hosted in the land of football would be anything but fun.

But the entertainment value provided by the Brazilian tournament has impressed even the experts.

"This World Cup has been the best one in terms of quality of football and entertainment," says Gerard Houllier.

"I have been really surprised by the quality of the game," adds Sunday Oliseh.

The two men know what they are talking about: Houllier is a former Liverpool coach from France who has followed nine World Cups. Oliseh is a former midfielder who earned 63 caps during a nine-year career with the Nigerian national team that included stints in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups. Both are now leading members of FIFA's technical study group.

With a total of 154 goals scored so far, and with eight games still to be played, the 2014 World Cup could well surpass the previous record of goals - 171 - set since the tournament expanded to include 32 teams, in 1998.

The current average of goals, 2.8, is also well above those seen in recent editions of the tournament.

What is the explanation for such a wonderful feast of goals and nail-biting clashes?

The answer is a combination of factors, according to the experts.

The first is that the Brazil tournament has been blessed by "a generation of outstanding strikers," says Houllier.

Everyone had their eyes on Argentina's Lionel Messi and Brazil's Neymar, of course. But the tournament has also delivered new global stars like Colombia's James Rodriguez, the current top scorer with five goals from four games.

His first goal against Uruguay at the Maracana stadium, in which he controlled the ball with his chest before firing in a spectacular volley from outside the box, has been hailed as one of the best so far.

One of the reasons why fans have been able to witness so much drama and goals is that more teams are playing with two, even three forwards, rather than with the lone striker system seen so often in the past. It seems coaches have understood that attacking tactics reap rewards, the experts argue.

The second factor at play is the sheer tempo of the game.

Many of the matches in Brazil have been played almost without pause, with teams ready to take advantage of any error by the opposition to punish them on the break. One national coach told Houllier this has been "the fastest ever World Cup."

"The magic moment in football is when one team loses the ball and the other wins it," says Houllier. "Because time and space are rare, when you go quickly forward with the ball you have more chances of breaking the opposition.

"Some of the games that we have seen are more like basketball games, just going from one goal to the other," says Houllier.

A clear illustration of this tactic is the goal scored by Angel Di Maria in Argentina's round of 16 match against Switzerland on Tuesday. The Swiss lost the ball in midfield, Messi made a quick run and fed the ball deep to Di Maria to give Argentina victory with just two minutes of extra time left.

Oliseh notes that concerns about the hot climate threatening to spoil the game have by and large not materialised.

"I thought teams were going to be very economical with their energy. Instead, we've seen end-to-end stuff, with great combinations and runs that make it possible for the players to go forward," the Nigerian says.

The breathless pace seen at many games, for instance in Belgium's spectacular round of 16 clash with the United States, is the result of improved training.

"When I used to play, the biggest problem was physical recuperation time. Nowadays, training sessions are meticulously dosed," Oliseh notes.

The increasingly global nature of the game and the internet have helped spread the advances. Many teams, for instance, have learnt about the importance given by Germany to what players eat and drink.

A third factor that helps explain the high level of entertainment and drama seen in Brazil is a combination of rules and recommendations introduced over the years by FIFA in order to favour attacking football and protect the game's stars.

One example is the "last defender" rule, whereby a player will be shown a straight red card if he fouls an opponent who has a clear attempt at goal. Another is the crackdown introduced by world football's governing body on dangerous tackles from behind.

Will the current trend continue, or is Brazil likely to remain an exception?

The experts have few doubts.

"The hunger to improve is huge. I am very optimistic that this standard will continue and even get better," Oliseh says.

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