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.

World Cup 1998 England 2-0 Tunisia

Finished in Group: Second

England laboured for long periods in the sweltering Marseille heat but eventually came away with the three points. Alan Shearer nodded England in front just after half time before Paul Scholes finished things off in the last minute with a marvelous curling shot from the edge of the box. England would later lose to Romania before a David Beckham inspired 2-0 win over Colombia saw them through in second.

Euro 2000: England 3-2 Portugal

Finished in Group: Third

England made a flying start in Eindhoven, going 2-0 in front within 20 minutes thanks to Paul Scholes and Steve McManaman. Luis Figo’s 25 yard thunder bolt brought Portugal back into the game before Joao Pinto square things up eight minutes before half time. The comeback was completed by Nuno Gomes 13 minutes into the second period. A 1-0 win over Germany in the next game would briefly revive English hopes before a last gasp defeat to Romania sent them crashing out.

Euro 2004: England 1-2 France

Finished in Group: Second

As far as defeats go, this one was pretty spectacular. Frank Lampard had given England a half time lead before David Beckham spurned the opportunity to double the advantage from the penalty spot in the second half. England paid dearly for that miss when first Zinedine Zidane curled home a marvellous free kick in injury time before converting from the penalty spot two minutes later.The genius of Wayne Rooney would help England recover though, scoring in wins over Switzerland and Croatia to send England through in second.

World Cup 2006 England 1-0 Paraguay

Finished in Group: Winners

The much vaunted golden generation got their 2006 campaign with a win, but it was a stuttering one as the players quickly wilted in the summer sun. David Beckham’s early free kick drifted in off the head of Carlos Gamarra to give England the points, but it was far from convincing. A late win over Trinidad and Tobago put in England in control of their group before a draw with Sweden sealed their passage as group winners.