Flashback: The last three World Cup openers

World Cups typically take place in June and July at the end of a traditional European soccer season, This year is the only exception.

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The 2022 World Cup is now within touching distance. In just a few days’ time, Qatar will take on Ecuador in the first match of the tournament at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, and the excitement will truly begin.

Looking at the Qatar v Ecuador odds, the South Americans are the favourites, but if we’ve learned anything from opening matches at past World Cups, things don’t always go exactly how we expect them to.

With the opening game of this year’s World Cup now in our sights, let’s take a look back at the last three curtain-raisers.

2018: Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia

It was difficult to know what to expect from Russia in their opening match as hosts of the 2018 World Cup. With no qualifying record to back them up, many people expected this tussle with Saudi Arabia to be a close, hard-fought encounter, with few goals.

However, Russia came out of the traps with all guns blazing. Yury Gazinsky’s header got the party started after just 12 minutes before Denis Cheryshev’s cool finish made it 2-0 just before half-time.

From there, Saudi Arabia struggled to muster any kind of fightback, and Russia kept their feet pressed firmly on the gas. Artem Dzyuba added a third with 20 minutes to go, before a late flurry saw Cheryshev and Aleksandr Golovin net to add further gloss to the scoreline.

2014: Brazil 3-1 Croatia

Ahead of Brazil’s opening game against Croatia, much was expected from the hosts, who were considered among the favourites to win the tournament. A sunny evening in Sao Paulo was the setting for this one, and Brazil ended up having to work hard for three points.

The hosts got off to the worst possible start. Marcelo’s inexplicable own goal brought dismay from the army of Selecao fans in the packed-out Neo Química Arena. Brazil would have to do it the hard way, but Neymar’s low strike ensured the score was level at half time.

After the break, the question was whether or not Brazil could cope with the pressure and get the goal they needed to win the game. The opportunity arrived with 20 minutes remaining, as the referee awarded Brazil a penalty for Dejan Lovren’s foul on Fred. It was a soft one, but those are the breaks you get as hosts.

Neymar stepped up and duly dispatched the spot-kick, before Oscar added a third Brazil goal in stoppage time. Relief for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side, and a winning start.

2010: South Africa 1-1 Mexico

The 2010 World Cup was a historic occasion. As the first African nation to host the tournament, South Africa were on a mission to do themselves justice on the World Stage, and the opening goal of that tournament has become an iconic moment in football history.

The game itself against Mexico was largely a cagey affair at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, but Siphiwe Tshabalala’s thunderous strike in the 55th minute raised the roof.

Picking out the top corner with supreme power and accuracy, and following it up with a celebration that will live long in the memory, Tshabalala must have thought he had bagged the winner.

Mexico’s Rafael Marquez had other ideas. The World Cup veteran found himself in the right place at the right time to finish from close range with just 10 minutes remaining. The spoils were shared, but Tshabalala’s goal had left an indelible mark.

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