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Find out why it’s curtains if you lose your first World Cup game – but England and Spain have a history of bucking the trends

We dig out the stats that prove it's crucial to hit the ground running at the World Cup

by Josh Powell | June 16, 2014

Winning your opening group game is a massive positive at the World Cup. Not only does it calm any pre-tournament nerves, but it takes a little bit of pressure off your next group game and, in some cases, provides the perfect opportunity to lay down a big statement – yes, Holland, we’re looking at you. But after digging though the history books over a bacon sandwich, the Paddy Power Blog has discovered winning your opening game is actually far more important than we first thought.

Of the 19 World Cups since 1930, the winners have kicked off their tournament with a victory 16 times – that’s an 84 per cent strike rate, and one that bodes well for Brazil, Argentina, France and the Dutch among others. Unfortunately for England, Spain, Portugal and Uruguay the trend will only heap on the pressure ahead of their next two group games which are set to be as tense as Charlie Sheen waiting on his STI results.


The five times Brazil have won the World Cup they have kicked off with a victory in their opening group game so punters on the favourites will be more than happy with the host’s 3-1 win over Croatia. The teams that won their opening game and then went on to lift the trophy also covered the one-goal handicap in the opener 69 per cent of the time. This is another tick in the box for the Brazilians, but also perks the interest of dark horses such as Colombia and Chile.

Clean sheets are good for a keeper’s morale, however apparently they’re not hugely important in opening games. Just 56 per cent of World Cup winners who won their opening group game kept the opposition goalless, which makes Xabi Alonso’s penalty against Holland look as insignificant as the Vengaboys’ contribution to music. The most common winning result in the opening game for countries that go on to lift the World Cup is either 2-0 or 4-1, and we are still yet to see either of those results going in to Monday night. The stage is set Senor Ronaldo.

For the English and Spanish, however bleak the stats may be, there are a couple of straws you are welcome to clutch wildly at.


Yes, of the three sides to have stumbled at the first hurdle but gone on to lift the famous trophy, England and Spain are two of them. By all accounts (and by that, we mean a quick Google search) the opening England game in 1966 was mind-numbingly boring. A 0-0 draw with Uruguay is all the Three Lions could muster in a game that was probably described as ‘the equivalent of watching Grown Ups 2 on repeat’ by the local papers.

Most recently in 2010 the Spanish were on the end of one of the shocks of the tournament as Switzerland upset the odds to win 1-0. The Swiss restricted the number of chances Spain could create and the Spaniards themselves lacked a little bit of ooomph (technical term) up front when it came to the crunch. The winning goal came from Gelson Fernandes after a few clusterf**** from Iker Casillas and Gerrard Pique which sounds worryingly familiar. It didn’t matter however as Spain then went on to win their first World Cup title and became the only team in history to lose their opening World Cup game, but still lift the trophy.

The question is, whether either England or Spain can upset the odds again, or is it in the hands of the sides who came out flying in game one?

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