World Cup opening matches: Why first impressions are never the last ones
The opening match at a Fifa World Cup almost never sets the tone for the entire tournament
New Delhi: The World Cup opener is always surrounded by hype, anticipation, months of build-up and millions of prayers.
Fans want their teams to have a flying start to the campaign. But the expectations are often met with drab draws, refereeing gaffes and, sometimes unexpected heroes and cracking goals.
The good thing is that the first match never really sets the tone for the entire tournament, as is evident from the last 10 editions of the games, but surprises abound.
The match between reigning champions West Germany and the gifted Polish team ended in a scoreless draw. The Poles created better chances, but could not capitalise on them.
The new-look West Germany was often found wanting. The 1974 heroes, Gerd Muller and Franz Beckenbauer, had retired, and Paul Breitner skipped the World Cup to protest the military junta in Argentina.
Diego Maradona was making his World Cup debut for the defending champions, lining alongside the likes of Daniel Passarella, Mario Kempes and Osvaldo Ardiles.
But all the star-power could not save the Argentines from the 1-0 defeat at the hands of Belgium in the World Cup opener at the Camp Nou.
Three-time champions Italy dominated the game against Bulgaria and took the lead with a 44th-minute goal by Alessandro Altobelli. With the legendary backline comprising Giuseppe Bergomi, Gaetano Scirea, Pietro Vierchowod and Antonio Cabrini, the Azzurri would have fancied their chances of holding on to the lead, too. But a late strike by Nasko Sirakov ensured a 1-1 draw for the unheralded Bulgarians.
The 1990 World Cup opener was one of the biggest upsets in football history. Cameroon defeated defending champions Argentina 1-0, courtesy a 67th-minute header by Francois Omam-Biyik. Cameroon were reduced to nine men by the final whistle, but they would hold on for a famous win. They went on to become the first African team to reach the quarter-finals of a World Cup.
Argentina recovered from the shock loss and reached the final, but lost 1-0 to West Germany.
1994 United States
Germany opened the 1994 World Cup with an easy win over minnows Bolivia.
A comical attempt by the Bolivian goalkeeper Carlos Trucco in defending a long ball gave Jurgen Klinsmann an open goal, and he was not the one to miss.
It was a surprise that the Germans could not score more than one.
Cesar Sampaio gave Brazil an early lead against Scotland with his fifth-minute strike, but John Collins slotted home from the spot in the 38th minute to level the score. A 74th minute own goal—the ball ricocheted off Thomas Boyd—gave Brazil a 2-1 win. Brazil went on to reach the finals, but eventually lost to France.
2002 South Korea and Japan
The first World Cup in Asia kicked off with debutantes Senegal outplaying reigning champions France. Papa Bouba Diop broke the hearts of the Les Bleus’ supporters with a 30th minute strike. Senegal reached the last eight, while France crashed out of the tourney after the first round.
Philipp Lahm got Germany off to a dream start at their home World Cup with his sixth-minute wonder strike from the edge of the box against Costa Rica. Subsequently, Miroslav Klose went to score a brace, as did Costa Rican Paulo Wanchope. However, the best was saved for the last with Torsten Frings driving home a pile driver from 30 yards to seal a 4-2 win.
2010 South Africa
The opening match of the first World Cup on African soil saw hosts South Africa fight it out with Mexico. A thunderous Siphiwe Tshabalala strike electrified the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, but a Rafael Marquez goal ensured the points were shared. South Africa would become the first host nation to crash out in the group stage.
The opener between Brazil and Croatia got off to a stunning start with an early own goal by Marcelo. But the hosts pulled one back through Neymar around the half-hour mark.
The tightly-contested match was, however, turned on its head after the referee, Yuichi Nishimura, awarded a penalty to Brazil for a Dejan Lovren foul on Fred. Neymar duly scored. Oscar made it 3-1 for the hosts late in the game but the penalty dominated the headlines.
“This referee should not be at this World Cup. It wasn’t a mistake, it was a scandal,” was Lovren’s take on the matter, while coach Niko Kovac was even more blunt, asserting Croatia should “give up and go home”.
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