IN 1950, it was the Maracana and tonight it is Manaus – and if England start their Brazilian World Cup mission as they did 64 years ago, we will all go to bed happy.
Although not too many Three Lions followers will be putting their last Brazilian real on it.
In the modern age, England’s opening nights in World Cup finals have proved occasions to be endured rather than truly savoured and the smart money is on that happening again in the jungle amid oppressive heat and grinding tension against Italy.
Back in 1950, the World Cup was a shiny new concept for England, with further glow provided when the nation’s first-ever game in the competition yielded a 2-0 victory over Chile in Rio, with Middlesbrough ‘golden boy’ Wilf Mannion among the scorers.
Two other Yorkshiremen scored in England’s first outings in Sweden and Chile in 1958 and 1962, respectively, in Ripon-born Derek Kevan and Doncaster’s Ron Flowers, but there was little else to get excited about.
West Brom striker Kevan’s goal put England on the road to scrambling a 2-2 draw against the USSR in Gothenburg and Flowers’s penalty was in a losing cause as Walter Winterbottom’s side lost 2-1 to Hungary in front of 7,938 in Rancagua.
Solid as opposed to spectacular has characterised England setting sail in World Cup finals, with one notable exception.
That arrived in Bilbao in 1982, when Bryan Robson’s goal after just 27 seconds – the third-fastest strike at a World Cup – put England en route to a 3-1 win over eventual semi-finalists France in a tournament that finished as insipidly as it started so dazzlingly.
Slow starts have not always been the precursor to dull tournaments for England, with their Wembley opener in a turgid stalemate with Uruguay in 1966 and their forgettable draw in the Cagliari rain against Ireland in 1990 being low points in otherwise memorable campaigns.
To a certain extent, that was also the case in 1986 after Carlos Manuel’s party-pooper in England’s opener with Portugal at high altitude in Monterrey.
That defeat is the only time England have seen their colours lowered at a finals opener since 1962, again played in the Americas in Chile.
In Mexico in 1970, it took a goal from Geoff Hurst to give England a 1-0 win over Romania, in a game when substance triumphed over style.
Similarly, wins over Tunisia and Paraguay in 1998 and 2006 were pragmatic as opposed to polished, something that tonight’s opponents Italy have proved themselves past masters at in finals over the decades.
Tentatively introducing themselves at tournaments is the Italian way, none more so than in 1982 with a tepid 0-0 draw with Poland comparing markedly with the scenes of Marco Tardelli-inspired glory in Madrid on July 11.
Slow starters they may be, but the Azzurri have still only lost once in their opener since 1954 – against Ireland 40 years on.
Given England’s record of stodginess in starting out, perhaps a dull draw is on the cards tonight. We wouldn’t complain, would we?