More goals the better?

After another bucket of goals mid-week in the Liverpool-Arsenal match, we can’t help but ask once again, when it comes to soccer, are more goals really better?

The beautiful game has long been derided in Canada for not being beautiful – ie. there isn’t enough scoring. The argument, as we all know, goes that more people here would be interested if there were more goals.

But the “proper” number of goals scored in any sport is relative. Would hockey fans prefer to see every game end 9-7 or 10-8? I doubt it. That’s the All-Star Game and no one takes it seriously.

There will always be more goals in hockey than in soccer. It’s a much faster game and a puck is a heck of a lot smaller than a soccer ball. But if 17 goals in a hockey game implies that the game isn’t being played properly, you could draw the same conclusion about eight goals in a soccer game.

On last week’s Some Canadian Guys Talking About Soccer podcast, I engaged in some healthy back and forth with It’s Called Football’s Ben Rycroft about whether when it comes to soccer ‘high scoring’ means ‘high quality.’

I’ll defer to a stark example of why James Lawton writes for the Independent and I write for Some Canadian Guys Writing About Soccer. Here Lawton articulates the point that I couldn’t while debating with Ben.

Crucially, he writes that a good soccer game also needs to involve at least rudimentary defence. The past two error-strewn 4-4 matches involving Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal above don’t come close to meeting that criterion.

According to Lawton, the truly best games feature only one goal. The example he provides being Brazil’s victory over England in the 1970 World Cup.

We could add to the mix of low-scoring classics Arsenal’s 0-0 home draw with Real Madrid during the 2006 Champions League, or how about Germany and Italy at 1-0 in the semi-final of the World Cup in the same year?

Lawton is a purist, no question. Myself, I prefer a nice 2-1, where goals emerge because of creativity, not the complete absence of defending.

Of course, the counterargument to all this is that you’re much more likely to have a stultifying 0-0 draw than an exhilarating one. And of course high-scoring can be exciting.

As much as it pains me to bring it up, Liverpool’s 3-3 extra time draw with AC Milan is the classic example. Six goals, but with plenty of solid defending and none of the see-saw ‘you pot one then I’ll do the same’ wildness of the recent high-scoring matches.

I don’t think I’m alone in taking the view that fewer goals significantly increases the value of each one scored. Hence the primal release when your side finally breaks through in injury time with the winner.

One of the most nail-biting hockey games I’ve ever watched was Canada vs. Czech Republic in the semi-final of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Only two goals scored in regulation time. As for what happened next? We’ll leave the value of shootouts for another post.

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4 Responses to “More goals the better?”

  1. In fairness to you, I assume Lawton didn’t write that article while monstrously hungover and huddled in a humid, smelly bedroom with a fan that doesn’t work properly.

  2. It's Called Football Says:

    I was following you up until you mentioned hockey.

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