Brazil kicks-off World Cup 2014 against Croatia on Thursday, in Sao Paulo. Traditionally, opening matches are dour affairs with both teams afraid to make mistakes.
In the early days of the World Cup there was no prescribed format, often with more than one game being played at the same time. In 1934 where the format was a complete knockout system, all games kicked off at the same time in the First Round. In 1962 four matches kicked the tournament off as the first game in each group provided the opening fixtures.
In 1966 and 1970 the hosts had the honour of opening the competition, but for the next eight tournaments the holders had that right.
Since 2006 it has been the host nation who opens proceedings, rather than the defending Champions. As the holders still have to qualify for the next tournament there is no guarantee they will even be there to defend their title.
1950 was the first instance of a host nation going on first when Brazil beat Mexico, 4-0 in the Maracana. 82,000 watched the hosts that day in the only game of the whole tournament where the attendance in that stadium was lower than 100,000.
Mexico has competed in opening matches the most with 7 appearances, although they are yet to win one. They’ve also suffered some of the biggest drubbings, losing 1-4 to France in 1930, 0-4 to Brazil in 1950 and 0-5 to Brazil in 1954. Of the 7 opening matches Mexico has appeared in, Brazil has been their opponents in 3 of those. Ironically, two nations have been drawn in Group A for this tournament too. For Brazil, this will be their sixth appearance in an opening fixture and Scotland’s John Collins is the only man to have scored against them in those matches.
In 1962, the first game in each group kicked-off at the same time representing the opening fixtures, and again Brazil met Mexico.
From 1966 to 1978 there were 4 successive 0-0 draws as many didn’t bother turning onto the tournament until the 2nd day. But then in 1982, Belgium pulled off a shock by beating defending champions, Argentina including Maradona, Kempes, Passarella, Ardiles and Bertoni. In fact Argentina fielded 9 of the 11 who won the trophy four years previously. Bulgaria earned a point against defending champions, Italy in 1986 with a goal an equaliser in the last 5 minutes.
In 2002 the opening game had its biggest shock result as first-timers, Senegal, beat defending champions, France, 1-0. This set the scene for a World Cup where many of the big nations struggled, with France, Argentina, Portugal not making it past the Group stage. South Korea even overcame Italy and Spain in the knock-out section.
Cameroon’s win over Argentina in 1990 would’ve run the Senegalese close. In the San Siro Cameroon scored the only goal of the game just after having a man sent-off. They hung onto the lead despite finishing the game with only 9 men.
2006 provided us with the highest scoring opening match when Germany beat Costa Rica, 4-2. There were three goals in the opening 17 minutes, as the Germans lead 2-1.
History would suggest it’s best not to expect too many goals in the opening match as only 4 of the last 12 games have given us more than 1 goal, and there has only been 2 instances from the past 12 matches where more than 2 goals have been scored.
Here is a breakdown of the opening games from past World Cups;
URUGUAY 1930: Two matches were played simultaneously. France beat Mexico, 4-1 and USA beat Belgium, 3-0. Who scored the first goal? Lucien Laurent of France scored the first ever World Cup goal after 19 minutes.
ITALY 1934: This was a knock-out format with all First Round games being played at the same time.
FRANCE 1938: Germany and Switzerland played out a 1-1 draw. As this tournament was again on a knock-out format, a replay was staged with Germany winning, 4-2.
BRAZIL 1950: Hosts Brazil beat Mexico, 4-0 in Rio
SWITZERLAND 1954: Two matches kicked-off simultaneously with Brazil beating Mexico, 5-0. Uruguay beat Czechoslovakia, 2-0.
SWEDEN 1958: Hosts Sweden beat Mexico, 3-0 in Solna.
CHILE 1962: First games in each Group kicked-off at the same time. Holders Brazil beat Mexico, 2-0. Hosts Chile beat Switzerland, 3-1. Uruguay beat Colombia, 2-1 and Argentina beat Bulgaria, 1-0.
ENGLAND 1966: Hosts England opened up with a nervy 0-0 draw with Uruguay at Wembley.
MEXICO 1970: Hosts Mexico also played out a tense 0-0 draw with USSR at the Aztec Stadium, Mexico City. This is the only World Cup finals match to be played in May.
WEST GERMANY 1974: Holders Brazil drew 0-0 with Yugoslavia in Frankfurt.
ARGENTINA 1978: Another boring 0-0 draw when holders West Germany were held by Poland in Buenos Aires.
SPAIN 1982: Holders Argentina were surprisingly beaten 0-1 by Belgium in Nou Camp, Barcelona.
MEXICO 1986: Holders Italy were held 1-1 by Bulgaria in the Aztec Stadium, Mexico City.
ITALY 1990: Holders Argentina were humbled in San Siro Stadium, Milan, 0-1 by Cameroon.
USA 1994: Holders Germany beat Bolivia, 1-0 thanks to a Jurgen Klinsmann goal at Soldier Field, Chicago. This was Bolivia’s first ever appearance at a World Cup finals and ended with their star player, Marco Etcheverry getting sent-off just 4 minutes after coming on as a substitute.
FRANCE 1998: Holders Brazil beat Scotland, 2-1 in Stade de France.
JAPAN/SOUTH KOREA 2002: Holders France were stunned when Senegal won 1-0, in Seoul. This was Senegal’s first ever appearance in the finals
GERMANY 2006: Hosts Germany beat Costa Rica, 4-2 in Munich. Philipp Lahm scored after 6 minutes, Paulo Wanchope equalised 6 minutes later, but then Miroslav Klose put the Germans back in front after 17 minutes.
SOUTH AFRICA 2010: Hosts South Africa drew 1-1 with Mexico in Johannesburg. Siphiwe Tshabalala gave the home side the lead, but a goal 11 minutes from time spoiled the celebrations a bit.