Whether it is the fear of losing, lack of fitness or early tournament nerves England have consistently struggled to grab all three points in their recent opening matches at International tournaments.
In fact, a quick look at the history books shows that since 1986 The Three Lions have only won their opener on two occasions – against Paraguay in 2006 and Tunisia in 1998.
The 1-0 victory over the South Americans in Germany was also the first time in that period England have won their first game and also gone on win their group.
Altogether, including European Championships, England have won two, lost four and drawn four of their opening games since Mexico ’86. Certainly a worrying statistic as England prepare to face the USA in what will arguably be their toughest group game of the 2010 World Cup.
However, despite their stuttering starts England have never failed to make it out of their World Cup group in that time; suggesting they have enough bouncebackability on the biggest stage to get results in the second and third matches.
The difference this time around is the possible opponents in the knock-out stage. Germany are lurking in Group D and with the old enemy almost certain to top their group (they always do don’t they?!) England will want to avoid playing them for as long as possible – topping Group C will make their path to the latter stages a whole lot easier.
But given their tough opponents at Rustenberg on Saturday, as well as their shaky record in opening group games, there is no guarantee they will do so!
To cover all eventualities, to make worried England fans feel a bit better, as well proving statistics can be skewed to mean anything, here are some of the all too common occasions where England have made a stuttering start, but all with different eventualities.
World Cup 1986: Portugal 1-0 England
Finished in Group: Second
Carlos Manuel’s goal 14 minutes from time sent Bobby Robson’s England down to a opening day defeat in Mexico. A dismal 0-0 draw with Morocco in the next match left the Three Lions staring at elimination before a Gary Lineker hat-trick against Poland saw them nudge above their Eastern European opponents and into second place.
World Cup 1990: England 1-1 Republic Of Ireland
Finished in Group: Second
Hero of ’86 Gary Lineker gave England an early lead in Cagliari only for Kevin Sheedy’s drilled left foot shot to level things up with 17 minutes left. A drab goalless draw against the Netherlands followed, before a 1-0 over Egypt saw them through as group winners ahead of Ireland in second.
Euro 1996: England 1-1 Switzerland
Finished in Group: Winners
Alan Shearer’s early goal sent an expectant Wembley into raptures at the start of the 1996 European Championships. However England failed to press home their advantage and the Swiss equalised through Kubilay Türkyilmaz’s late penalty. But England bounced back to beat Scotland and then famously The Netherlands 4-1 to go through as group winners.