There has been a goal explosion in this year’s World Cup, with a total of 73 goals in 25 games so far, good for 2.92 goals per game. This is four years after teams combined to score just 2.27 goals per game.
The first five World Cups, played from 1930-1954, were even higher scoring than this tournament. The average goals scored per game in those five tournaments was 4.5. In 1958 things began to change, as the goals scored per game dropped to 3.6 after sitting at 5.4 in 1954.
The 1962 World Cup in Chile brought on the modern age. With the emphasis on fitness and better defensive shape, the goals per game dropped to 2.8. From then on we can see the effects of the modern game on goalscoring in World Cups.
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The prevailing theory in all of those tournaments was that the best defense would win. For the most part that was true, with only one team since 1958 winning the tournament while conceding more than a goal per game (1970 Brazil, considered by many to be the greatest attacking team of all time).
This defensive dominance reached a fever pitch in three of the last four tournaments (1998, 2006, 2010), as the champions conceded just two goals in seven games.
2014 looks – so far – like it will be a different story. The diversification of tactics and understanding of how to attack teams in possession has made this the most high-scoring and open World Cup in decades. And it may just mean that "Best attack wins" is the way of the modern game.