In many ways, football is a simple game: the team that scores the most goals wins. Yet in every single match, there are intriguing statistical sub-plots that help make the beautiful game the fascinating spectacle that it is. That's why, each week, FIFA.com takes a look at the numbers behind the results.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers take centre stage this week, with Argentina, Russia, Slovakia and Spain all jostling for position with a Bulgaria striker belatedly living up to his star billing.
minutes was all Dimitar Berbatov needed against Georgia to complete the fastest hat-trick from the start of any European Zone 2010 qualifier. In rounding off his treble seven minutes before half-time, the Manchester United striker eclipsed Israel's Elyaniv Barba, who had taken 44 minutes to put three goals past Luxembourg in a 7-0 win last month. However, Berbatov came up short in a global context, with Uzbekistan's Maxim Shatskikh having required four minutes fewer to complete the Asian Zone's fastest hat-trick in a 9-0 win over Chinese Tapei in October 2007. Neither could even compete with Roy Krishna, the Fijian striker who had already secured the match ball after just 22 minutes of his side's 16-0 demolition of Tuvalu.
previous FIFA World Cups have all had one thing in common: at least one debutant. For a time, it appeared that South Africa 2010 might well make history in this respect, but that was until Slovakia recovered their composure to secure qualification with a momentous win in Poland. Vladimir Weiss's side have maintained a healthy tradition of first-timers that could yet be strengthened by Bahrain, Gabon and Bosnia-Herzegovina, all of whom remain in the hunt for a place at next year's finals. Just one previous edition has showcased a solitary debutant, with England the only team to take their bow on the world stage at Brazil 1950. Germany 2006, by contrast, had six - Angola, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago, Togo and Ukraine - while Czech Republic and Serbia and Montenegro competed for the first time as independent nations.
wins from as many South Africa 2010 qualifiers ensured a place in preliminary history for Spain. Only two European nations, West Germany and the Netherlands, had ever emerged from an extended FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign with an unblemished record, and neither managed this feat over as many matches. The West Germans and the Dutch strung together their unblemished 1982 and 2010 campaigns over eight games, considerably more than predecessors from the 1950s and 60s, or Poland in 1982, all of whom qualified with three wins from three or four from four. But not even this heavyweight duo could compete with La Roja. Indeed, the only European nation to ever qualify for a major championship with ten straight wins was Czech Republic, this in the preliminaries for UEFA EURO 2000. Spain's five-goal show in Bosnia, meanwhile, wasn't enough to establish them as the European Zone's top scorers, as they finished six adrift of an England side who only just missed out on a 100 per cent record of their own.
successive FIFA World Cup appearances: that is what Argentina achieved in dramatic style on Wednesday. Huracan midfielder Mario Bolatti emerged as the unlikely hero, scoring within four minutes of entering the fray to ensure that La Albiceleste maintain their proud record of having qualified for every global showpiece since 1974. Only Italy (13), Germany (15) and Brazil, who have qualified for all 19 editions, can boast a better recent record of preliminary success than Argentina. However, the tense triumph in Uruguay - only their second win in nine away 2010 qualifiers - came too late to prevent Diego Maradona's side finishing outside the top two for the first time since CONMEBOL switched to the current ten-nation group format in 1998.
European nations - Italy and Spain - have been left protecting unbeaten home records in FIFA World Cup qualifiers after the third, Russia, suffered an historic loss last Saturday. The Russians, who had previously gone 50 FIFA World Cup preliminaries without defeat, winning 43 and drawing seven, met their match in a Germany side who were defending an impressive sequence of their own. The Germans were out to preserve their record of never having lost away from home on FIFA World Cup qualifying duty and, sure enough, that unbeaten run was stretched to 37 thanks to Miroslav Klose. The Bayern Munich striker's match-winning goal was his 48th for Germany, taking him past Rudi Voller and Jurgen Klinsmann into second in the all-time standings, although he will need another 21 to surpass the incomparable Gerd Muller.