Have any nations in the past lost their opening World Cup match, but gone on to become champions?
With their shocking loss to Saudi Arabia, Messi and Co. will now have to dig deep, if they hope to become champions. The good news is: It’s been done before.
When you consider that any team to make the final of the World Cup will play just six games before the biggest game of their lives, there really is no margin for error during their run. Yet, believe it or not, there are in fact three teams that didn’t win their opening game, before going on to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy when the curtain came down. Let’s take a look at who they were.
England spared blushes at home in 1966
The one and only time that the English team won the world cup was back in 1966 and ironically enough, they started with a draw against Uruguay. What’s more, is that the side led by English legend Sir Bobby Charlton were actually playing at home, as they were in fact the host nation. Indeed, with their win in the finals against then West Germany, the English became just the third nation in history to win the tournament while hosting it. Of course, that honor came courtesy of a Sir Geoff Hurst hat-trick - he scored two in extra time - which stands to this day as the only hat-trick scored in a World Cup final.
The Italians made amends in 1982
In the 12th edition of the world’s biggest sporting event, there were a lot of firsts. Spain was hosting the tournament for the first time in history and the cruel lottery that we now know as the penalty shootout was introduced to the World Cup for the very first time. We’re pretty sure they’re many who have some things to say about that to this very day. Yet the ‘first’ we’d really like to address is the fact that Italy became the only nation to win a World Cup without winning a single group game - you read that right. With draws against Poland, Peru and Cameroon respectively, the Azzurri were heavily criticized for the lackluster play and only qualified for the second round, due to the fact that Cameroon scored fewer goals. All of that was forgotten, however, when they beat West Germany 3-1 in the final to claim their 3rd world title.
A small blip for Spain in 2010
The third and final example on this list came more recently in the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa. It’s worth noting, that it’s the only time a nation has lost its opening game and then gone on to win the whole darn thing. Having recently won the Euro Cup in 2008, the Spanish were heavy favorites to become world champions in Africa. Indeed, when they met the Swiss in their Group stage opener, fans expected a one-sided affair but it appears the Swiss hadn’t read the script. With a 1-0 win, the Swiss sent shockwaves through the football world and questions began to be asked. Ultimately, the Spanish addressed the situation immediately, withe likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, David Villa and many others dominating each and every opponent they faced from there on. That dominance was on show one last time in the finals against the Netherlands, who were truly outplayed by La Roja, despite what the narrow score line of 1-0 might have made you think.
Is there hope for Leo Messi and Argentina?
Given what we’ve discussed above, failing to win your opening World Cup game does not necessarily doom a nation where its chances of becoming champion are concerned. On the other hand, it’s most definitely not an ideal situation to be in given how short the tournament actually is. Following their shock loss to Saudi Arabia, Messi and Co. will take on Mexico next in what is sure to be an intense affair, before finally facing Robert Lewandowski’s Poland. While we’re sure the Albiceleste have what it takes to get out of Group C, they will need to address some glaring errors that were committed against the Saudis. Assuming they can do that, this is still most definitely a team that can become champions.