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Bore Draws: The Curse Of The World Cup Opening Game

Brazil 0-0 Yugoslavia proved a dismal opener to the 1974 World Cup
Brazil 0-0 Yugoslavia proved a dismal opener to the 1974 World Cup

It’s a game every football fan looks forward to as, after what seems like an eternity, the World Cup finally arrives to signal the start of a four-week festival of football, non-stop drama, excitement and controversy; except that this eagerly awaited opener is often anything but as a combination of first night nerves and a desperate desire not to lose means the match is far from memorable.

Recent years may have broken the mundane mould slightly but history tells us that a draw is always the best bet when it comes to a World Cup wager, not least in the 1960s and ‘70s which saw no less than four nil, nil draws in succession and just one positive result in six matches spanning three decades; meaning for years many felt this greatest show on earth didn’t really get going until the first game was well and truly done.    

England 0 Uruguay 0, 1966

Optimism was high among the hosts going into the World Cup of 1966 as England held the tournament for the first time ever with manager Alf Ramsey even claiming that his side could go on and win the trophy. But his words looked like they could come back and haunt him with a pretty toothless performance following an equally tepid opening ceremony compared to what we are used to these days.

England and Uruguay played out a dull 0-0 draw at a packed Wembley with neither side looking like potential finalists and even though England would go on to win the Jules Rimet trophy that July, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst, who would both score in the final, could only command a place on the bench for this opening game stinker.

Mexico 0 Soviet Union 0, 1970

Opening ceremonies had improved slightly four years later in Mexico as balloons and flags welcomed visitors to the 9th World Cup but the first fixture of the tournament once again proved to be something of a false start with two cagey sides failing to lay a glove on each other throughout a pretty dire 90 minutes of football.

Played in the scorching heat of Mexico City in mid-summer, the hosts were unable to break down a well organised and stubborn USSR team in the newly built Azteca Stadium  with the only real point of interest coming in the form of the first ever World Cup substitution when the Soviet side made a half-time change.

Brazil 0 Yugoslavia 0, 1974

After two goalless draws in the last two opening games of the World Cup those who gathered at the Olympic Stadium in Munich in 1974 would have been forgiven for not holding out much hope despite the appearance of a team who had thrilled the world just four years earlier.

And the curse of the opening game continued as Brazil failed to find the net despite a whole host of clear-cut chances with Jairzinho twice coming close to breaking the deadlock only for a somewhat punch-drunk Yugoslavia to nearly win it at the death with a header that hit the post.

West Germany 0 Poland 0, 1978

Argentina 1978 is still remembered for being one of the most entertaining World Cups ever with its array of attacking stars and typically South American ticker tape celebrations which provided the backdrop for the tournament; except nobody thought to tell Germany and Poland who got it all underway that June.

A tasty looking fixture on paper between two old rivals the World Cup began with a goalless draw for the fourth time on the trot despite an impressive Poland side having the better of the play against an unusually poor German side which would only register one win in the entire tournament.  

Italy 1 Bulgaria 1, 1986

After the series of snooze-fests was eventually broken with a 1-0 win for Belgium against Argentina at Spain 1982 the World Cup once more began with a stalemate four years later as the tournament returned to Mexico with holders Italy taking on Bulgaria in the opening game.

Not surprisingly Italy dominated the match against unfancied Bulgaria as Alessandro Altobelli's first-half effort put them in front only for a late Nasko Sirakov header to ensure yet another draw; though millions of people were spared another disappointing curtain-raiser thanks to a satellite failure which brought down global TV coverage for much of the game.

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