Three World Cup and European Championship opening-day games to forget

The opening games of major championships, particularly the World Cup and the Euros, receive a lot of attention but often flatter to deceive. Here are three truly awful tournament openers...

1966 World Cup: England 0-0 Uruguay

That's right! England may have had a glorious tournament in 1966, but their opening game was an utterly forgettable affair.

England had some incredible talent on display - Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst to name a few - and there was excitement from the home crowd way before the first whistle even blew.

The first match-up was against Uruguay, two-time winners of the competition, with their last success having come 16 years previously. Their 1966 incarnation was a far cry from those successful sides, but they were still a formidable opponent.

The game, though, was boring. Plain and simple.

England head coach Alf Ramsey had been criticised for employing a system that lacked flair, with many people describing it as dull. However, he was insistent his way was the right way, and of course he was vindicated.

Keeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz celebrates Uruguay's opening-day draw against England in 1966
Keeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz celebrates Uruguay's opening-day draw against England in 1966

Uruguay were a strong and well-organised team, and that made it difficult for England to break them down. Therefore, it was perhaps unsurprising that both teams stood firm and the game ended goalless.

It wasn't the best way to start, but in hindsight, it didn't really matter. However, England did pick up one record, becoming the first World Cup-winning team to go on to win the trophy despite not winning their opening match.

1968 European Championships: Italy 0-0 Soviet Union

The 1968 European Championships were the first time the tournament went under that moniker, having been renamed from the European Nations' Cup.

The hosts for this year's iteration were Italy, one of the teams who played in this terrible opening game. Note that in 1968, only four teams participated in the competition, meaning the opening games were technically the semi-finals.

Back in the early days of the tournament, if the semi-final games finished as a draw after extra-time, instead of going to penalties, there would be a coin toss.

On June 5, 1968, that's exactly what happened. Italy hosted the Soviet Union in Naples and in front of 68,000 fans, the two teams played out a goalless draw after 120 minutes of play.

As a result, the referee pulled out the silver and called for the captains of each side.

It was Italy who came out victorious and progressed to the final of the competition, where they defeated Yugoslavia 2-0 in a replay following a 1-1 extra-time draw.

1996 European Championships: England 1-1 Switzerland

England's Paul Ince battles Switzerland's Marco Grassi for possession
England's Paul Ince battles Switzerland's Marco Grassi for possession

England hosted Euro 96 30 years after they had won the World Cup on home soil and history repeated in one sense as the opening games of both competitions were incredibly dull.

The hype was high heading into Euro 96. England were hosting the tournament, there were parallels with 1966 and the Three Lions had a strong side.

They also had an anthem - 'Football's Coming Home' - which galvanised the fans and helped implant a sense of hope that had not been felt since the World Cup success.

England were drawn in a rather tricky group with NetherlandsScotland and Switzerland, but the hosts managed to go unbeaten in the group stage with two wins and one draw to finish top.

The one draw came in the opening game against Switzerland, arguably the weakest team of the group, with the Scotland game essentially being a local derby.

The Swiss were no pushovers, though. Despite a 3-1 defeat to England at Wembley seven months earlier, as well as having lost manager Roy Hodgson to Inter Milan, Switzerland put in a tenacious and spirited display.

Alan Shearer celebrates scoring the opening goal of Euro 96
Alan Shearer celebrates scoring the opening goal of Euro 96

Alan Shearer struck first, giving England the lead in the 23rd minute. However, England couldn't find a second and Switzerland grew into the game, hitting the crossbar just before half-time.

Their 83rd-minute penalty equaliser, courtesy of Kubilay Turkyilmaz, was accompanied by the sound of the host nation's balloon being well and truly pricked.

Thankfully, as in 1966, England bounced back from their opening-day disappointment, sweeping the nation along in a frenzy of hope and expectation as they beat Scotland, Netherlands and Spain (on penalties).

But then came Germany...