The wait is finally over and it is upon us. The 20th FIFA World Cup, Brazil 2014 kicks off today and it will be one month of football extravaganza in the massively footbll crazy South American nation.
After the customary opening ceremony, it would be down to business and all attention would be firmly fixed on matters inside the pitch as the opening match between Brazil and Croatia kicks off. This is a game that the hosts are expected to win but football doesn't always turn out the way we expect it to be.
The opening matches at previous World Cups have not always been the most exciting matches in their respective tournaments, but they have produced some shocking results and huge upsets down the years. The three most shocking results from the opening matches at past World Cups have been described below.
3. Argentina v Belgium: FIFA World Cup, Espana 1982. June 12, 1982 at the Estadio Nou Camp Barcelona.
After a beautiful opening ceremony, a packed Estadio Nou Camp sat back to see the reigning world champions Argentina take on Belgium. After having blown people away with their exciting brand of football at Argentina 1978 FIFA World Cup which they won on home soil, the Argentines were red hot favorites to see off Belgium. With a star studded side which included Daniel Passarella, Mario Kempes, Daniel Bertoni and the great Diego Maradona who was making his World Cup debut, surely Les Diables Rouges of Belgium stood no chance.
This was not to be as Midway through the second half, RSC Anderlecht midfield dynamo Frank Vercauteren delivered a pinpoint cross from the left flank which found striker Edwin Vandenbergh who chested down and finished with his fight foot past Ubaldo Fillol. Argentina piled on the pressure and Diego Maradona would later come closest to equalizing with a fantastic freekick which hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced on the the goal line with Belgian Goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff beaten.
In truth, the Belgians were never reallu under trouble and contained the Argentines perfectly until the final whistle. The defeat did not prove fatal as Argentina still progressed to the second group phase as runner-ups to Belgium.
2. Argentina v Cameroon: FIFA World Cup Italia ’90. July 8, 1990 at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.
This was supposed to be a David v Goliath fixture with a non-biblical style ending. This time Goliath was expected to mercilessly crush David.
Argentina arrived at Italia ’90 as one of the red hot favourites dor thw title and with the kikes of the great Diego Maradona, Jorge Burruchaga and Claudio Cannigia in their ranks, it was not so difficult to understand why. The defending world champions were pumped up for this game at The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in Milan and there could only be one winner. Or so we thought. Cameroon on the other hand were one of Africa’s two representatives and were expected to be rolled over.
This was a very brutal affair as the Cameroonians came in with a negative but effective game plan which was to stifle Maradona and Argentina by kicking them. Their man-to-man marking was tight and they set up to counter attack.
Argentina had chances to take the lead but couldnt and after a barren first half, their chances became even brighter in the second half when André Kana Biyik was sent off for a tackle on Claudio Cannigia. It was a harsh decision by the referee Michel Vautrot. Cameroon were now down to 10 men and expected to succumb. Only five minutes after being reduced to 10 men, the decisive moment of the match came when Argentina defender,
Nestor Lorenzo conceded a free-kick to Cameroon deep inside Argentina's half. Emmanuel Kunde took it and his out swinger was poorly taken but the ball deflected high towards the cenyer of the eighteen yard box where Kana-Biyik's brother, Francois Omam-Biyik, rose above the Argentinean defender and headed towards goal.
His header was weak and did not appear strong enough to trouble Argentina’s experienced goalkeeper Nery Pumpido. However Pumpido appeared to misjudge the flight of the ball and allowed it to squeeze under his hand and into the net. The Giuseppe Meazza was stunned, the Argentines looked to the heavens in disbelief while the Cameroonians celebrated in extacy.
The game plan from the Indomitable Lions was clear at this point; they were going to defend stoutly and aggressively and this they did. Two minutes from the end, Claudio Canniggia was released and he went on a mazy run down the right.
With Cameroon trying to hang on to their precious lead Canniggia, after having evaded an earlier tackle, was promptly taken down in the most cynical way by Benjamin Massing. The tackle was so bad that Massing lost his right boot in the process and he was sent off in what was Cameroon's second Red Card od the match.
They still hung on with 9 men and moments later the game was brought to an end by Referee Micheal Vautrot.
According to The Guardian, "in the space of 90 minutes African football, once derided for being all about juju magic and Zairian defenders with a limited grasp of free-kick regulations, became credible".
Italia 90 had started in the most unbelievable manner and the fans could not wait for more.
1. France v Senegal. FIFA World Cup Korea / Japan 2002. May 31, 2002 at The Seoul World Cup Stadium.
This has to go down as the greatest opening day shock in World Cup history. France were the defending World and European champions having won FIFA World Cup France 1998 and UEFA Euro 2000 and they were coming up against a Senegalese side that was making her first ever World Cup appearance.
Although The French were missing their talismanic UEFA Champions League winner Zinedine Zidane, they still had Arsenal's double winners Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, and Juventus finisher David Trezeguet in their ranks. They were expected to absolutely crush the Senegalese.
Senegal on their part, had talented youngster El Hadji Diouf and big things were expected of the 21-year-old. Diouf did not disappoint and was a constant terror to the French defence.
The French came closest to breaking the deadlock on 21 minutes when Trezeguet beat his marker before unleashing a fierce drive which hit the post with Tony Sylva left stranded. Senegal survived and stepped up a gear.
They terrorized the ageing French backline with their speed and flair and always looked confident in possession. They always looked to go forward and were not not adopting the tactics of their African neighbors Cameroon in their 1990 victory over Argentina. It was simply end to end stuff.
The game was settled by one goal which was made by the ever impressive Diouf. On the half hour mark, Diouf, playing as a lone striker, was released down the left flank by Omar Daf. Diouf ran into space in a classic attacking move leaving 34-year-old Frank Leboeuf for dead before hitting a low cross to the centre from the by-line.
His Lens teammate, Papa Bouba Diop was on hand to bury the ball in to the net at the second attempt after a mixup between Emmanuel Petit and Fabien Barthez. The celebration was epic and one of the best ever seen in a World Cup as Bouba Diouf wheeled away in delight towards the corner flag where he took off his shirt. He then put the shirt on the ground and the team danced around it. Just wonderful.
The French were stunned and took the game to Senegal but it was Senegal that came close to getting their second of the night after good work from Khalilou Fadiga on the right wing saw him twist and turn Leboeuf to a standstill before unleashing a beautiful curling shot which hit the cross bar. Thierry Henry responded instantly for the French with a trademark curler from just outside the area but that also cannoned off the crossbar.
Senegal weathered the storm for the remainder of the game and went on to seal the most famous and most shocking opening day victory at the World Cup Finals.
The French never recovered from this defeat and went on to crash out of the tournament in the First Round failing to score a single goal in the entire tournament.
Another notable mention is World Cup England 1966 where England could only manage a goalless draw against Argentina who had their captain Ratin sent off. The game is remembered for the decision of England manager, Sir Alf Ramsey not to allow the English players to exchange shirts with the Argentines after the game.
Brazil cannot afford to underestimate the Croatians today and with players such as Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric in their ranks, anything is possible.
Let the World Cup begin.
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