1. England 2-0 Chile (June 25, 1950)
England came into their first World Cup dubbed the ‘Kings of Football’ by Brazilian press after winning 23 out of their 30 games after Second World War.
They lived up to such a tag in their opener against Chile (a side starring Newcastle’s inside-forward George Robledo) too, with Stan Mortensen and Wilf Mannion scoring either side of half-time to give Walter Winterbottom’s team their first win in a major competition.
But these were the only goals England scored in a tournament that descended into farce for them. Four days later, they were embarrassed by a semi-professional USA side as Haiti-born pot-washer Joe Gaetjens – famously, not even a US citizen – scored a shock 38th-minute winner. It remains the biggest upset in the history of the England national team.
Winterbottom’s side needed to beat Spain to qualify, but after another lacklustre performance – and another 1-0 defeat – meant that England’s first crack at world domination ended dismally. Somehow they still finished second in their group ahead of Chile and the USA on goal difference, but in 1950 only the group winners progressed.
England’s first ever World Cup XI had an average age 28 and their youngest starter was 25 – older than current captain Harry Kane (24).
2. England 1-0 Romania (June 2, 1970)
The buildup to the 1970 World Cup was a mixed bag. On one hand, there was optimism that England could retain the World Cup with an even stronger team than four years previously; on the other, captain Bobby Moore had been caught up in an alleged theft from a Bogota jewellery shop and was arrested.
Moore was eventually acquitted of all charges and skippered England in an opening match against Romania where Geoff Hurst drilled home a low winner.
They should have made it two wins from two against Brazil, but a mixture of poor finishing and a corking goal from Jairzinho ensured the game wouldn’t just be remembered for Bobby Moore’s sublime tackle on the Seleção forward and that save by Gordon Banks from Pele.
Allan Clarke scored a penalty to defeat Czechoslovakia 1-0 in England’s final group game, teeing up a rematch of the 1966 final in the last eight. This time, however, fate was not with England: Gordon Banks missed the game with a dodgy stomach and a fever, then watched on from a hotel as his team-mates blew a two-goal lead. Well, sort of: a broadcast delay meant that he missed the capitulation, and was instead informed in person by Bobby Moore. Gerd Muller’s extra-time volley from close range had sent England packing with a 3-2 loss.
3. England 3-1 France (June 16, 1982)
Having failed to qualify in both 1974 and 1978, England travelled to Spain looking to make up for lost time. Sure enough, they managed one of their hottest performances on record in the blistering Bilbao heat, tormenting France in a 3-1 win. Bryan Robson bagged a brace – his opener coming after 27 seconds – before Paul Mariner put Les Bleus to the sword with a close-range volley.
England had Trevor Francis to thank for their other two wins, the Manchester City forward netting against Czechoslovakia (2-0) and Kuwait (1-0) to ensure the Three Lions qualified from their group with maximum points.
In 1982 there was a second, three-team group stage – a World Cup first. Ron Greenwood’s side didn’t actually lose in Spain, but they didn’t progress to the semis either: goalless draws against West Germany and the hosts put paid to that. Still; some pride restored.
4. England 2-0 Tunisia (June 15, 1998)
Despite packing plenty of talent and a pleasing blend of youth and experience, England went into France ‘98 only as sixth-favourites behind Brazil, France, Italy, Argentina and Germany.
After a mid-group wobble, such expectations were perhaps justified. But they got off to an ideal start in Marseille, comfortably dismantling Tunisia 2-0 after Shearer – fouled 11 times in the game – headed home from a Graeme Le Saux free-kick, and a 23-year-old Paul Scholes curled in from outside the box.
Up next, Romania didn’t prove so accommodating. Viorel Moldovan put the eastern Europeans ahead a minute into the second half, but England levelled late through substitute Michael Owen’s swivel and finish. The England defence didn’t deal with a late long ball through the middle, however, criminally allowing Dan Petrescu to steal in and stab home.
That meant England needed victory over Colombia to be sure of progression, which they had wrapped up by half-time thanks to goals from Darren Anderton and David Beckham.
But then came Saint-Etienne and a last 16 tie against Argentina. Glenn Hoddle’s side led 2-1 after coming from behind in an eventful first 16 minutes, but a clever free-kick routine on the stroke of half-time teed up Javier Zanetti for an equaliser. Beckham saw red on two fronts within two minutes of the restart; England held on for penalties… then went home.
5. England 1-0 Paraguay (June 10, 2006)
In sapping heat, England struggled to inspire confidence with a laboured win against a poor Paraguay side. They had what they needed inside three minutes, though, after David Beckham’s quality delivery (and a little help from Michael Owen) forced Carlos Gamarra into an early own goal.
England followed up with a poor 80 minutes against Trinidad and Tobago before eventually breaking the deadlock via Peter Crouch (assist: Brent Sancho’s dreadlocks). Steven Gerrard spared blushes with a fine left-footed strike; enough for a 2-0 victory and to mask the cracks for one more game. The final game, a 2-2 draw with Sweden featuring Joe Cole’s stunner, was overshadowed by an awful knee injury to striker Owen.
In the last 16, Beckham’s wonderful free-kick pushed England beyond a limited Ecuador side, setting up a meeting with Portugal in the quarter-finals. A goalless draw after extra time – following Wayne Rooney’s petulant sending-off after an hour – led to the dreaded spot-kicks once again. Four penalties taken, three missed and one more premature exit.
Over to the Class of 2018, then…
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