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.
This week's review highlights impressive achievements by AZ, Espanyol, Esteban Fuertes and Manchester United, while there is also a look at the incredible response to the opening of ticket sales for South Africa 2010.
minutes of defensive infallibility for Manchester United came to a long-awaited end on Saturday, when Roque Santa Cruz became the first player to score a league goal against the Red Devils since 8 November. Having already set a new British benchmark for this remarkable sequence of 14 consecutive clean sheets, Sir Alex Ferguson's side fell just one short of equalling the European record, set 19 years ago by Club Brugge. Over six months and 15 matches between March and September 1990, the Belgian outfit's goal remained intact, beating the previous record of 12 straight clean sheets racked up by Aberdeen between 1970 and '71. However, Edwin van der Sar will no doubt point out that, as Tomasz Kuszczak was the man beaten by Santa Cruz's strike, the veteran Dutchman's own 1,302-minute streak remains very much alive.
countries were represented in the frenzied scramble that saw 216,975 applications submitted for 2010 FIFA World Cup™ tickets within 24 hours of the briefs going on sale. Even with this figure not accounting for the thousands of hard paper applications submitted in South Africa, the host nation still racked up the greatest number of online applications, followed by Britain, USA, Germany, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain and Argentina. By the time 48 hours had elapsed, this tally had risen to over 300,000, proving that - even with 470 days to go until the South African spectacular - football fans across the globe have already caught a severe dose of FIFA World Cup fever.
years on from their last win at the Camp Nou, Espanyol stormed the home of their seemingly unstoppable city rivals to clam the unlikeliest of victories. On paper, there looked to be only one outcome when Mauricio Pochettino took a side without a win in 14 to face a Barcelona team unbeaten in 22. Once again, however, football's ability to conjure up the unpredictable was reaffirmed as former Barça midfielder Ivan de la Pena inspired Espanyol to only their ninth victory in 75 visits to the city's football cathedral. With Real Madrid on a winning run that now stretches back nine matches, giving Juande Ramos the most successful start of any Real coach in history, Barcelona are now looking over their shoulders for the first time in months.
clean sheets have put AZ firmly on course for the Eredivisie title and, in the process, smashed a 34-year-old club record. The club's previous best of 16 clean sheets, first set in season 1974/1975 and equalled in 2006/2007, has been comfortably eclipsed by Louis van Gaal's side with 10 league matches still to play. To put the achievement into perspective, AZ's record of 14 goals conceded in 24 games is twice as good as third-placed Ajax and three times better than Heerenveen, who lie fifth. With Ajax 12 points off the Alkmaar-based club and closest challengers Twente nine points adrift, the odds are shortening on AZ claiming their first Eredivisie title since 1981. Van Gaal's side are also closing in fast on Twente's 27-year-old Dutch record of 23 clean sheets in a single season.
months after celebrating his 36th birthday, Esteban Fuertes proved that he is still a goalscoring force to be reckoned with by grabbing a landmark double in Colon de Santa Fe's 2-0 win over Rosario Central. For the veteran Buenos Aires-born striker, this was an historic brace as it established him as Los Sabaleros' all-time top scorer. Fuertes' 93 goals have been racked up over five separate spells with the 104-year-old Argentinian outfit, this in an often nomadic career that has taken him to France, England, Spain, Chile and throughout his homeland. Already, Colon fans are beginning the countdown to Fuertes reaching the 100-mark.