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2018 World Cup produces striking statistics   

By Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- The end of the group stage on Thursday left World Cup statisticians with a few numbers to ponder on the first day without a match since the tournament kicked off in Moscow on June 14. Since the whistle blew at the start of Russia’s 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia, there have been 48 games.

Those 48 games have produced a total of 122 goals at an average of 2.54 goals per game, with England’s 6-2 win over Panama and Belgium’s 5-2 victory against Tunisia, the two highest scoring games to date.

Despite England striker Harry Kane topping the race for the Golden Boot with five goals, Belgium are the top scoring side so far in Russia with nine goals (five against Tunisia, three against Panama and one against England).

Meanwhile Panama’s defeats to England, Belgium and Tunisia, means they go home with the worst defensive record in the World Cup, after conceding 11 goals in three games. The South Koreans were the most ill-disciplined team in the group stage, committing 63 fouls for which they were shown 10 yellow cards.

Panama however, had the worst disciplinary record with their robust display earning them 11 yellow cards in three games.

At the other end of the scale Spain, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia were the ‘goodie-goodies’ of the group stage with just one yellow card each from their three games. The Spanish committed just 29 fouls, which is actually one more than the Japanese who conceded just 28 but who have picked up four bookings in the process.

Meanwhile the first 48 matches were watched by a total of 2,178,894 people at an average of 45,394 fans per game.

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The best and worst of the World Cup group stage

By sportswriter Michael Place MOSCOW Russia  (Xinhua) -- A look at the highlights and lowlights of the World Cup group stage in Russia.

·         Biggest impact

Russia winger Denis Cheryshev started the first match against Saudi Arabia on the bench but was introduced in the 24th minute after an injury to Alan Dzagoev. He made his presence felt almost immediately and struck two superbly taken goals as the hosts romped to a 5-0 victory in Moscow. The Villarreal player scored again in Russia’s 3-1 win over Egypt.

·         Biggest disappointment

Germany continued the World Cup champions’ curse by becoming the third successive holders to bow out in the group stage. Even in their only victory against Sweden - which came courtesy of a brilliant Toni Kroos free-kick routine - Joachim Loew’s men looked a shadow of their former selves. Questions will be asked about the international future of several players while Loew has also said he will take time to consider his position.

·         Best performance

Cristiano Ronaldo again showed his ability to deliver when it matters most by single-handedly keeping Portugal in the game in their opener against Spain. Ultimately his three goals - including a dipping late free-kick - were not enough to hand his team victory over the 2010 champions.

·         Most consistent player

Brazil have failed to impress overall but one player to shine for the Selecao is Philippe Coutinho, the team’s best player in each of their three matches to date. Deployed in a deeper midfield role, the 26-year-old has by some distance completed more passes than any other Brazil player (200). He has also scored two goals and provided a sublime assist for Paulinho in Brazil’s 2-0 win over Serbia.

·         Best marksman

Harry Kane is the World Cup’s top scorer so far with five goals despite being rested for England’s last group match against Belgium on Thursday. The Tottenham striker is aiming to become his country’s first Golden Boot winner since Gary Lineker in 1986.

·         Most unlucky

Senegal can consider themselves desperately unfortunate not to advance to the round of 16. The African team defeated Poland in their opening match and looked the better side for long periods in a 2-2 draw with Japan. They paid the price for not capitalizing on their early dominance against Colombia on Thursday, losing 1-0. Despite finishing level with Japan on points, goals for and goals conceded, the Lions of Teranga were eliminated for having picked up more yellow cards.

·         Best goal

Yes, Argentina’s defence has at times been dire in this tournament, but that should take nothing away from Luka Modric’s spectacular goal for Croatia against the Albiceleste in Nizhny Novgorod. The Real Madrid midfielder dummied onto his left side before daintily shifting back to the right and curling a 30-yard strike into the top right corner, all but securing his team a place in the next stage.

·         Most dubious tactics

The tactics used by Japan in the closing minutes against Poland were questionable to say the least. Japanese coach Akira Nishino admitted his team wasted time to guarantee a berth in the knockout stage. Ironically, Japan advanced by virtue of FIFA’s fair play rule, which rewards teams that have received fewer yellow cards.

·         Best match

Spain and Portugal sent the World Cup off to a thrilling start with their 3-3 draw on the second day of the tournament in Sochi. Spain came from behind to take the lead via Nacho’s superb long-range effort before Ronaldo’s dramatic free-kick squared the ledger two minutes from time.

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