Croatia (I): The Other Openers

CAMEROON. Bolivia. Scotland. Senegal. Costa Rica. Mexico.

What joins these six countries together may not be initially obvious to the untrained eye, but to the World Cup aficionados out there, and there are many, they can be defined as “the other nation”. They are the “other nation” to play the opening game, to follow a truncated and laborious Opening Ceremony” and set the mood for the rest of the tournament.

Before 1990 little attention was paid to the opening game, other than as an opportunity for the holders to prove their credentials again. Italia ’90 fundamentally changed that, for the better. Cameroon’s 1-0 win over Argentina at the San Siro was the biggest shock in international football since the USA’s victory over England 40 years earlier.

Twelve years later Senegal bettered it, defeating World and European champions France in Seoul. The manner of it was more impressive than Cameroon’s, the pace of a young El-Hadji Diouf (whatever happened to him?) unsettling a creaking French back line. A Zinedine Zidane-less France were all at sea in attack. It was the first of many shocks that summer, which saw Turkey and South Korea make up one of the more unlikely semi-final draws.

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