How long is a piece of string?

WITH the end of the league phase of the ongoing World Cup, more than half the tournament is over – 48 out of 64 games are done with. But how much football have we seen?

The game of football runs for 90 minutes by the referee’s watch. But if one looks at the half-time or full-time stats, then one realises that the ball is in actual play for anything from 28 to 35 minutes. And rarely is that upper limit reached.

Time is wasted when the ball goes out of play. Players take their own sweet time to get to the sidelines and take a throw-in, especially if they are ahead on the scoreboard. The goalkeeper wastes as much time as he can when taking a goalkick.

Players who have to take a corner kick show no sign of urgency – unless the score is against them. When an indirect free kick is involved, the drama is even more as players go through the motions to take one.

Hence while the 90-minute game is sold as such, what the spectators get to see is anything from about 56 to 70 minutes of play.

Here’s where Australian rules football makes sense. The time is counted only when the ball is play. The game is split into quarters and is an 80-minute affair. But this is actual playtime, not the time wasted on players’ dramas, not the time when the ball is out of bounds.

The time is maintained by a timekeeper in the pavilion and the beginning and end of each quarter is marked by a siren which is sounded by the same individual. The ball does not need to be in play for the game to end as it does in football. Neither does the ball have to go out of play for the game to end as it does in rugby union.

This is why even players from rugby league, which looks terribly physically demanding, have stamina problem when they cross over to Australian rules – the game may look physically less taxing but given its duration it is awfully draining physically.

If football were to adopt the system of time-keeping followed by Australia rules, the game would probably run to about 110 minutes or even two hours to accommodate all the time-wasting that goes on.

That’s how long a game that goes into extra-time lasts – two halves of 15 minutes each are played if a knock-out game does not end with a result after the regulation 90 minutes. And such a game does leave the players really drained.

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