Experience The Magic Of Five Unforgettable Fifa World Cup Opening Matches!

Experience The Magic Of Five Unforgettable Fifa World Cup Opening Matches! a six-goal thriller to Cameroon’s stunning win against Argentina, relive some of the most memorable opening matches in FIFA World Cup history.

Experience The Magic Of Five Unforgettable Fifa World Cup Opening Matches!
Experience The Magic Of Five Unforgettable Fifa World Cup Opening Matches!

On Sunday, 4 February 2024, the match schedule for the FIFA World Cup 2026™ will be unveiled to fans around the globe. With the location of the tournament’s opening matches in Canada, Mexico and USA set to feature as part of that reveal, we look back at five of the global finals’ most memorable curtain-raisers.

Argentina v Cameroon | Group Matches | 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™️ | Highlights
Watch the highlights from the match between Argentina and Cameroon played at Giuseppe Meazza, Milan on Tuesday, 08 June 1990.

Argentina 0–1 Cameroon

8 June 1990, Milan Scorer: Omam-Biyik 67′

Dubbed ‘The Miracle of Milan’, this remains one of the great upsets in World Cup history. Argentina were the holders, had the incomparable Diego Maradona in their ranks, and were facing a team without a single World Cup win to their name.

Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon’s future all-team leading scorer, who was nine at the time, recalled watching the game “with 2,000 people in our neighbourhood in front of one TV”. “When Diego said hello to our captain and then started juggling the ball on his shoulder,” he added, “I thought we were going to lose 10-0.”

Some of the Cameroon players had scarcely been more optimistic. Yet despite going down to ten men just after the hour-mark when Andre Kana-Biyik received his marching orders, Francois Omam-Biyik – Andre’s younger brother – headed them in front six minutes later with an effort that embarrassed Argentina’s Nery Pumpido. And while the Indomitable Lions would lose another player following Benjamin Massing’s infamous assault on Claudia Caniggia, the nine men held on for the most famous of victories.

The quote “Wherever I go, it’s: ‘Ah, he’s the one who did the tackle on Caniggia.’ Everywhere. Everyone says it to me. It’s what people recognise me for. I have to say, it’s affection I get more than anything else, and if it was a source of money, I’d be a rich man.” Benjamin Massing

Did you know? Thomas N’Kono, the goalkeeper who held Argentina at bay and became the hero of a young Gianluigi Buffon during Cameroon’s fairy-tale run, wasn’t even expecting to be in the matchday squad to face Maradona and Co. His wife assumed the same, went shopping and missed his moment of glory.

It was only when Joseph-Antoine Bell was dropped after telling a newspaper that his team had “no chance of coping with Argentina, or any other team” and would “go out in the first round without much glory”, that N’Kono received the call. “Five hours before the game! I said no way,” N’Kono recalled in Jonathan Wilson’s book ‘The Outsider’. “The federation, the minister of sport, seven or eight people were telling me I had to play and I was saying I didn’t feel ready. They said if I wasn’t going to play they would play [Jaques] Songo’o, and if he didn’t want to play they would put an outfielder in goal.”

N’Kono eventually submitted, averting that unthinkable outcome before going on to keep a famous clean sheet.

France v Senegal | Group A | 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ | Highlights
Watch the highlights from the match between France and Senegal played at Seoul World Cup Stadium, Seoul on Friday, 31 May 2002.

France 0–1 Senegal

31 May 2002, Seoul Scorers: Bouba Diop 30′

This was another opening match that pitted star-studded holders against unfancied African underdogs and, just as in 1990, the reigning champions were sent tumbling.

Senegal’s players had read in the French press that they were no-hopers. “According to them, France were going to win 8-0,” El-Hadji Diouf recalled in an interview with FIFA last year. But they drew inspiration from their Cameroonian predecessors and produced a memorable, hard-earned win over a Bleus team boasting the likes of Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet.

Papa Bouba Diop scored the game’s only goal, setting up the Lions of Teranga for a memorable run to the quarter-finals in their debut World Cup.

What they said “We owed it to ourselves to create a bit of African and World Cup history because you can say what you like, but Senegal’s win over France is the greatest victory the tournament has ever seen.” El-Hadji Diouf

Did you know? All 11 players in Senegal’s starting XI played their club football in France. Les Bleus’ line-up, on the other hand, had just one Ligue 1 representative (Frank Lebouef, then of Marseille).

Germany v Costa Rica | Group A | 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ | Highlights
Watch the highlights from the match between Germany and Costa Rica played at Allianz Arena, Munich on Friday, 09 June 2006.

Germany 4–2 Costa Rica

9 June 2006, Munich Scorers: Lahm 6′, Klose 17′, 61′, Frings 87′; Wanchope 12′, 73′

By 2006, World Cup opening matches had developed a reputation for being cagey and low-scoring. There had been four straight 0-0 draws between 1966 and 1978, and Brazil – in their 2-1 win over Scotland in 1998 – were the only team in the previous four decades to manage more than one goal.

This six-goal thriller bucked the trend in some style. Stunning strikes from Philipp Lahm and Torsten Frings bookended an open, entertaining match in which a Paulo Wanchope-inspired Costa Rica team twice threatened an upset before Germany came out on top.

What they said “Bastian [Schweinsteiger] played the ball across to me and I had time to run on to it and hit it cleanly first time… The crowd behind the goal went absolutely mad. I hit it as cleanly as I’ve ever hit anything before or since.” Torsten Frings on his memorable winner

Did you know? Miroslav Klose’s brace in this match propelled him to become the first German since the great Gerd Muller in 1970 to finish a World Cup as top scorer. He would go on, of course, to surpass both Der Bomber and Ronaldo to become the competition’s all-time leading marksman.

South Africa v Mexico | Group A | 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ | Highlights
Watch the highlights from the match between South Africa and Mexico played at Soccer City, Johannesburg on Friday, 11 June 2010.

South Africa 1–1 Mexico

11 June 2010, Johannesburg Scorers: Tshabalala 55′; Márquez 79′

While this Soccer City spectacle didn’t quite match the standards of entertainment set in Munich four years earlier, no opening-match goal has been celebrated quite like Siphiwe Tshabalala’s stunning opener for South Africa.

“I actually thought at first about lobbing or chipping it because the keeper was off his line,” Tshabalala admitted to FIFA in 2020. “Thankfully I thought twice and decided for power instead. And as I was about to hit it, the ball took a very slight bounce off the ground. That helped, I think. The connection was so good that as soon as the ball left my foot I knew it was going in.”

Johannesburg, and an entire continent, exploded in delight. And while Mexico struck back in the second half through Rafa Marquez, and Bafana Bafana ultimately failed to qualify from their section, Tshabalala’s rocket remains a treasured moment from Africa’s first World Cup.

What they said “That was always going to be the biggest goal in my career, no matter what came after, because it touched so many lives and brought joy to so many people. It still feels like yesterday because I get reminders and messages from people about it every single day. That goal was special at the time, it’s special today and, for me and a lot of other people, it will be special forever.” Siphiwe Tshabalala

Did you know? Rafa Marquez, the scorer of Mexico’s equaliser, appeared in a joint-record five World Cup editions (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018). The first player to do so had been another Mexican, Antonio Carbajal (1950, 1954, 1958, 1962 and 1966), who was later emulated by Germany legend Lothar Matthaus (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998) and Marquez, and has been joined in more recent years by Andres Guardado, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022).

Brazil v Croatia | Group A | 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ | Highlights
Watch the highlights from the match between Brazil and Croatia played at Arena de São Paulo, São Paulo on Thursday, 12 June 2014.

Brazil 3–1 Croatia


12 June 2014, Sao Paulo Scorers: Neymar 29′, 71′ (pen), Oscar 90+1′; Marcelo 12′ (o.g.)

A raucous, emotion-laden rendition of the national anthem looked to have left Brazil’s players drained and in danger of another classic opening-match upset in 2014.

But after Marcelo’s early own-goal handed Croatia a shock lead, Neymar – under huge pressure as the hosts’ undisputed star – stepped forward with a brace to settle Brazilian nerves. Oscar then settled the outcome with a stoppage-time winner as Sao Paulo roared the Seleção to a hard-earned victory.

What they said “The first match is always difficult and we were anxious, we were nervous. But Neymar is special. He needs to know that we know that.” Luiz Felipe Scolari

Did you know? This win further extended Brazil’s unbeaten streak in competitive home internationals, which at the time stretched all the way back to 1975. The World Cup hosts hadn’t tasted defeat in 62 such matches when this mammoth run came to a stunning end with their 7-1 trouncing by Germany in the 2014 semi-finals.

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