DOHA, Qatar — Cristiano Ronaldo performed a stroke of “genius” to win a controversial penalty for Portugal in their 3-2 win over Ghana, FIFA’s expert World Cup analysts said in a briefing on Saturday.
Ronaldo became the first male player to score at five World Cups on Thursday after converting a penalty he won when brought down by Ghana defender Mohammed Salisu — a decision that outraged Ghana boss Otto Addo who labeled it a “special gift” for Portugal.
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FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG) held a media briefing in Doha in which they said this World Cup is on track for a record number of penalties and praised Ronaldo’s winning of the spot kick.
Former Colombia goalkeeper and TSG panel member Faryd Mondragon said: “Maybe the strikers are getting smarter?
“If you look at the penalty that Ronaldo got, people can say what they want about this man, but the smartness and the ingenious thought to just being patient and wait for that split second to touch the ball first before you, and continue my leg so that your contact will hit my leg.
“That is total genius,” he added.
A total of nine penalties have been awarded in the first 16 games, putting this World Cup on track for a record 36 in the entire 64-game tournament. There were 29 given by referees in 2018 when they first had video reviews.
The study group also said there have been more and better crosses bearing fruit with a big increase in the number of goals — 14 instead of three — coming from wide areas through the first 16 games compared to the 2018 tournament at the same stage.
There were 41 total goals during that period, a rate of 2.56 per game compared to the record of 2.67 at a full, 64-game tournament.
Four games without goals — when the first 36 games in 2018 failed to produce a 0-0 draw — can be explained by teams’ caution to avoid losing their first game, the group said.
“As the tournament progresses we will see teams becoming a bit braver,” Alberto Zaccheroni, the Italian coach who led Japan at the 2014 World Cup, said.
Teams that committed to pressing opponents deep in their own half were rewarded with regaining possession in dangerous areas and avoided chasing back towards their own goal, Zaccheroni said.
FIFA data showed England, Spain, Germany and Argentina were most effective at “counter-pressing” tactics many players routinely use at their clubs.
Meanwhile, coaches having five substitutes meant their teams could keep “physically very taxing” energy levels high for the full game, Zaccheroni said.
Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.