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How Important Is Winning Your First Game at the World Cup?

World Cup
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 17: A Mexico fan kisses a replica World Cup trophy aloft prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

The first round of games of this World Cup has just concluded with Senegal defeating Poland by two goals to one. We have had everything so far ranging from upsets to outrageous goals to VAR and we are only just getting started. But how important is the first game for a team who are hoping to go a long way in the biggest spectacle of them all?

Obviously it goes without saying that winning the first game will give a team a huge amount of confidence especially if it is against one of the tougher opponents in that group just like we have seen with Mexico beating the holders Germany and deservedly so. History shows that losing your first game means that you are unlikely to be lifting the World Cup trophy come the end of the tournament with only Spain in 2010 being the only team to lose the first game but go onto to win the World Cup and they did it in style.

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As we have seen in the opening round the majority of games have been decided by either one or two goals with exceptions being Russia and Belgium and this could be because teams are often more cautious going into the first game of a tournament. Managers and players will know that they have three games to prove they deserve to be there and are not just there to make up the numbers. Before the last World Cup in Brazil it showed that the number of goals in the first round of games were dipping with only 25 being scored in 2010, but this increased in Brazil. However it decreased significantly again this year.

In the four World Cups between 1998 and 2010, 46 teams lost their opening game and not even 10% of these teams made it past the group stage. So history shows that winning the first game is vital especially if the other results in your group and fixtures line up badly. You could be eliminated by the end of the second game just like England were in 2014 after losing to Italy and Uruguay with results not going their way.

If your game in a tournament ends in a draw the chance of you getting past the group stage increases by around 48% based of statistics between 1998 and 2010. I’m using stats from 1998 onwards because this World Cup increased to 32 teams. However in the Spain World Cup in 1982, Italy became the first team not to win a group stage game and win the tournament, they drew all three games. In 2010 New Zealand did the same thing but there three points was not enough to get them out of the group and with Spain’s loss to Switzerland they were the only team not to lose at the World Cup.

In summary winning the first game is important because it gives you a good platform to build on and helps install confidence into the teams camp and also the fans who can play a huge part. However it’s not all doom and gloom because you can still get out of the group if you bounce back and results go your way like Spain have done in the past. Moreover they have gone down as one of the best World Cup teams in history due to the style of play coupled with their World Cup victory and two European championship wins.

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