Opening day preview

Thursday 12th June 2014 sees the start of the 20th World Cup finals.  All eyes will be focused on the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo as Brazil take on Croatia.

Whenever Brazil performs in the World Cup is an exciting time for many, and this time they will have the added pressure of host nation expectation.  They are up against Croatia.  Croatia qualified via the play-offs, beating Iceland 2-0 on aggregate, having finished 2nd in their group behind Belgium.

Croatia are unbeaten in their last 5 matches, since they were beaten 0-2 at Hampden Park by Scotland last October.  This is their 4th appearance at the finals stage, having missed out last time in 2010.

Brazil is the only nation to have competed at every World Cup, and have been beaten just once in their past 21 internationals.  That defeat came in Basel, when a Dani Alves own goal saw them lose 0-1 to Switzerland.  Having gone out at the Quarter-Finals stage in the last two World Cup tournaments, Brazil is expecting nothing less than to win the tournament.

These two countries have only met twice before, and the last meeting was at the 2006 World Cup when Kaka’s goal gave Brazil a 1-0 win in Berlin.  The first ever meeting between the two nations was a year earlier in August 2005 when Niko Kranjcar put Croatia in front before Ricardinho equalised for a 1-1 draw.

The other two countries in this group, Mexico and Cameroon, play on Friday.

BRAZIL: Neymar
CROATIA: Luca Modric

England v Italy – Past Encounters, Le Tournoi 1997

England v Italy – Past Encounters, Le Tournoi 1997

June 1997 and twelve months before the World Cup was to be held in France, the French organised a mini-tournament called Le Tournoi.

Along with France, England, Italy and Brazil were invited.  Each team would play each other once in a league format, with 3pts for a win and a trophy at the end for the winner.

France and Brazil kicked things off in Lyon and we were introduced to our first sight of a Roberto Carlos free-kick.  The man lived off that goal for years, rarely being able to replicate it, but the threat was always there.

Then on 4th June at Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes, England met Italy.  Both teams were in the same qualifying group for the World Cup in 1998 and had already met at Wembley where Gianfranco Zola scored the only goal of the game.

Both sides were at almost full strength, although Glenn Hoddle had brought a number of young players to give them a taste of international football and the defence contained a mixture of youth and experience.  He also experimented with Graeme Le Saux on the left of midfield, a problem position for England.  Arsenal’s Ian Wright got a start alongside Teddy Sheringham to have a chance to show what he could do, with Shearer on the bench.

Italy produced the first chance when Keown was beaten by Casiraghi and Di Matteo crossed for Zola, whose header went just wide.

25 minutes in and Paul Scholes picked the ball up in the centre circle, looked around him to see what was on and spotted Ian Wright making a run.  So Scholes launched the ball over the Italian defence for Wright to run onto.  The ball was so good that Wright didn’t need a touch to steady himself, instead he met it first time and fired it past Peruzzi and England were in front.  1-0

As half-time approached, Pearce took a throw-in on the left, just inside the Italy half.  He threw it to Ince who played it back and Pearce then hit a first time pass with the outside of his left foot, over the two Italian defenders for Wright to run onto.  Wright then played it square where Scholes had found himself free on the edge of the area and his first time shot thundered past Peruzzi, who didn’t move.  2-0

England were 2-0 up by half-time against Italy.  They’d played some great football and what was all the more impressive was that Italy had never conceded a goal under manager Cesere Maldini and yet here they were being embarrassed by England.  Italy failed to create any meaningful chances in the second half, and England could almost have got a third, but in the end this was a very pleasing start to this mini-tournament.

This was Paul Scholes first start for England and he produced the sort of performance England fans became used to, down the years.

ENGLAND: Flowers (Blackburn);Neville P (Man Utd), Keown (Arsenal), Southgate (Aston Vila), Pearce (Notts Forest); Beckham (Man Utd), Ince (Inter), Scholes (Man Utd), Le Saux (Blackburn) [Neville G (Man Utd)];  Sheringham (Tottenham) [Gascoigne (Rangers)], Wright (Arsenal) [Andy Cole (Man Utd)]

GOALS: Wright (26), Scholes (43)

ITALY: Peruzzi, Ferrara (Nesta), Cannavaro, Costacurta, Di Livio (Maini); D. Baggio, Benarrivo, Albertini, Di Matteo (Fuser); Zola, Casiraghi.

England then met France in Montpellier and Alan Shearer scored the only goal of the game, just 4 minutes from time and England were now in a dominant position in the competition.  Italy and Brazil then played out a thrilling, 3-3 draw, before a Romario goal gave Brazil a 1-0 win over England.  France and Italy drew the final game, 2-2 and England had won Le Tournoi.

It may not have been a major international tournament, but given they had come up against 3 of the top teams in World football, England could be proud of their win.  England would eventually qualify for the World Cup in France in 1998, only to go out in the Second Round to Argentina in a penalty shootout.

England v Italy – Past encounters 1997

October 1997 and England head to the Stadio Olimpico for their final qualifying match for France ’98.  England lead the group but just by 1pt from Italy, so a draw is enough to see them qualify.  But defeat to Italy, would mean the lottery of the play-offs.

England had embarked on the qualifying campaign with a new manager, Glenn Hoddle.  Having suffered the trauma of a penalty shootout defeat in the Semi-Finals of Euro ’96, the FA decided not to offer Terry Venables a new contract.  Hoddle took over and immediately put his mark on a new team.  The feature of this England was their ability to defend away from home.  Hoddle brought in David Batty to play alongside Paul Ince in midfield and the two worked as ‘spoilers’ to stop any attacks, and generally break down the opposition.  David Beckham made his debut in the opening qualifying match in Moldova in a team showing 5 changes from the Germany match 3 months earlier.

England had beaten Moldova, Poland and Georgia, but then came unstuck at Wembley when Gianfranco Zola pounced on a mistake by Sol Campbell and he scored the only goal of the game.  It was the last goal they conceded in the group.  But then Italy had been equally tight at the back.  Moldova scored 12 minutes into the first game in October 1996 and then Italy’s defence wasn’t breached again.  Italy should’ve been clear after the Wembley win, but draws in Poland and Georgia had handed the initiative back to England.

Between the Wembley game and this, England had beaten Italy in the Tournoi in the summer, so they were upbeat of their chances.  History was against them, though.  England hadn’t won in Italy since 1961, in fact they’d lost every time they visited the country and hadn’t scored either.  But the pressure was on the home side too, the pressure of expectation was huge.  Could they risk having to qualify through the play-offs?  They had been at every World Cup since 1962 and were beaten in a shootout in the Final in 1994.  Not qualifying would be unthinkable.

England were without Alan Shearer, so Hoddle chose Ian Wright.  Wright had scored twice against Moldova in their last game, but England weren’t necessarily there for goals, a draw was enough.  Gascoigne was back after he missed the Wembley match when Matt Le Tissier provided further evidence of why he didn’t win many caps.

England were there to defend, against the past masters of defence.  They passed the ball well too, and something that future England teams didn’t seem to be able to manage, they kept the ball, making their opponents work.  Italy were no weak team, including players of the calibre of Nesta, Maldini, Cannavaro, Costacurta, Zola and Filippo Inzaghi.  But England’s comfort on the ball gradually produced nerves within the home crowd.

England had their chances too.  Paul Ince’s volley from a Teddy Sheringham knock-down brought out a good save from Peruzzi.  Soon after, Sheringham was involved again, playing a one-two with Beckham who’s shot just went over the bar.  England’s tactics were clear, try and grab an early goal and then defend it.  But the first half was goalless and in the second half England were pushed further back as the home side needed to score.

Italy were gradually getting more and more desperate.  Del Piero was booked for a dive in the penalty area, and then on 76 minutes Di Livio was booked for a rash challenge on Sol Campbell.  Di Livio had already been booked and so he was off.  Italy were down to 10-men and you could feel things really weren’t going their way.  In the first half, England’s captain Paul Ince, had to go off for a head injury.  He came back on all bandaged up, but as the game wore on the bandage became more and more bloodstained, giving the impression of a real battle.

As the game drew towards a conclusion, Vieri tried an acrobatic kick but scuffed his shot to Seaman.  The Arsenal keeper then kicked it long downfield where Wright had worked tirelessly on his own all night.  Hesitation with the bouncing ball allowed Wright to pounce, and take it past the advancing Peruzzi.  The angle was acute but Wright steadied himself and his right foot shot seemed destined for the net, but agonisingly it hit the post and bounced back out 20 yards out and the chance had gone.  But straight away, as if goaded into life, the Italians came back at England as Vieri headed just wide from Del Piero’s cross.

That was the last real action of the match and England had pulled off a famous result.  They had gone to Italy and beaten them at their own game.  They defended better than the Italians, they kept the ball better than them too, and but for a post would’ve won the game.  It was a real backs-to-the-wall performance but England certainly hadn’t parked the bus, they were the better side.

England had qualified for World Cup ’98 and would go on to lose in another penalty shootout against Argentina in the Second Round.  Italy had to settle for the play-offs and a tricky tie against Russia.  They drew 1-1 in Moscow and Casiraghi scored the only goal of the 2nd leg to see Italy earn a place in France.  Italy also went out on a shootout, losing to France in the Quarter-Finals.

The game would prove to be the last competitive fixture for Paul Gascoigne.

ENGLAND: Seaman (Arsenal); Campbell (Tottenham), Southgate (Aston Villa), Adams (Arsenal), Le Saux (Chelsea); Beckham (Man Utd), Ince (Liverpool), Batty (Newcastle), Gascoigne (Rangers) [Butt (Man Utd)]; Sheringham (Man Utd), Wright (Arsenal)

ITALY: Peruzzi, Nesta, Cannavaro, Costacurta, Maldini; D. Baggio, Demetrio, Zola, Di Livio; Vieri, F. Inzaghi.

Curtain raisers

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.