We'll have to wait until Sunday to find out which European power will get to write its name on the World Cup trophy for the first time. But we can go write ahead and start describing the 62 matches of this World Cup by the numbers, with a little help from fifa.com's statistics pages.
First, overall trends. In the knockout stage thus far, only two matches (Paraguay-Japan and Uruguay-Ghana) have gone to penalty kicks, compared to four matches in 2006 (including the final), two matches in 2002, and three matches 1998.
Over the first 62 games, a total of 139 goals have been scored (2.24 a match), compared to 141 in 2006.
Xavi of Spain leads all players with 14 attacking balls delivered into the box. Five players are tied for the lead in assists at three—three Germans (Mueller, Schweinsteiger, Oezil), Kaka, and Dirk Kuyt of Holland. The leading goalscorers are David Villa and Wesley Sneijder at 5 apiece. Sergio Ramos has made the most solo runs (29). David Villa has the most shots put on goal (16), followed by Asamoah Gyan and Lionel Messi at 15 apiece. Messi failed to score in the tournament.
The top three passers in terms of total completed passers are all Spaniards: Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets. Each of those players is averaging over 79 completed passes a match, topped by Xavi, who is averaging 1.1 completed passes per minute on the pitch. Xavi is also credited with 22 "completed corners" (corners finding a teammate), out of 39 taken; the next highest total belongs to Landon Donovan of the U.S. with 9.
Defensively, Juan of Brazil leads the tournament with 11 credited tackles. Cho Yong Hyung of South Korea leads all players with 7 "completed clearances"; Bostjan Caesar of Slovenia and David James of England are credited with 15 total clearances.
Bastian Schweinsteiger leads in two seemingly unrelated categories: "long passes completed" (69), and total distance traversed on the pitch (68.7 km, or 42.7 miles). Xavi leads all players in distance covered in possession, at 32.1 km (20 miles), and also leads in "high activity" minutes, with 49. The fastest clocked player in the tournament was Mexician reserve Javier Hernandez, at 20 mph.
According to FIFA's "Castrol Index," the top-rated player is Philipp Lahm of Germany. [Lahm has since slipped to fifth. Spain's Sergio Ramos is the new No. 1. —Ed.] The top-rated attacker is David Villa, the top-rated midfielder is Wesley Sneijder, and the top-rated goalkeeper is Eiji Kawashima of Japan.
Here are the teams' 2nd round qualification rates, by continent:
North/Central America: 2/3
South America: 5/5
Knockout stage record, by continent (includes matches between teams on same continent; PK shootouts treated as draws); W-L-D
North/Central America: 0-2
South America: 3-5-2
On a points per match basis (counting all matches), Europe and South America were the top continents, Africa and North America the weakest. There's not terribly strong evidence that the qualification allocation by continent should be changed, especially when we consider that Brazil 2014 is a natural experiment, with South America allocated an extra slot (5.5 compared to 4.5 this time); and that Africa will be down to 5 slots for 2014.
Two firm conclusions can be drawn, however. First, the Oceania region needs to be merged with Asia for qualifying purposes. In the current set-up, New Zealand is practically guaranteed the opportunity to qualify simply by winning a two-legged playoff with an Asian team (Bahrain this time around). The Asian nations, in contrast, must play a grueling schedule (14 matches) to either qualify outright or earn a playoff slot. This imbalance should be fixed for 2014.
Second, there is no justification whatsoever for expanding the tournament to 36, as has been floated in the past. South America did great, but at most long term one can imagine them being allowed 6 slots as opposed to 5. There are only 10 nations in that qualifying group, and allowing in more than that would make the qualifiers a drama-less chore. Europe has more than enough teams. North/Central American, Africa, and Asia haven't shown they deserve more countries either. 32 teams makes for a symmetric tournament of an appropriate length. Don't mess with it.