Players returning to a FIFA World Cup™ for a second or even third time inevitably set out with the aim of doing better than when they last appeared on this illustrious stage.
However, one player preparing for South Africa's glamour event knows it will take a superhuman effort just to match his achievements at Germany 2006. Four years ago, Gianluigi Buffon conceded just two goals behind Italy’s parsimonious defence – one an own-goal, the other a penalty – and overall saved a remarkable 93 per cent of shots on his goal as Italy marched towards their fourth FIFA World Cup success.
The statistics are revealed by 2010 FIFA World Cup sponsor Castrol, which has devised an innovative player rating system enabling fans to monitor the performance of every player from the 32 competing teams for the first time at a FIFA World Cup. To coincide with this week’s launch of The Castrol Index, Castrol also revealed the player ratings from the last 11 tournaments – Buffon rated 9.61/10 - dating back to 1966, when a 20-year-old Franz Beckenbauer took the individual honours.
Der Kaiser netted four goals, created nine goal-scoring chances and won an impressive 17 tackles in West Germany’s journey to the Final, earning him a Castrol Rating of 9.83. Beckenbauer’s score has only been bettered by two players in subsequent tournaments: Brazilian record-breaker Ronaldo emerging as the best overall with 9.87, and Gerd Muller just a fingertip behind on 9.86.
Predators to the fore
The 2002 FIFA World Cup was the tournament with the best strike rate since 1966, with an average chance conversion of 11.4 per cent. And amidst all that sharp-shooting Ronaldo shone brightest of all, firing in excess of 50 per cent more shots on target than any other player.
O Fenômeno is the greatest all-time scorer at FIFA World Cups, with 15 goals in total. Eight of those came in Korea/Japan, helping his country to a record fifth crown. His 9.87 ranking was earned through a competition-high 28 shots, while he also set up an impressive 13 goalscoring chances for team-mates.
Ronaldo’s super eight in 2002 was the most in a single tournament since Muller struck double figures for Germany in 1970. With an average of almost 42 shots per match, Mexico 1970 was the most attack-minded edition of the 11 staged since 1966 and Muller was involved in 13 goals overall. He scored 10 and assisted in three others - more than any other player has managed in any single FIFA World Cup between 1966 and 2006.
Of those ten goals, four were headed, another tournament-high, while the German also became only the second player to bag hat-tricks in consecutive matches at a FIFA World Cup after Hungary’s Sandor Kocsis in 1954.
Naturally, some of the greatest players who ever kicked a ball score highly in The Castrol Legends Index. Johan Cruyff dazzled in the 1974 tournament to gain an impressive 9.82, with a competition-high 55 dribbles. Apart from scoring three times, Cruyff also created a chance from open play every 22 minutes. In a 4-1 win over Bulgaria in a group fixture, the Dutch master set up no less than 11 chances for his colleagues.
El Diego excels
Just two decimal points behind Cruyff is Diego Maradona, who dominated Mexico 1986 with a score of 9.80. The Argentina superstar scored or assisted in 71 per cent of Argentina’s goals but it was Maradona’s dribbling prowess that truly caught the eye. He embarked on 90 dribbles in the competition, three times more than any other player, and 19 of these came in the momentous 2-1 quarter-final victory over England, the most ever attempted in a single FIFA World Cup game between 1966 and 2006.
Gregorz Lato was another midfielder to score well, finishing with a 9.81 Castrol Index rating for Poland in 1974. His seven-goal haul included the winner against Brazil in the Match for Third Place, raising his goals-to-shots conversion rate to 28 per cent.
Stand-out defenders include the French pair of Marcel Desailly and Lilian Thuram, who rose to the challenge when their country were tournament hosts in 1998. Desailly made 38 interceptions and 132 recoveries for a score of 9.71, while Thuram's mark of 9.78 owed a great deal to coming out on top in 75 per cent of his 50/50 duels.
All the great players mentioned above would admit, however, that while scoring highly in the ratings is worth celebrating, achieving success requires other factors that are not so easily quantifiable. Football is obviously not based on statistics alone and this FIFA World Cup is sure to be no different.