The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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One goal achieved, already
- First round serves up spectacle, not spherical scapegoat

Statistics tell merely a fraction of the tale after nine footballers touched the ball 55 times between them in 58 seconds to score one particular very special goal here at the World Cup finals in Germany.

But such figures mean next to nothing. Football is not about nuts and bolts, needle and cotton, letters and numbers. The game is about emotion ' from utter depression to embracing euphoria and all the beats of the human heart in between.

That is why billions around the world have been magnetised by their televisions these past two weeks. Winning and losing is only one chapter of the story. What sets football apart from other sports is the roller coaster of uncertainty along the road from kick-off to final whistle, from A to Z, from ambition to achievement.

The defining moments which punctuate that ride are the goals and this 2006 festival has produced a higher quality in its opening round than even the most battle-scarred of World Cup war correspondents can recall.

Sometimes the trickery of the new inevitable football collects the blame, particularly from goalkeepers.

Germany’s Jens Lehmann was there before the opening match, whining about the habits of the Teamgeist. But this time there is no spherical scapegoat to be pursued; rather, we should sit back and bask in the spectacle.

Setting the standard was that wonderful goal scored by the Argentine substitute Esteban Cambiasso in the South Americans’ 6-0 thrashing of Serbia and Montenegro under the closed roof of the Schalke stadium in Gelsenkirchen.

The Internazionale midfielder had been on the pitch as a substitute for only 14 first-half minutes when he read the pace of the action perfectly to sweep Hernan Crespo’s delicious backheel up into the top right-hand corner of Dragoslav Jevric’s goal net.

That was as close to perfection as a goal can come ' superb teamwork climaxed by a sweet, sweet finish. It was, in execution, as breathtaking as the clutch of long-range goals which will rival it ' in time ' for the title of the Goal of Cup.

Before every World Cup, the goalkeepers put in their excuses early. They complain that the new football always produced by the sponsor is too light, too fickle, too prone to “wobble” in the air. Most World Cups are also littered with goalkeepers apparently trying to prove the point ' mishandling all over the penalty box.

But this World Cup has been different. A clutch of keepers has been left helpless by wondrous long-range strikes ' from a variety of angles ' by the likes of the Czech Tomas Rosicky (two against the United States), Brazil’s coltish Kaka (against Croatia), Portugal’s Deco (against Iran), England’s Steven Gerrard (against Trinidad and Tobago) and Ivory Coast’s Bakary Kone (against Holland).

“Team” goals as Spain’s fourth by Fernando Torres against Ukraine and Maxi Rodriguez’s first for Argentina ' also against the luckless Serbs ' are firmly locked in the memory but for host fans the strikes which will be rerun on German TV for years to come are those two from Philipp Lahm and Torsten Frings against Costa Rica.

They were superb goals but, more than that, the context of the opening match set a dramatic tone of entertainment for everything which followed.

Hopefully, there should also be more to come. Maybe nothing quite as magnificent as the strike for which Esteban Cambiasso will be remembered for the rest of his career. But even second-best will be pretty special.

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