England vs The Big Boys
England haven’t been uniformly terrible in the past 16 years, despite what post-tournament post-mortems would have you believe. In fact, only one of their 10 tournament losses to a decent side was by more than a single goal.
Let’s look back at those matches with a more judicious eye to see where the Golden Generation and their various managers went wrong. Were England really as bad as all that? OK, but apart from in Bloemfontein? And, you know, against the rather non-major Iceland…
England 1-0 Argentina (World Cup 2002, Group F)
The Three Lions’ last tournament triumph over a top nation came against an Argentina team which contained plenty of talent but failed to live up to expectations. Sound familiar?
England adjusted well after Owen Hargreaves’ early injury, but their winner was fortunate. Having hit the post, Michael Owen went down very easily under a ‘challenge’ from Mauricio Pochettino (yes, that one), and referee Pierluigi Collina fell for it. Even David Beckham’s spot-kick wasn’t great: low, central and helped by Pablo Cavallero failing to move his foot two inches.
England 1-2 Brazil (World Cup 2002, quarter-final)
Did he mean it? Ronaldinho’s Nayim impression gave Brazil the winner and office bores a chance to rehash ‘lobbed Seaman’ jokes. The Arsenal custodian was barely three yards off his line but ageing feet wouldn’t shift into reverse, and Ronaldinho had his first ‘wow’ moment in front of the watching world.
Earlier, Michael Owen had exploited Lucio’s error and Ronaldinho had assisted Rivaldo after Paul Scholes missed a tackle and ambled back. England didn’t come close to equalising, despite Ronaldinho’s 57th-minute red card for leaving his foot in on Danny Mills, a replacement for the injured Gary Neville.
England 1-2 France (Euro 2004, Group B)
Again England led 1-0 but lost 2-1 – despite being ahead after 90 minutes. In the first minute of injury time, Zinedine Zidane placed a free-kick through a shoddy wall. Then, less than 30 seconds after the restart, a poor Steven Gerrard backpass led to David James felling Thierry Henry, with Zidane converting the penalty moments after throwing up.
This, after England had led for an hour through Frank Lampard and seen David Beckham’s penalty saved by his former Manchester United colleague Fabien Barthez. Without romanticising an inconsistent performance, defeat here was unarguably harsh.
England 2-2p Portugal (Euro 2004, quarter-final)
This was England’s biggest what-if-we’d-won moment since the European Championship on home soil eight years earlier. Sven Goran-Eriksson’s side broke the deadlock early through Michael Owen and had chances to seal it, but sank deeper and deeper once Wayne Rooney was taken off through injury. Portugal’s equaliser was both inevitable and inexcusably simple, John Terry allowing Helder Postiga to turn a cross home with his shoulder.
Referee Urs Meier controversially disallowed a Sol Campbell goal and so, after extra time strikes from Rui Costa and Frank Lampard, it was time for penalties. David Beckham blamed an exploding penalty spot for his miss, before Ricardo saved from Darius Vassell and scored himself.
England 0-0p Portugal (World Cup 2006 quarter-final)
Very much the Tim Burton remake of their 2004 clash, this quarter-final reunion had everyone except England fans begging for penalties.
Both teams had made the last eight on the back of easy fixtures (Portugal’s all-out war against the Dutch aside) and the only spark came when Rooney was dismissed for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho – a blatant act of violent conduct which many back home tried to blame on the winking Cristiano Ronaldo. England’s spot-kicks personified their performance: only the tremendous Owen Hargreaves converted.
England 1-4 Germany (World Cup 2010, last 16)
If you were to look at this game through rose-tinted spectacles, you could make a (weak) argument that Frank Lampard’s wrongly disallowed goal changed the course of the match, denying England an equaliser before half-time. It was certainly an astonishing decision from the officials, but Germany could also have been 5-0 up at the interval.
England’s defence was non-existent throughout and their midfield – Gareth Barry in particular – horribly exposed on the counter-attack. To say Fabio Capello’s men had a couple of chances is to say the Titanic had a couple of survivors. This ship went down in spectacular fashion.
England 1-1 France (Euro 2012, Group D)
For all the talent in the Golden Generation and those that replaced them – this game saw 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain start alongside John Terry, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard – England’s first tournament goal since Matt Upson’s against Germany came from Joleon Lescott.
However, Samir Nasri beat Joe Hart at his near post, Hart’s goldfish memory making him forget the Frenchman had tried to do exactly that half an hour previously. The draw that commenced England’s tournament was a fair result, and not a bad one given it was only Roy Hodgson’s third match in charge after replacing Fabio Capello a few months before the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
England 0-0p Italy (Euro 2012, quarter-final)
England were knackered after chasing the ball for 120 minutes, with their most common pass combination was Joe Hart to Andy Carroll, who came on after an hour. Thrilling this was not.
Yet the first half featured chances aplenty. Daniele De Rossi struck the post, before Danny Welbeck inexplicably sent a good opportunity wide. After the break, De Rossi, Mario Balotelli, Riccardo Montolivo and Antonio Nocerino all made a hash of shots from eight yards, and Alessandro Diamanti clipped the woodwork in extra time. Justice was eventually done as a ragged England lost the shoot-out, Andrea Pirlo scoring a delightful Panenka to humiliate the preening Joe Hart.
England 1-2 Italy (World Cup 2014, Group D)
With a teenage Raheem Sterling to the fore, England were unlucky to go behind to a well-worked corner routine. They levelled through Daniel Sturridge, assisted by Wayne Rooney, playing wide-left in his favoured position of ‘starting’, while celebration-related injury meant physio Gary Lewin missed the rest of the World Cup.
Roy Hodgson’s men were better in this game than posterity recalls; even so, Mario Balotelli’s winner came after he’d had a shot headed off the line and Antonio Candreva had struck the post. Andrea Pirlo later bamboozled Joe Hart again, clattering the crossbar with a swerving free-kick.
England 1-2 Uruguay (World Cup 2014, Group D)
Critics who label Roy Hodgson defensive should remember this: an attacking England line-up scored a genuinely brilliant goal in this encounter. Unfortunately, they were already losing.
Hodgson’s brave/cowardly decision to let 34-year-old Gerrard play in defensive midfield backfired as Uruguay broke and scored through Luis Suarez. Wayne Rooney went close several times before finally scoring, but then a long ball evaded Gerrard again, Suarez was in again, Uruguay led again, and England went home again. A victory over a major nation is now so overdue that it’s certain to happen in Russia this summer… right?
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.