World Cup: First impressions: Five former England players recall their World Cup openers

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Alan Ball


England 0 Uruguay 0 (Wembley) SUGGESTIONS that England had it easy in '66 overlooked several things, notably that they met one of the toughest teams of the finals in their opening game. Uruguay, still using several of their hardened 1962 players, were so negative. recalls great "self-belief" in the England camp. "Alf had said that we would win the World Cup if we applied ourselves in the right way. We respected him so much we would have died for him. As the first game got closer you sensed the national pride. We knew we were equipped to win but the first game wasn't one to remember. I got left out after it. We didn't really get going. Uruguay were strong defensively and we couldn't break them down. I had been rooming with Nobby Stiles. His confidence that we would win the World Cup just inspired you, so the first match was disappointing for us and the country, but we made up for it."

Geoff Hurst


England 1 Romania 0 (Guadalajara)

ENGLAND'S optimism was high. They took to Mexico a squad that had greater depth than in 1966 and, with a 4-4-2 formation, looked as good as anyone in the tournament. Alf Ramsey, the England manager, predicted "we will be champions for a second time". Six of the World Cup-winning team played against Romania, who took no prisoners. The full-back Keith Newton was ruthlessly challenged by Mocanu after 50 minutes and played no further part. Patience paid off with a goal from Geoff Hurst, hero of the previous final, who said: "It was probably the best England team any of us had played in, but the conditions were tough because of the altitude - even for Bally who would run for ever. Because we were the champions everyone wanted to have a go at us." Ball confirmed that the 1970 side was the finest he had ever played in. But the Germans got their revenge for 1966.

England 3 France 1 (Bilbao)

AFTER their long absence from the finals, England returned for this game without Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking, central characters in the teams Ron Greenwood had formed. England sped into the lead on an intensely hot day when Bryan Robson scored after 27 seconds, a World Cup record. Peter Shilton was beaten only once that day. Robson regained the lead and Paul Mariner added a late third. Shilton recalls: "Ron had brought me back into the team and was alternating me and Ray Clemence, but when we got to the finals he decided that I should be the number one for the tournament. The opening game set the pattern. It was one of the great experiences of my career. We got more confident and only conceded that one goal, by Soler, in five matches. It was cruel to go out unbeaten." Keegan and Brooking entered the fray later in the tournament - too late to make an impact.

Peter Shilton


Peter Beardsley


England 0 Portugal 1 (Monterrey)

IT WAS unfortunate for England that the Portuguese players who had threatened to go on strike for more money called it off. England's midfield was kept under control and Mark Hateley spurned a good chance to take the lead for Bobby Robson's side. Peter Shilton had gone 499 minutes without conceding a goal but Carlos Manuel easily beat him for the winner Peter Beardsley, who substituted for Chris Waddle, said: "We had played well in the warm-up matches and there was a good atmosphere. We had acclimatised well. I was disappointed to be named only as a substitute. We created a lot of chances, especially in the second half. But by the time I got on there was not enough of the game left to do much about it. In the end I had mixed feelings - delighted to have appeared in the World Cup finals but disappointed to have lost a game we should have won."

Steve McMahon


England 1 Republic of Ireland 1 (Cagliari) A MATCH played under the flashing light of an electrical storm and in heavy rain had begun with Gary Lineker scoring after only eight minutes for Bobby Robson's team. The lead was lost when Steve McMahon was invited to replace Peter Beardsley. McMahon recalls with anguish: "It was an awful match. Gary had given us a perfect start. I was brought on to tighten up in midfield and stop the Irish from scoring. I'd been on for only four minutes when the ball came to me across the edge of the penalty area. It ran away from me straight to, of all people, Kevin Sheedy, of Everton, who took his chance and hit the ball into the corner of the net. That was the worst moment in my playing career. It was my big chance in the World Cup and I'd given away a vital goal. But then I got a yellow card. I felt that I'd let down the team and myself. It was my thirteenth cap."