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June 09, 2006

Get your pessimism in early

Watching England play in major tournaments is utterly horrible. It's like having to watch a documentary on sadistic execution techniques with the soundtrack being someone scraping a large knife down a blackboard. It's not FUN. It's HORRENDOUS. And it's because I, we, you care so damn much. There's a good chance that I enjoyed WC94 so much because England weren't in it. You could appreciate the damn thing.

Wise words from the My Sofa World Cup blog. So the World Cup kicks off later today, and by virtue of England featuring tomorrow in only the third match of the tournament I've already got the jitters - the refereeing early on in a World Cup is usually erratic, I don't know what the atmosphere is going to be like watching the match here in Hania, and most of England's attacking options are currently either broken or don't have to shave. And the other one does robot dancing.

There seems to be two camps of opinion about the Paraguay game tomorrow. Either who the hell are Paraguay it'll be a breeze, or oh, they came third in South American qualifying and we are quite, quite rubbish at starting tournaments.

In fact, despite the nationalistic fervour and crushing optimism whipped up by the press every couple of years, England have a very poor record in their opening tournament matches in my lifetime.

  • Euro2004 beaten 2-1 by France. Thanks to an astonishing self-destructive flurry led by Becks, Mr Em and Sven.
  • 2002 World Cup drew 1-1 with Sweden. Turned out OK thanks to subsequently beating Argentina and then Nigeria not actually being very good.
  • Euro2000 beaten 3-2 by Portugal. Thanks to an astonishing hour-long self-destructive flurry led by the tactical ineptitude of a certain Mr K.K.
  • 1998 World Cup beat Tunisia 2-0. Huzzah!
  • Euro96 drew 1-1 with Switzerland. Thanks to an astonishing self-destructive flurry of conceding a late penalty. And again in the subsequent one against Scotland. There's a theme developing here.
  • 1994 World Cup. DNQ. Did we not like that.
  • Euro92 drew 0-0 with Denmark. The fact that until the previous week we were expecting to play Yugoslavia wasn't really an excuse for an abject performance.
  • 1990 World Cup drew 1-1 with the Republic of Ireland. It wasn't all Gazza crying and Chris Waddle dancing at Italia 90 you know - Italian journalists dubbed England's group "The Group of Sleep" as England, the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland took turns grinding out dull draws with each other then gently spanking Egypt in order to progress.
  • Euro88 lost 1-0 to the Republic of Ireland. Can you ever again imagine an England manager going to a European Championship, losing all 3 games including one to the Republic of Ireland, and not getting the sack?
  • 1986 World Cup lost 1-0 to Portugal. This makes pretty depressing reading huh?
  • Euro84. DNQ.
  • 1982 World Cup thrashed France 3-1. A great start with a goal in the first minute, but it was the law of diminishing returns in this tournament as England's results got progressively worse. A 2-0 against Czechoslovakia, then a 1-0 against Kuwait followed, then two 0-0s against West Germany and hosts Spain in the curious one-off experiment of the second-round/quarter-final three-teams-per-group stage "thing". Went home unbeaten though.
  • Euro80 drew 1-1 with Belgium. More notable for teargas on the terraces than anything that happened on the pitch.

So there you have it - England's opening game record since 1980, Played 11, Won 2, Drawn 5, Lost 4. On the bright side, though, regardless of the result in the first game, England have qualified out of their group 7 times out of 11 in those championships - and twice (World Cup 86 and Euro2004) have qualified despite losing their opening games.

For the record, my money is on a nervous 1-1 draw, and much tabloid wailing and gnashing at teeth in Sven's direction.

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Good to see, despite sitting in the sunshine in a tranquil, beautiful setting, that you're still an old misery at heart. We'll be shouting at the game in the company of Steve and Tracey tomorrow, thoroughly enjoying a 3-0 romp. COME ON ENGLAND!

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