Soccer: Viva Espana! All Whites on track to be cup's only undefeated side

By Terry Maddaford

The All Whites will have good cause to cheer for Spain in Monday's World Cup final.

A win for the Spaniards over the Netherlands in the mouth-watering clash at Soccer City would leave Ricki Herbert's men as the only unbeaten team after 64 matches at this year's World Cup in South Africa.

Since the first of the 19 World Cups, in Uruguay in 1930, only 11 countries (including New Zealand) have gone through a tournament unbeaten.

Some, including Brazil (five times), Italy, Germany, Argentina and Uruguay (twice each) have managed it more than once but only four teams have gone through the group phase unbeaten and failed to qualify for post-section.

Scotland had one win and two draws in Germany in 1974, but missed out - edged by Yugoslavia and Brazil on goal difference in the 16-team tournament.

At the 24-team tournament in Spain in 1982, Cameroon drew their three group matches but missed out as Poland and Italy won through. Poland and Italy drew their pool match 0-0 but Italy went on to win the cup - beating West Germany 3-1 in the final after a 2-0 semifinal win over the Poles.

In France (the first 32-team tournament) in 1998, Belgium also drew their three matches in finishing third behind Mexico and the Netherlands.

In more recent times - since 1954 and with the now standard format of group games followed by sudden death - only Brazil (1970 and 2002) and France (1998) won three group games.

Conversely, Argentina (1978) and West Germany (1954) are the only countries to win the cup after losing in group play.

They could be joined by Spain - who lost their first match in South Africa 0-1 to Switzerland - whereas the Dutch could join that elite group of three-time group winners who have gone through with a perfect record.

There will also be more than passing interest in the scores in the remaining two matches - the final and tomorrow's third-place decider between Uruguay and Germany.

Scoreless draws in the 63rd and 64th matches (before going to penalty shootouts) would leave the goal tally at just 139, an average of less than 2.2 goals a game. That would be the worst average in the cup's history.

The previous worst was in Italy in 1990 when 2.2 goals were averaged in the 52 games (a 24-team tournament). The average in Germany four years ago was 2.3.

The best return for the fans was in 1954 in Switzerland when the 26 matches (involving 16 teams) produced an average of 5.4 goals a game. The last time three goals or better a game were scored was in Mexico in 1970 where Brazil beat Italy 4-1 in the final.

- NZ Herald

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