Forget air-conditioned stadiums, semi-automated offside and a spectral mascot who “belongs to a parallel mascot-verse that is indescribable,” the real innovation at this World Cup is its drastic time-saving.
While injury time may have expanded to far-out double-figured places, those additions are more than offset when, with the odd notable exception, there is little point in watching first halves.
Poland and Argentina and Saudi Arabia and Mexico were the latest to play out a goalless first half on Wednesday night, becoming the 21st and 22nd of the tournament's 40 played to that point to finish 0-0 at half time. That made it 54 per cent of games at this tournament to provide zero goals before the break. The average at the previous five World Cups was 37 per cent.
The goalless games have been of various footballing stripes. Some are decent sides playing with caution, such as Senegal vs Netherlands, snatched late on by the Dutch. Others are well-organised defences containing dangerous opponents, like Morocco vs Croatia, which finished 0-0 at full time too.
Some have been goalless at the break and exploded into life afterwards, most notably Portugal vs Ghana which had little in its first half to suggest its second would finish 3-2 and provide arguably the tournament’s best game so far.
Spain vs Germany and France vs Denmark both had a sheen of quality, a chess match-like vibe. Others, clearly, have just been dreadful. Uruguay vs South Korea, Denmark vs Tunisia and England vs USA all finished 0-0 too and will not be troubling highlight reel compilers.
Group stages at tournaments are becoming more cagey, with losing even a single game regarded as potentially fatal for chances of progress. If you feel that teams are starting games in Qatar even more cautiously than in the past, it is not your imagination.
As teams tire and game situations change, the need to chase goals becomes more urgent for teams behind or drawing, therefore second halves bring more shots. What is striking is that these numbers are also well down in Qatar.
This all points to wider changes within football rather than an evil goal hex placed on Qatar by its enemies. Coaches may be leaning on more formulaic plans because of a lack of time to prepare. It is also worth remembering that World Cup group stages tend to be tight. In the top five European leagues this season 46.4 per cent of goals have come in first halves. In the group stages of the last three World Cup that figure is 38, 39 and 33 per cent.
It is rare to have a World Cup which maintains excitement levels throughout. The best group stages tend to be ones with lots of shocks, which are fabulous while they are happening until you are left with a round of 16 without a truly heavyweight match and South Korea and Turkey in the semi-finals, such as in 2002. Sometimes tournaments are slow burners, taking a while to come to life while efficiently filtering the wheat from the chaff.
On balance, this is marginally preferable. Until then it may be worth ticking off some jobs from your to-do list during the hour after games kick off.