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Gracing the opening game of a World Cup finals is a unique experience and one which should be cherished.
After all, this is the game which will set the tone for what is to follow, and no-one wants to open with a bore draw.
Unfortunately, a quick glance through the history books proves that the will to win can often by countered by a desire to avoid defeat.
Goalless stalemates have offered a far from fitting opening to the greatest show on earth on more than one occasion, with the 1960s and 1970s making a habit out of it.
There have, however, also been a number of memorable clashes down the years in the traditional curtain raiser to the tournament.
Here skysports.com salutes those efforts from the dim and distant past to have got the juices flowing, while holding out hope that South Africa and Mexico offer a similar treat on 11th June 2010.
The inaugural World Cup in 1930 saw two matches kick-off at the same time, with France facing Mexico while USA took on Belgium. It was to be the French who made the first mark in the history books as they grabbed the opening goal of the tournament, with Lucien Laurent taking just 19 minutes to break the deadlock. A free-flowing Les Bleus outfit went on to find the target a further three times, while Mexico could only muster a late consolation. Little did they know at the time, but that would be as good as it got for France that year as they lost their next two matches and crashed out at the group stage.
With the sporting calendar having shut down during the Second World War, there was to be no tournament between 1938 and 1950. The return of the World Cup after a 12-year break was welcomed with open arms, and fittingly it was to be the Brazilians - a nation so synonymous with the event - that kicked things off. The Samba stars would ultimately be forced to settle for a runners-up finish on home soil, as they were pipped by Uruguay, but they opened the show in style. Mexico were ruthlessly put to the sword at the Maracana, with Brazil running out 4-0 winners. Ademir (2), Jair and Baltazar got the goals, proving football was well and truly back.
It is fair to say Mexico have not had the best of luck when opening proceedings, with a comprehensive defeat to Sweden notching them a third appearance on this list. The Swedes were a formidable force at the time, and home advantage played perfectly into their hands. They made it all the way to the final in 1958, before a Pele-inspired Brazil stopped them in their tracks. Their opening game suggested they were capable of going all the way, with two of their biggest stars shining on the global stage. Agne Simonsson, a man good enough to have been on the books of Real Madrid at one stage, bagged a brace against Mexico, while AC Milan legend Nils Liedholm also got in on the act as they ran out 3-0 victors.
As previously mentioned, the 1960s and 70s saw goals in short supply during the opening exchanges. England's goalless draw with Uruguay in 1966 is noteworthy, though, as they would eventually go on to take the crown. Those unfortunate enough to be in attendance at Wembley for the first game of the tournament could not have possibly imagined that a few weeks later their team would be on top of the world. Defences dominated throughout that summer, with managers reluctant to adopt the bold approaches of old. Fortunately for England it was they who found the right tactical blend, and their stalemate with Uruguay would be the only game in which they failed to score and the only game they failed to win.
Argentina arrived in Spain in 1982 as reigning champions and were expected to launch another tilt at the title. The omens did not look good, though, after they slumped to shock defeat in their opening game, and they were unable to defend their crown. A 1-0 setback against Belgium exposed the South American's flaws and although they rallied briefly thereafter, they were never serious contenders. The man who put them to the sword in front of 95,000 at Barcelona's Camp Nou was Erwin Vandenbergh, with his effort shortly after the hour mark setting the tone for a first round stage which saw a number of plucky underdogs upset the odds.
In 1990 Argentina again arrived at the World Cup with the trophy safely packed in their luggage. But once again they left without it. The mercurial Diego Maradona did all he could to help them defend the crown, but they lost 1-0 to West Germany in a forgettable final in Italy. The fact they got that far is remarkable in itself, though, as they were stunned 1-0 by Cameroon in the first game. The Africans would go on to become the stars of the show, with the dancing Roger Milla leading the way, but few expected much from them when the tournament got underway. A run to the quarter-finals will live long in the memory, but it is Francois Oman Biyik's winner against Argentina which caused arguably the greatest upset in World Cup history and ensures Cameroon will forever live on in football folklore.
Football went stateside in 1994, with numerous records broken along the way. The tournament also saw Germany compete as a united nation for the first time, with West Germany having claimed the prize four years earlier. As holders they had the honour of getting the action underway in the USA, and they started with a win as they saw off Bolivia 1-0. Jurgen Klinsmann scored the only goal of the game, and the talismanic frontman would almost single-handedly lead them out of the group stages. He found the target in each of their three Group C encounters, and again in the second round, but was unable to prevent the Germans slipping to a shock 2-1 defeat to Bulgaria in the last eight.
Scotland's last appearance at a major international tournament saw them once again head home after glorious failure. The Tartan Army travelled in mass to France for the 1998 World Cup, bringing a full-filled atmosphere wherever they went. Unfortunately for them, results on the field did not go according to plan. A mouth-watering clash against reigning champions Brazil on the opening day saw them pit their wits against the best in the business, and at times they held their own. An early effort from Cesar Sampaio suggested the worst could be in store, but John Collins calmly slotted home from the spot shortly before half-time to restore parity. For a while it looked as though Scotland would hold on for a memorable point, but an own goal from the unfortunate Tom Boyd left them empty handed and facing early elimination.
Senegal will claim that their success over France in 2002 is a bigger upset than Cameroon's efforts against Argentina 12 years earlier, and they could be right. The two games boast striking similarities, with supposed African minnows giving the reigning world champions a rude awakening. The only thing that separates the two, and edges Cameroon in front in terms of bragging rights, is the fact that France were dismal throughout the 2002 tournament. They finished bottom of their group, with one point and no goals all they had to show for their efforts. The man who put them on the path to global humiliation was Papa Bouba Diop, as the powerful midfielder bundled home the only goal of the game during an entertaining opening game - and celebrated with a typically elaborate dance routine.
The 2006 World Cup was a joy to behold, although should we have expected anything different after an explosive first game? Germany, who had been written off by many ahead of the event on home soil, hit the ground running as they prevailed in a six-goal thriller against Costa Rica. The match represents the highest scoring opening contest in World Cup history and also boasted two of the finest goals to have been scored at the tournament in recent times. Miroslav Klose bagged a brace, en route to taking the Golden Boot, but efforts from Philip Lahm and Torsten Frings stole the headlines. Two long-range thunderbolts had Germany flying 90 minutes into their quest for global glory, and they would only stumble once they reached the semi-final stage.
@Alphonce: It used to be the World Champion from the prior Cup that opened. Now it's the host nation.
Posted 21:48 9th June 2010
In response to Alphonce (no rhyme intended): It's just the way it's drawn. They are all group A games, but when the draw is made, both the host and defending champs are the first 2 drawn.... it just comes down to 50/50 as to which one is in group A
Posted 13:52 9th June 2010
what determines the opening game teams. I have noticed that at times its the defending champions while at times its the host nation e.g. in this World cup, South Africa starts as the hosts while in 2002, France started as the defending champions
Posted 11:23 9th June 2010
this wil be the great opening game in the cup history south africa vs mexico
Posted 10:55 9th June 2010
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