The opening game of a FIFA World Cup™ is clearly like no other match – as anyone who has actually played in one will attest. Take the opening game of France 1998, for example.
In one corner was an ultra-talented Brazil side which eventually reached the Final, while in the other was a Scotland team that would finish last in their group. Yet the fixture turned into such a battle of nerves that it was finally decided in favour of the Brazilians only with the aid of a headed goal from a free-kick and an own-goal.
Who better then to discuss this phenomenon with than Cesar Sampaio, who was Brazil’s holding midfielder and the scorer of the aforementioned header in the Stade de France on the last occasion A Seleção opened a FIFA World Cup.
“You really can’t imagine what the opening game is like,” he told us. “I remember lunchtime on the day before the match, time was passing so slowly. Everyone slept badly that night. It only really began to dawn on me that I was part of the opening of a World Cup when the national anthem started up and I began to think about a lot of things: my childhood and other aspects of my life,” recalled the defensive midfielder, who today works as technical director of Joinville EC, in conversation with FIFA.com.
“It is all much too tense. There’s a lot of anxiety around it. You want to do everything in five minutes. And just imagine playing this type of game in Brazil itself. I can only imagine it.”
For this reason, today’s encounter between Brazil and Croatia in the Arena de São Paulo clearly represents a tricky assignment for the home side. “Any sort of result will do for Croatia. Of course they will set out to win the game, but if they lose it wouldn’t be entirely unexpected. It’s a bit like when you request something of someone with little hope that they can manage it. You’re already prepared for the 'no'. If it can be turned into a 'yes', it becomes something fantastic,” Sampaio added.
“Because of this, A Seleção have to make a clear distinction between the two World Cups that exist: the fans’ World Cup, which is a mass of parties, partiality and emotion, and that of the players, with its strategies, self-control and structure. It’s always like this but for the opening game even more so.”