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Is the World Cup getting friendlier?

There has been a positive feeling about this summer’s World Cup in Russia – for those watching in England for one obvious reason – but late drama, upsets and supporters having a good time everywhere has made it enjoyable in many more ways.
It has also been a tournament which has seen few bust-ups, scraps or even much in the way of handbags on the field. That might not necessarily be seen as a positive to many fans who enjoy a bit of needle, but it has increased the feel-good factor at the 2018 World Cup.

This tournament has seen the lowest ever fouls-per-game rate at a World Cup for which this data is available (since football came home in 1966), with more than 12 fewer in each match than at Italia ’90, when England last made the semi-finals.

2018 has also seen a huge drop in the number of red cards seen at previous finals, with just four given over the 62 games so far. There were 10 at the Brazil World Cup four years ago, and a whopping 28 in 2006 – that’s seven times as many as there have been in Russia.

VAR and a rule change which means a genuine attempt to play the ball is not punished with a red card, even if you are the last defender, have both played their part, but it does feel as though there has been a more relaxed atmosphere.

Perhaps referees have become more lenient, with so many eyes on them these days they may be wary of dishing out too many cards and becoming the story, much like Howard Webb in the 2010 Final when he booked 13 players and sent another one off. Or perhaps the explanation is simply that players are being more careful about reacting angrily for fear of VAR retribution.

Whatever the reason, the stats say Russia 2018 has been a friendly tournament. Despite so much being at stake, the world’s best players are toning down their anger.

Today’s trivia
4: England have been eliminated in four of their five semi-finals at major tournaments, losing the last four in a row
6: England have had only six shots on target from open play in their six World Cup 2018 matches, the same number as Saudi Arabia managed in three group-stage games before they were eliminated
17: Only Neymar (23) has created more chances at the 2018 World Cup than Kieran Trippier

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