MAYBE THIS will be the year.

Not the year the United States wins the World Cup.

Nor the year Italy does better than one win, one loss and one tie in its three first-round games.

No, maybe this will be the year when the World Cup is remembered for the goals that are scored.

The last time you could say that was in 1986 in Mexico when Diego Maradona gave us his "Hand of God" goal and his magnificent one-on-six goal, both against England. And now Maradona is back, coaching Argentina, and he has a group of the most talented goal scorers to come together on one team for one World Cup:

* Lionel Messi, 47 goals for Barcelona during the 2009-10 European season.

* Diego Milito, 30 goals for Inter Milan.

* Gonzalo Higuain, 29 goals for Real Madrid.

* Carlos Tevez, 29 goals for Manchester City.

* Sergio Aguero (Maradona's son-in-law), 20 goals for Atletico Madrid.

That's 155 goals in one season, by five players. Most World Cup teams don't hit that number from entire 23-man rosters over two World Cups.

But the Argentines are not alone in offensive potential.

There's tournament-favorite Spain behind David Villa and Fernando Torres; the Netherlands' Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie; Didier Drogba (Premier League-leading 29 goals, 37 total) and his Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou, of Ivory Coast; England's Wayne Rooney; Cristiano Ronaldo, of Portugal; Diego Forlan, of Uruguay, and on and on.

You can even throw in the USA with the potential dynamite of Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez.

All of which probably means that fewer goals will be scored in this World Cup than any before, or that every quarterfinal, both semifinals and the final come down to the dreaded penalty shootout, which was, of course, how Italy head-butted France 4 years ago in Germany.

But, hopefully, this World Cup will have a new story line: A lot of goals, spectacular preferably, angry goalkeepers, good celebrations after the goals.

Among the things we can be certain will happen is that a referee or two will steal a game from some team and then be defended by FIFA for his "professionalism." (There's a referee from the Seychelles islands; please explain his qualifications.)

The cries for some form of replay will be made by an official from every country involved in the World Cup and will be ignored by FIFA because the "human element" is vital to the game. (Mr. Blatter, meet Mr. Selig, and both of you are welcomed back to 1950.)

And, of course, the WAGs (that's wives and girlfriends for the uninitiated) will have more time on camera than any of their HABs (that's husbands and boyfriends). And with injured David Beckham not playing for England and his wife Posh not likely to be in South Africa, the British press has anointed Peter Crouch's girlfriend Abigail Clancy, a star of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, as head WAG for 2010.

And then there are the injuries, which have dominated the pre-World Cup news. Beckham, as he always seems to do, led the way when he tore an Achilles' while playing for AC Milan in April.

German captain Michael Ballack went out with a foot injury suffered while playing for Chelsea during the FA Cup final.

England lost its captain, Rio Ferdinand, to an ankle injury during a practice earlier this week.

Ghana's captain Michael Essien is out with a knee injury, and Portugal has lost Nani, who was expected to form a deadly strike partnership with Ronaldo.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands will play its first game without Robben (hamstring suffered during a meaningless game last weekend), and Ivory Coast will likely be without Drogba for its opening game. He suffered a broken right arm on a cheap-shot kick from a Japanese player during a "friendly."

So here we go. Get out your vuvuzela (you'll know it when you hear it) and your flag, and get ready for 1 month of a true world championship, which began 2 years ago with 204 countries involved in qualifying tournaments.

And let's pull for a six-goal game or two.