Friday 14 December 2018

England aiming to continue strong record in World Cup opener

The Three Lions have lost only three of their 14 opening matches in the finals.

England’s record in World Cup openers offers encouragement to manager Gareth Southgate (Mike Egerton/PA)
England’s record in World Cup openers offers encouragement to manager Gareth Southgate (Mike Egerton/PA)

By Tom White, Press Association Sport Data Journalist

England go into this summer’s World Cup on a four-match winless run in the competition – but history suggests they can quickly buck the trend.

The Three Lions have a strong record in their opening games at previous World Cups, with five wins and six draws from 14 games.

What is more, the five wins include a 2-0 success in 1998 against Tunisia – who Gareth Southgate’s side face first up in Russia on Monday.

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Alan Shearer, centre, celebrates scoring against Tunisia in England’s 1998 opener (Sean Dempsey/PA)

The most recent opening victory came in 2006, 1-0 against Paraguay courtesy of an early own goal from Carlos Gamarra.

The last tournament in Brazil four years ago saw England start with a 2-1 defeat to Italy, Daniel Sturridge’s equaliser proving in vain as Mario Balotelli scored Italy’s winner, while in 2010 England drew 1-1 with the United States after goalkeeper Rob Green’s costly error.

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Rob Green reacts after gifting a goal to the United States’ Clint Dempsey (Owen Humphreys/PA)

England’s only other defeats in their first group games also came against strong opposition – Portugal in 1986 and in 1962 against a Hungary team who won Olympic bronze in 1960 and gold in 1964.

The first ever appearance for England at a World Cup finals brought a 2-0 win over Chile in 1950 with goals from Stan Mortensen and Wilf Mannion.

Geoff Hurst earned a 1-0 win over Romania in the first group game in 1970 while on England’s next World Cup appearance in 1982, they made a truly electric start as Bryan Robson scored what was then the fastest goal in World Cup history after 27 seconds. It was Robson’s first of two goals in a 3-1 win over France.

The Hungary defeat was surrounded by draws against Belgium in the 1954 opener, the USSR in 1958 and Uruguay in the victorious 1966 campaign on home soil. The Belgium game, which finished 4-4 after extra time in an unusual group format, was England’s highest-scoring World Cup opener and their first game ever to go into extra time.

There were further draws against Ireland at Italia 90 and Sweden in 2002.

The overall record contrasts markedly with that in England’s opening games at European Championships, where in nine appearances they have lost their first game on four occasions and drawn the other five.

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