Nations Who Have Won the World Cup After Failing to Win in Their Opening Game

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Saudi Arabia claimed the unlikeliest of victories against pre-tournament frontrunners Argentina in the World Cup Group C opener, with many hailing it as one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s history.

Fast-forward almost a month later, La Albiceleste have gone from strength-to-strength having toppled the likes of Netherlands and Croatia on their way to the final, and stand on the cusp of a first world title in 36 years in what is almost certainly Lionel Messi’s final international appearance.

With Argentina set to face France in the final on Sunday, it got us thinking here at Sportslens, has anyone failed to win their opening match and still won the World Cup?

England – 1966

England’s first and only taste of international glory came in 1966, defeating West Germany in extra-time courtesy of a hat-trick from Geoff Hurst – the only player to achieve such a feat throughout World Cup history.

However, despite claiming some memorable wins over Argentina in the quarter-final and Eusebio’s Portugal in the last four, the host nation failed to win their opening fixture.

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This was the first time this phenomenon occurred in the then-36-year history of the World Cup, and England’s most beloved footballing memory started with a 0-0 stalemate against two-time winners Uruguay, in front of a packed out Wembley Stadium.

Rather incredibly, a match report from Norman Giller claimed the South Americans ‘played with nine men at the back’ and ‘the Uruguayans celebrated at the final whistle as if they had won…it was not a pretty sight.’


RELATED: Ranking the Top Five World Cup Finals Ahead of Sunday’s Swan-Song in Qatar


Italy – 1982

Gil Azzurri fans will look back on 1982 with warm feelings of nostalgia.

Their first win in the ‘modern era’ saw the Tricolore claim their third World Cup win, the first two coming back in the 1930s, with Paulo Rossi enjoying what remains one of the tournament’s most prolific individual performances with six goals.

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Against the backdrop of sun-kissed stadiums in the first World Cup to be hosted in Spain, Italy marched to the final against West Germany eventually winning in front of 90,000 spectators in Madrid.

The Italians began their campaign in rather underwhelming fashion however, drawing 0-0 against Poland in their opening group game before registering a further two share of the spoils against Peru and Cameroon.

This also made them the first nation to become world champions having failed to win a single group game.

Classic Italy.

Spain – 2010

Perhaps the greatest international side the world has ever seen, the World Cup winning Spain team of 2010 remain the only side to lose their first fixture and still go on to win the tournament.

After claiming the title at Euro 2008 two years prior, La Roja went on to win the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as well as another European Championship two years later, which remains an unprecedented period of dominance in international football.

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However, the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and David Villa succumbed to defeat in the opening game of the 2010 World Cup, losing out 1-0 to Switzerland.

That shock defeat was quickly amended as the Spanish went from strength-to-strength  sweeping aside every opponent thereon, eventually winning the title against the Netherlands courtesy of a memorable extra-time strike from Andres Iniesta.


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