England open their campaign tonight but their record in opening games is mixed; here are the high and low lights from history.
England 2-0 Tunisia (1998)
Let’s start with England’s only previous competitive fixture against Tunisia- their opening game of France ’98. Glenn Hoddle casused controversy before the match by dropping England poster boy David Beckham and keeping boy wonder Michael Owen on the bench. But England settled quickly and just before half time Alan Shearer headed in Graeme Le Saux’s clipped free-kick for 1-0. England controlled the second half and with time ebbing away Paul Scholes capped an excellent display with a shot on the turn and it nestled in the bottom corner for a convincing win.
England 3-1 France (1982)
After a 12 year absence England marked their return to the World Cup with a goal after just 27 seconds when Bryan Robson reacted quickest to a flick on. But an excellent French side weren’t going to go away that easily and Gerard Soler equalised 23 minutes later with a stunning counter attack. But England continued to come forward and midway through the second half Trevor Francis delivered an inch perfect cross for Robson to claim his brace. And man of the match Francis’ late shot was deflected into the path of Paul Mariner who pounced to ensure a memorable 3-1 win.
England 1-0 Paraguay (2006)
It says a lot about England’s opening night struggles that this could be considered a triumph. England arrived in Germany full of confidence that the golden generation would finally deliver. It started brilliantly with David Beckham’s pinpoint free kick causing havoc in Paraguay’s box and forcing captain Carlos Gammara into an own goal: 1 nil after 3 minutes! England were brilliant in the first half with Beckham, Joe Cole and Frank Lampard interchanging beautifully in midfield. But the cliché about a game of 2 halves proved apt, England wilted in the midday sun in that famous sun seeking destination of Frankfurt. Paraguay started to grow in confidence and Roque Santa Cruz caused some anxious moments in the England box, but England held out for the 3 points.
Portugal 1-0 England (1986)
Bobby Robson had waited 4 years for his tournament debut, he might have wished he’d stayed home. England started positively in Monterrey but with skipper Bryan Robson short on fitness England struggled to find their rhythm in midfield but they appeared on course for at least a point. Until that was Portuguese winger Diaminto beat Kenny Sansom, dribbled into the box and picked out an unmarked Carlos Manuel for a 1-0 Portugal win. The tabloids savaged Bobby Robson (not for the last time) and England’s Mexican adventure was in danger of a very early ending.
Italy 2-1 England (2014)
When you’re presented with a tough opener what do you do? If you’re Roy Hodgson you pick 4 forwards and try to play high tempo football against the masters of Catenaccio in the Amazonian heat of Manaus! Whereas Italy prepared for the jungle temperatures on an air-conditioned indoor training pitch, Hodgson simply had his players train in 3 layers of clothes- brilliant! England went on the offensive but were caught out when a poor clearance fell to Claudio Marchisio who lashed home after 35 minutes. England soon responded when a flowing move saw Wayne Rooney pick out Daniel Sturridge for the equalizer, but with Italy targeting left-back Leighton Baines surely England would change it at half time? No, they didn’t and just 5 minutes into the second half Baines was exposed again and a left-wing cross found Mario Balotelli for 2-1. England pushed forward but Rooney scuffed their best chance and Italy held out for the win.
Uruguay 0-0 England (1966)
Just to prove the opening match isn’t everything it’s worth remembering England’s greatest World Cup started ominously at Wembley. England strode out for the opening game of the 1966 World Cup against 2 time champions Uruguay expected to win. But Alf Ramsey’s side struggled with the formation with veteran outside forward John Connelly and goal machine Jimmy Greaves getting the nod. England just couldn’t get going and it ended in stalemate as Ramsey pondered whether thosw West Ham lads might be worth a shot whilst the press screamed in derision and cliamed England had no chance.
…And The Ugly
England 1-1 Republic of Ireland (1990)
This wasn’t a bad result for England but it was a hideous watch. Following their embarrasment at Euro ’88 England would again open up against the Republic of Ireland. With memories of that defeat still raw England were determined to get some venagnce and started at a pace, with Gary Lineker forcing home a scrappy opener. But Big Jack’s Ireland stuck to their principles (long ball principles) and went about ruffling English feathers. England rather than try to outplay Ireland decided to play the Irish at their own game and 90 minutes of dire midfield scrapping ensued. Late on Robson brought on defensive midfielder Steve McMahon to see out the win- he promptly gifted the ball to Kevin Sheedy who lashed home the equaliser and it finished all square with Robson pondering a change of system. Oh and Gary took a dump.