Battle resumes as managers lament
© AFP

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 resumption of FIFA World Cup™ qualifying features prominently in this week's review, while Martin O'Neill's March woes, Samuel Eto'o's scoring exploits and Argentina's managerial merry-go-round also merit a mention.

261

FIFA World Cup qualifiers is the combined tally that ensures Mexico and Costa Rica are the world's most experienced preliminary competitors. No nation has played more qualifiers than Mexico (133), while Los Ticos - El Tri's opponents this weekend - have contested 129. Sven-Goran Eriksson's side are aiming to end a four-game winless run that stretches six months, during which Jamaica, Honduras and USA have all kept clean sheets against them. Eriksson's team do, however, have a formidable weapon at their disposal against Costa Rica: the Estadio Azteca. Mexico City's football cathedral has, after all, witnessed only one Mexican defeat in FIFA World Cup preliminary competition since it opened almost 43 years ago. Then again, no-one will need any reminding that this solitary, historic reverse was inflicted by Saturday's visitors.

200

FIFA World Cup qualifying goals is the milestone that both Germany and Iran are closing in on ahead of this weekend's preliminary action. Eighteen years after Klaus Fisher took them through the 100-mark in an 8-0 defeat of Albania, the Germans need just one more goal to complete their double century. The task for Iran is to find two goals against Saudi Arabia in Tehran to reach the same landmark and narrow the gap on second-placed Korea DPR. The North Koreans, meanwhile, are homing in on a milestone of their own, with three goals required against United Arab Emirates in Pyongyang to take them through the century barrier.

9

years have passed since Martin O'Neill last won a Premier League match in March, and Aston Villa's 5-0 defeat at Liverpool on Saturday means the Irishman will need to wait another year to lift this curse. Not since Leicester City beat Leeds United on 26 March 2000 has O'Neill tasted victory during this particular month, with his 12 March fixtures as Villa manager having yielded five draws and seven defeats. It is a remarkable statistic given the much-admired transformation the former Celtic manager has overseen at Villa Park, and it could well prove to be costly. The Birmingham club had looked all but certain to break the 'big four's' stranglehold until recently, but their March woes - combined with Arsenal's resurgence - has left the Gunners in pole position to claim England's fourth UEFA Champions League slot.

7

rounds of Argentinian Clausura matches have been played and, already, six coaches have lost or left their jobs. The most recent casualties came at the weekend, when Idependiente's Osvaldo Santoro and Jorge Burruchaga of Banfield both fell on their own swords. The fact that Santoro and Burruchaga's teams had both won convincingly merely underlines the turbulent nature of coaching in a league that had already witnessed changes at Gimnasia de Jujuy, Racing Club, Rosario Central and Estudiantes de La Plata. Indeed, looking at the season in its entirety, only seven of the 20 top-flight clubs still have the same man in the dugout who was in place when their Apertura 2008 campaigns began.

2

goals against Malaga on Sunday took Samuel Eto'o's Barcelona tally to 123, establishing the Cameroonian among the club's top five all-time goalscorers. With his clinically-converted brace serving to eclipse the hauls of both Patrick Kluivert and Carles Rexach, the 28-year-old requires just one more goal to surpass Mariano Martin and move up to fourth in Barça's goalscoring hall of fame. A more tantalising target is likely to be Rivaldo's final tally of 130, although Eto'o will do well to threaten either second-placed Ladislao Kubala (196) or Barcelona's greatest-ever marksman, Cesar, who scored 235 times for La Blaugrana during the 1940s and 1950s. One title that is very much within reach, however, is Spain's Pichichi top scorer award, with Eto'o (25) currently six goals better off than his closest challengers: Diego Forlan, David Villa and Lionel Messi.