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ANALYSIS: Italy may be World Cup slow starters, but what does that make England?

We look through the history books to find the most reliable team first time out

by Aidan Elder | June 11, 2014

We’ve being firing out analysis pieces like teenagers on the Jeremy Kyle Show fire out babies over the past few weeks. We’ve done pieces exploring what a typical group game looks like, how group games are seeing less goals but are getting more competitive and how the hosts and defending champions fare in their opening matches plus a whole lot more.

But we love stats almost as much as James Franco loves himself, so we went back to the well for another mouthful of refreshing facts. This time, we wanted to look at how the major nations get one in their opening games. Based on the received wisdom that Italy are slow starters and England are ideally positioned to take advantage by getting them first up, the Paddy Power Blog cracked open the record books to see which teams tend to hit the ground running and which teams tend to hit the ground with a dull thud. And the evidence suggests some of the thuds are definitely duller than others.

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If the opening ceremony wasn’t going to be painful enough, Thursday evening is unlikely to get any better for Croatian fans. Brazil’s record in the opening game of a World Cup tops the charts like an irritatingly catchy number from the latest teen-bopping sensation. They’ve won 79 per cent of their opening World Cup games and haven’t lost one since 1934.

The Germans follow closely behind and live up to every ‘efficient’ stereotype this Blog and many more have ever written. They have won 71 per cent of their opening games, including the last six on the spin, and have lost just once – to world powerhouse Algeria in the 1982 World Cup. Spicy.

There’s good news and bad news for English fans soaking up these numbers. Yes, you have lost less opening games than nations like Spain, Italy, Argentina and the Dutch, but equally the Three Lions don’t win many either. Ignore the splinters, and plonk your derriere straight on the fence this weekend, because England love drawing opening games like Prince Phillip loves being casually racist.

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The Italians aren’t as slow as the original myth suggests, racking up a 53 per cent win rate. In fact they’ve lost just one opening World Cup game in the last 60 years. That was at USA 1994 to the mighty Irish and the passionate Guinness-fueled recollections of said game probably helps keep the ‘Italians are slow starters’ myth on track. The 2010 draw with Paraguay probably didn’t help them either though…

Elsewhere the Spanish are surprisingly poor to start with, winning just four of their 13 opening World Cup games. They lost 1-0 to Switzerland in 2010 before going on to lift the trophy so we’re not going to start proclaiming the death of tika-taka if the Dutch get a result in Friday night’s game however. Holland are usually at the point were squad harmony is peaking in the first few days of the tournament and that might go some way to explain their decent showing in the stats. From there on in expect plenty of in-house bust-ups, player revolts, and under-performing talent.

Think your team can begin with a win? Start making tracks towards our World Cup Group Matches:
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