How much can we learn from England's first game?

Does an early wobble always preceed a disaster? Is a good win a sure sign of great things to come? Not necessarily.


England 2-0 Chile, 1950, Rio de Janeiro


England's first World Cup tie, having finally deigned to enter a competition that began in 1930, produced a result that appeared to confirm their presumed superiority.

England, without playing particularly well, eased to a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Stan Mortensen and Wilf Mannion. In an early taste of the game's internationalisation Chile included Newcastle striker George Robledo.

The significance of this match is not what happened, but what followed. The party were now joined in Brazil by Stanley Matthews, who had been on an FA tour of Canada, but Arthur Dewey, Football League president and the only England selector present, saw no reason to change a winning team. With Matthews watching from the stands England (who did include Billy Wright, Tom Finney and Alf Ramsey) subsequently lost to the US. Matthews was restored to the side for the final group match but defeat to Spain meant England returned home early, and somewhat chastened.

England 0-0 Uruguay, 1966, London

Sir Alf Ramsey's boast, upon becoming England manager four years prior, that England would win the World Cup, looked lame after this leaden opening match. Uruguay, winners as recently as 1950, but already fading, came to spoil and did so, frustrating their opponents and a capacity Wembley crowd with a very defensive display. John Connelly managed to steer a header onto Ladislao Mazurkiewicz's bar but England mustered little else.

Three weeks later England were world champions, but neither Connolly, nor Jimmy Greaves who also began this match, were in the team. Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, who had only made their debuts in February and May respectively, were in and the system had changed from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2. It was neither the first, nor last, example of how teams change in competition, but it is one of the most significant.

England 3-1 France, 1982, Bilbao

England's best World Cup start, a volleyed goal from Bryan Robson after 27 seconds catching out all those television viewers back home who were still getting a beer from the fridge. A French side that included Michel Platini, Alain Giresse and Dominque Rocheteau levelled after 25 minutes but England went on to win with another goal from the outstanding Robson, and a third by Paul Mariner.

England looked set fair but as the tournament wore on a lack of creativity and goals (Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan were missing until the final game) bedevilled them. Ron Greenwood's team, though undefeated, went out at the second group stage while the French blossomed to reach the last four. The winners, though, were Italy who began with three draws, qualifying ahead of Cameroon by scoring two goals to their one, before coming alive in the later stages.

England 0-1 Portugal, 1986, Monterrey

With both teams affected by the heat England were mediocre, and Portugal worse, but it was the latter who won with Carlos Manuel netting with 15 minutes to go. England, playing 4-3-3, with Chris Waddle, Gary Lineker and Mark Hateley in attack, looked too predictable.

This was only England's second defeat in an opening match. The first occasion was in Chile in 1962, a 2-1 loss to Hungary. England qualified, but in second place which meant they met Brazil in the quarter-finals and went out. The 1986 defeat looked even more damaging when England were held 0-0 by Morocco in their next match, with Bryan Robson injured and Ray Wilkins dismissed. In the event they beat Poland 3-0 to qualify and were only stopped by the best, and worst, of Maradona.

England 1-1 Republic of Ireland, 1990, Cagliari

The Italian sports paper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, responded to this match with the headline, "No football, we're English". All of the participants played in the Football League, which featured plenty of teams in thrall to the long-ball, but none as much as Jack Charlton, Ireland's English manager. Despite the presence of Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley in the England team they were unable to impose a passing game – the match stunk the place out. Gary Lineker scored early for England but Kevin Sheedy levelled with 17 minutes left.

The Sun demanded: "Bring them Home." Fortunately no one listened. Bobby Robson brought in Mark Wright as sweeper, David Platt replaced the injured Bryan Robson, and England went all the way to that semi-final penalty shoot-out.

Property
house + home
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Life and Style
Bats detect and react to wind speed and direction through sensors on their wings
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living