World Cup is shaping up as the best ever

Wow. What a start.

If you're among those who suspect this World Cup has the makings of one of the best ever, the numbers from the group stage of the football showcase suggest you may be right.

Aside from a few snoozers, just one 0-0 draw in 48 matches, the essential ingredient for engrossing sporting spectacle - uncertainty - triumphed.

Games were tighter than ever. Traditionally strong teams still dominate, with the obvious exception of dethroned world champions Germany, already licking their wounds back at home.

But increasingly better drilled, prepared and ambitious so-called "smaller" nations are continuing to narrow the gap.

World Cup debutants Panama were the only team to look seriously out of their depth.

The most common result in the 48 games was 1-0, which is how the score finished a record-equalling 13 times.

That illustrates not only how close games were, but that teams, once ahead, are increasingly able to protect their leads.

An example of that was Mexico's defeat of Germany. In the second half at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, Die Mannschaft took 17 shots, had six corners and six shots blocked and still couldn't cancel out Hirving Lozano's first-half winner.

Since the World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998, only once before has it seen so many 1-0 games in the group stage. That was in South Africa in 2010, when teams struggled to score with the Jabulani ball.

The 16 teams that advanced that year to the knockout round did so by scoring just 67 times, a record low. They did much better this year, scoring 83.

That was down from 90 at the last edition in Brazil and the record-high 91 goals scored by group-stage qualifiers in 2002 but still illustrated the attacking intent shown by teams in Russia.

Just nine games ended in a draw, the equal lowest set in Brazil four years ago.

Some of the draws this time were spectacular, none more so than the six-goal epic between Portugal and Spain, with Cristiano Ronaldo's late free-kick one of the most memorable moments to date.

The group stage wasn't without blemishes but was without major scandal.

Just once, Denmark v France, were fans left to boo an encounter that produced zero goals and zero intent.

The record 24 penalties awarded, of which 18 were scored, are a side effect of the video assistant referee (VAR) debut at the World Cup, which has caught officiating mistakes but is also messing with the rhythm of matches and seen some very debatable decisions.

And using yellow cards as a tiebreaker to separate Senegal, sent home, and Japan, which stays, seems unfair, given that some referees are more trigger-happy with cards than others.

Still, Russia has lucked out. The national team that seemed unlikely to progress earned itself a marquee match-up with 2010 champions Spain and the football spectacle is competing for global attention.

In a tournament as famous as the World Cup, picking the best will always be a subjective choice.

But with this one: So far, so good.