Ranked! The 20 best England games of all time

David Beckham celebrating, best England games
David Beckham celebrating against Greece in 2001

Will we see some of the best England games in Qatar this winter?

England are preparing for group stage games at World Cup 2022 (opens in new tab) against Iran, USA and Wales, with the intention to reach the latter stages of the tournament through strong performances and results - if successful, the side would go down in history. 

In recent years there have been a number of memorable games involving England, not least because the Three Lions have managed to reach a World Cup semi-final and a European Championships final. While they are yet to taste success, plenty of entertaining matches have been played during that period. 

However, across England's illustrious history there have been even more. Since the nation played in the world's first-ever international fixture against Scotland in 1872, there have been ecstatic highs, agonising lows, and every emotion in between. 

Gareth Southgate will be hoping his squad (opens in new tab) can add to this list in Qatar with a few more great games - perhaps maybe even a World Cup final win. Only time will tell on that one. 

So, without further ado, FourFourTwo has compiled a list of the greatest games England have played across their history. Enjoy. 

Best England games: 20. England 1-2 France (2004)

It may seem peculiar to start with a defeat, but on quality of the match alone, this would surely make any neutrals' list (and maybe some Scotland fans' lists as well).

The Three Lions were given a tough start to their Euro 2004 campaign, with a tie against France who had the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Lilian Thuram.

But England gave their French counterparts a scare when Frank Lampard headed home David Beckham’s cross to take a lead into half-time. 

Sven Goran Eriksson’s side could have doubled their lead a Beckham penalty was stopped by his Manchester United teammate Fabien Barthez in the French goal. 

And England were made to pay for that missed opportunity as Zidane stepped up to score two very late goals: one from the spot after Henry had been fouled by David James, before stroking home a free-kick at the death to condemn England to defeat.

19. England 3-2 Scotland (2013)

In a friendly put on to commemorate the Football Association’s 150th birthday, England and Scotland played out a dramatic match which, in all seriousness, was far from friendly. 

Scotland twice took the lead at Wembley through James Morrison and Kenny Miller but they were pegged back both times by Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck respectively.

England needed a hero to seal victory against the Auld Enemy and that saviour was Rickie Lambert, who headed in a corner with his first touch in international football to seal a precious derby win. 

18. England 6-1 Panama (2018)

Yes, it was only Panama, but never before had we seen such a dominant England victory at a World Cup. 

That day, Gareth Southgate’s team were better at set pieces than prime-Tony Pulis Stoke during their inaugural year in the Premier League. Defender John Stones scored two goals which were topped up by a pair of Harry Kane penalties and Jesse Lingard’s long range curler - all of which were scored before half-time.

Kane then inadvertently scored a third after getting in the way of Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s long range strike to cap off a perfect win (apart from Felipe Baloy’s feel-good consolation goal). 

17. England 2-0 Colombia (1998)

England 2-0 Colombia 1998 World Cup

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In their final group match of the 1998 World Cup, England were involved in a ‘winner takes all’ contest against Colombia, with a spot in the last-16 at stake for the winners. 

Despite the pre-match nerves, England put in an assured performance under pressure. Darren Anderton gave Glen Hoddle’s side the lead with a powerful volley past Colombia shot stopper Faryd Mondragon.

And ten minutes later, David Beckham scored a brilliant free-kick to send England on their way to the knockout stages.

16. England 3-0 Poland (1986)

In their first two group matches at the 1986 World Cup, England had lost to Portugal and drawn 0-0 against Morocco. Their World Cup chances were further damaged by an injury to Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins’ suspension. 

They were in need of a saviour for their final group match against Poland and it came in the form of Gary Lineker. The striker netted a first-half hat-trick to send England through to the knockout stages and spare manager Bobby Robson's blushes. 

15. Spain 2-3 England (2018)

In the augural Nations League competition, England were under a lot of pressure after reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-finals in Russia. And a competitive away tie against Spain was as tough as they come. 

And with all the expectation came a vintage England first-half display. Jordan Pickford’s pinpoint ball forward freed Raheem Sterling who thundered a shot into the net from the edge of the area. The Manchester City winger then capped off a brilliant team move from close range to double the Three Lions advantage.

Gareth Southgate’s side even had a third before half time through Marcus Rashford’s effort, and despite Spanish resilience to claw themselves back into the game through goals from Paco Alcacer and Sergio Ramos - England held on for a priceless win. 

14. England 2-0 Scotland (1996) 

England vs Scotland at Wembley during the European Championships was always going to be memorable (at least, in 1996 it was), but this was something else.

The Three Lions had faltered against Switzerland in their opening game, drawing 1-1, which put further importance on the all-important derby match against the Scots.

After a tense first-half, Alan Shearer put England in front, heading home Gary Neville’s cross after good work from Jamie Reknapp. Then a bizarre 90 second-period occurred which confirmed the win for England.

After Scotland were awarded a penalty to get back in the game, Gary McAllister could only fire it against David Seaman, after which the ball was spread out to Paul Gascoigne, who lifted the ball over a flailing Scottish defender before slamming the ball home to put daylight between the two teams.

Gascoigne’s celebration and England’s jubilation will forever live long in the memory. 

13. England 2-2 Argentina* (Argentina won on penalties) (1998)

In 1998, Argentina and England took part in a first knockout round which had everything, but ultimately ended in Three Lions heartbreak. 

Both sides converted early penalties through Gabriel Batistuta and Alan Shearer, but the goal of the game went to then-young prodigy Michael Owen.

The Liverpool man ran through the entire Argentinian half and past countless bewildered defenders to finish high into the net in what is one of England’s most memorable goals at a World Cup. 

But Javier Zanetti struck seconds before the interval to cap off a blistering first-half period. 

The second started where the first had left off in terms of drama, as David Beckham was shown red for kicking out at Diego Simeone. That gave England an uphill struggle but they still managed to force extra-time and penalties.

But penalties, as it always is when England are concerned, were the Three Lions’ downfall. Paul Ince and David Batty blinked for England in the shootout and Glen Hoddle’s squad went home. 

12. England 13-0 Ireland (1882)

In February 1882, England took on Ireland for the very first time in Belfast in front of 2,500 spectators. And those fans were treated to an absolute goal fest in what remains England’s biggest ever victory in terms of scorelines. 

Winger Howard Vaughton scored five times, while striker Arthur Brown netted four. His strike partner Jimmy Brown added a brace and there were goals for fellow attacker Harry Cursham and England captain Charlie Bambridge.

Not sure the Irish would have keen too keen to play against England after that drubbing...

11. France 1-3 England (1982)

This was probably the best start to a World Cup England have ever had. 

From literally the very first minute, England were exceptional. Bryan Robson put the Three Lions in front after just 27 seconds but were pegged back through Gerard Soler’s goal mid-way through the half. 

Yet Robson added another in the second period before Paul Mariner sealed the victory with an important third goal. It put England well on their way to finishing top of a tricky group with three wins from three. 

10. Croatia 2-4 England (2004)

After losing to France and beating Switzerland in their first two group games, England had to beat Croatia to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2004.

It couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for England when Niko Kovac put the Croats in front. 

But after Paul Scholes headed England back on level terms, up stepped the country’s new hero. Wayne Rooney scored either side of half time to put England in control before Frank Lampard’s solo effort put gloss on the scoreline to book a last-eight spot for the Three Lions.

9. England 1-1 Germany* (Germany won on penalties) (1990)

Italia ‘90. Where the best players in the world converged on the country with the biggest love for football. It was also the tournament where England genuinely threatened to win the World Cup. 

The semi-final between Germany and England will live long in the memory. Andy Brehme put the Germans ahead at the hour mark, before Gary Lineker saved England from the jaws of defeat by scoring with ten minutes to go.

Extra-time was tense. Jurgen Klinsmann missed a couple of gilt-edged chances which made the Three Lions fans believe that it was their year. Then Paul Gascoigne was reduced to tears after picking up a yellow card to rule him out of the final - had England got there. David Platt also had a goal ruled out for offside.

But the penalty curse struck again for England. Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle failed to score their attempts, while Germany scored all of theirs. Another oh-so-nearly. 

8. England 1-1 Colombia* (England won on penalties) (2018)

We all remember where we were that day. The time when England actually won a penalty shootout. 

After a tense first-half, Harry Kane added to his lead at the top of the golden boot charts to put England ahead. And when Jordan Pickford miraculously saved Mateus’ Uribe’s long range volley - many believed England could hold it out.

Yet from the resulting corner, Yerry Mina’s header temporarily broke England hearts. Many would expect the Three Lions to fold from that point, but Gareth Southgate’s men hold on for penalties.

After Jordan Henderson’s failed spot kick, the usual script of shootout heartbreak was playing out as normal. But Uribe thwacked the crossbar later on in the shootout before Pickford then denied Carlos Bacca with a superb reflex stop. 

That left Eric Dier to slam home past Colombia’s David Ospina to send the country into glorious carnage. 

7. Argentina 0-1 England (2002)

After being dumped out by the Argentinians four years earlier, this was the perfect opportunity for England to get revenge. 

And this group stage win gave England real hope that they could go on to win the 2002 World Cup. They didn’t of course, but David Beckham’s first-half penalty redeemed him in the eyes of the England faithful after his red card against Argentina four years earlier. 

6. Germany 1-1 England* (Germany won on penalties) (1996)

This one still hurts today. But it was still a classic contest where the whole country stood still.

A home tournament. A sold-out Wembley. Three Lions being sung all round the stadium. There was no better occasion for England to avenge Italia ‘90 and dump Germany out of a major competition and reach a major tournament final for the first time in 30 years. 

And the dream became even more likely when Alan Shearer put England ahead after only two minutes. But then it all fell apart. The hosts’ lead lasted only 14 minutes as Stefan Kuntz levelled matters between the two teams. 

Those two teams were level until the death. Darren Anderton hit the post, Germany had a goal ruled out in controversial fashion. In the end, it came to penalties, with Gareth Southgate the unfortunate player to miss the crucial spot kick for England and that dream of a home tournament win was over.

5. England 4-1 Netherlands (1996)

England booked a quarter-final spot in their own tournament in spectacular style. 

Total Football was totally outfought as the deadly SAS duo of Shearer and Sheringham put braces past world-class opposition containing the likes of Patrick Kluivert, Edwin Van der Sar and Dennis Bergkamp. 

What makes the result even sweeter for England is that a 4-0 win would have guaranteed a spot in the last eight for Scotland, who were level on points with the Dutch with a better goal difference. However, Kluivert’s consolation goal - needless from England’s point of view - put the Dutch ahead of the Scots in the group table to send the Tartan Army packing.

4. England 2-0 Germany (2021)

Perhaps there is a major element of recency bias attached to this ranking, but this game was truly magical. With a substantial amount of fans back in the ground, watching football live, England saw off Germany 2-0 in a last-16 fixture in Euro 2020 at Wembley. 

While England went on to reach the final of the tournament, this game was the most important in the build up - truly giving the players a sense of belief that they might just go all the way. Despite that not happening, at least we have this win against Germany.

That Thomas Muller miss, that Harry Kane goal, those celebrations at the final whistle. Certainly a game that will live long in the memory - and for good reason, too. 

3. England 2-2 Greece (2001)

After beating Germany and Albania in the last two group matches, England needed only a point against lowly Greece to qualify for the 2002 World Cup and avoid a tense route through the play-offs.

But the Three Lions, as they tend to do very often, made it difficult for themselves, falling behind to Angelos Christeas’ first-half strike following sloppy defending from Rio Ferdinand. 

Then sparked a bizarre final ten minutes in what is often described as one of the greatest climaxes to an international match. Teddy Sheringham found the net 10 seconds after coming off the bench to seemingly rescue England, before Ferdinand blundered again to allow Demis Nikolaidis to put the Greeks in front just a minute later.

But deep into stoppage time, up stepped David Beckham who - despite failing from five previous free-kicks in the match - curled an unstoppable set piece to send Old Trafford into delirium. 

2. Germany 1-5 England (2001)

Before that Greece game, however, there was this match in Berlin. 

In a three-way qualifying battle between England, Finland and Germany for a spot at the 2002 World Cup, the Three Lions had to beat their arch-rivals away from home to stand any chance of reaching the finals in Japan and South Korea. 

Germany had lost only one qualifying match at home in their history. While England were hopeful, nobody expected this. 

Sven Goran Eriksson’s side were brilliant from front to back, from David Seaman to the hat-trick hero Michael Owen. The former Liverpool striker got his first with a header to cancel out Carsten Jancker’s early goal, before fellow Merseysider Steven Gerrard blasted the Three Lions ahead before half-time from 25 yards out. 

Owen then grabbed his second and third to spark wild celebrations amongst England fans, before Emile Heskey added a fifth to really rub salt into German wounds.

Five One. Even Heskey Scored. 

1. England 4-2 West Germany (World Cup Final 1966)

We couldn’t leave this one out. It’s not only England’s greatest every match, but it’s arguably the World Cup’s greatest ever final. Germany’s last-minute equaliser to make it 2-2 should have crushed England, but then came the moment. No-one’s still sure as to whether Geoff Hurst’s second goal of the match went fully over the line, after crashing off the part and hitting some part of the Wembley turf behind the goalline - we’re eternally grateful that the Soviet linesman thought it did.

Then after some backs to the wall defending, the ball was pumped out to Hurst on the left hand channel for his hat-trick - cue Kenneth Wolstenhome….

“He’s got... some people are on the pitch they think it’s all over! It is now!”

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1