The world's elite footballers took their scoring boots to Brazil. A furious set of 48 group matches have produced 136 goals, while a thrilling eight-way fight for Thomas Müller's Golden Boot is taking shape.
Goal-line technology has only been required to verify a few of them, but there's no denying that the nets around Brazil have been rippling for the past two weeks. The 32 World Cup competitors delivered almost three goals per game on average in the first round, compared to less than two goals per game (93 in total) at the same stage in South Africa four years ago. This year's group stage total of 136 fell just one short of the numbers for the entire 2010 World Cup, with 16 games still to play.
Goal-scoring records have toppled like dominos as a result: Algeria became the first African side to fire four, Asamoah Gyan became Africa's leading individual scorer with six, while Miroslav Klose has tied Ronaldo at the very top on 15. The Germany veteran might have missed his chance off the bench to score his 16th at a World Cup on Thursday, but future opportunities surely beckon, perhaps as early as Monday's last-16 meeting with Algeria.
A goal a game
Klose's assault on Brazilian striker Ronaldo's crown might be in vain, judging by the scoring rate of his young compatriot Thomas Müller. The 24-year-old, who hitthe winner against the US
anda hat-trick against Portugal
, has nine World Cup goals in as many games. Müller thus overtook Diego Maradona and countryman Rudi Völler in Thursday's game.
What's perhaps more remarkable is that this hit-rate from Germany's "false nine" might not suffice for him to defend his Golden Boot of 2010. Back then, five goals - and three all-important assists to break the tie with Wesley Sneijder and David Villa - won Müller the crown.
Lionel Messi and Neymar, both bringing new meaning to the phrase "leading the line" for Argentina and Brazil respectively, have carried their teams into the next round with four goals each. Neymar, playing in his first World Cup, has a better strike-rate even than Müller; he's notched four in three on international football's biggest stage, buoyed by his adoring home crowd.
Messi's quartet is more surprising than you might think, too: In eight World Cup matches prior to 2014, the four-time player of the year had found the net just once. So while Thomas Müller has overtaken Diego Maradona's tally at his second World Cup, Messi still needs three to draw level with Argentina's last truly stellar number 10.
If the Barcelona man intends to continue hisnewfound vein of rich World Cup form
, he'll need to get past a surprise dark horse in the Golden Boot hunt. Xherdan Shaqiri's hat-trick against Hondurassaved the Swiss
; the want-away Bayern midfielder is one of six players to net three in the group games.
Three's a crowd
Ecuador's Ener Valencia did so for naught, his side's still heading home. Colombia'sJames Rodriguez can seek his fourth goal
against Uruguay's aging defense in the next round. The Netherlands, the only team to reach double figures as they bossed Spain's Group B, posted a pair of three-time scorers: Robin van Persie and another Bayern boy, Arjen Robben.
Finally, spare a thought for Karim Benzema,who might feel hard done by with three goals at this stage
. He scored milliseconds after the final whistle when France hammered the Swiss, and also saw one of his efforts against Honduras classified as an own goal.
Entering the knockout phases always gives a World Cup even more of a tournament feel. Suddenly, as Germany coach Joachim Löw puts it, the format becomes: "All or nothing. Win or go home." With that added pressure, and following 48 rip-roaring games offered at the tournament so far, what's the betting that the 120-minute goalless marathons followed by penalty shootouts will begin on Saturday?