It might be lucky for Spurs when the year ends in one but England’s best showings typically take place when the year ends with a six. You’ve got to be in it to win it though and now England have made the last 16 of France 2016, anything could happen!
It seems you’ve only had to turn on the TV recently to see a documentary or grainy re-run of our two best showings at major championships – the 1966 World Cup triumph 50 years ago and Euro 96, 20 years ago. Arguably England’s two most successful international tournaments and perhaps no coincidence they were both at home. I know, it’s hard enough to remember one anniversary, let alone five – but we shouldn’t forget the other major championships taking place 10, 30 and 40 years ago as they weren’t so bad either.
Mexico 1986 (World Cup)
It’s 30 years since one of the most infamous moments in international football history – and it involved England. Diego Maradona’s self-proclaimed “Hand of God” taught me an early lesson as an eight-year-old – that life isn’t always fair – but we tend to forget that this wasn’t the winning goal. Maradona’s stunning solo for the second, later voted “Goal of the Century” in a FIFA poll, was worthy of winning any game – it just happened to be the one to knock England out from a tournament they were just getting acclimatised to.
You can probably remember at least half of the England team that day. They were the ones that Argentina’s ‘Golden Boy’ and player of the tournament, dribbled past or beat. Peter Reid, Peter Beardsley, Terry Butcher, Steve Hodge, Terry Fenwick, and Petter Shilton were joined in Bobby Robson’s starting line-up that day by Gary Stevens, Kenny Samsom, Glenn Hoddle, Trevor Stevens and Mexico ’86 golden boot Gary Lineker.
In an even more unconvincing group qualification than the 2016 Euros we’re currently witnessing, England lost one (1-0 against Portugal) and drew one (Morocco), before clinching qualification for the last 16 thanks to a 3-0 win over Poland. England at least went into the last 16 tie with some momentum in 1986 though, securing another 3-0 win over Paraguay and a nation starting to believe – it having been 20 long years since their 1966 triumph!
Germany 2006 (World Cup)
As an England supporter, I’m afraid there’s just no way of avoiding the very real prospect of penalties and defeat by Portugal again. Having beaten the three lions in the group stage in 1986, a new Portuguese generation led by the incredible talent and ego that is Cristiano Ronaldo dumped Sven’s men out of the World Cup after a goalless quarter-final in Gelsenkirchen. England could potentially face Portugal again in the last 16 of France 2016 in Nice on Monday, with a lack of cutting edge in the final third seemingly a perennial problem.
It was often debated whether Lampard and Gerrard could play together in the England midfield but they certainly couldn’t perform in the same penalty line-up together in Germany. Jamie Carragher missed from the spot too for a side that included Paul Robinson, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand. John Terry, Ashley Cole, David Beckham, and our one successful penalty taker that night Owen Hargreaves. A hot-headed striker back then, Wayne Rooney lost his head and was sent off with a little over an hour played, effectively ending any attacking England’s ambitions for the remainder of normal time and extra time.
In truth, England sides have struggled for many years to break defensive opponents down, often failing to convert their often lion’s share of possession, just as we’ve seen in France 2016 so far. Drawing a blank in Saint Etienne against Slovakia may have resulted in tougher potential knockout-stage assignments but this needn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Facing more confident opposition, attacking in numbers with space in behind could actually play to this England teams strengths.
The Germany 2006 England side did at least finish top of a modest finals group with a 1-0 win over Paraguay and 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, securing qualification for the last 16 before a 2-2 draw with fellow qualifiers Sweden. The three lions then made hard work of a 1-0 win against Ecuador in the second round before their attacking and disciplinary failings caught up with them again. The nation’s 40-year drought for international silverware continuing.
Yugoslavia 1976 (European Championships)
But what of England’s performance in Yugoslavia back in 1976? Well, it never really happened for England… or most of Europe’s other teams for that matter. Just 32 teams entered qualifying for the final tournament, divided into eight groups, with only the top team progressing to the knockout stages. Four two-legged play-offs between the group winners decided the line-up for a four-day festival of football in Yugoslavia – essentially the semi-finals and final.
Just as at France 2016, England could only claim second place in their group – albeit to eventual champions Czechoslovakia, who they beat 3-0 at Wembley. Forty years ago, second (let alone third) wasn’t good enough for a side to progress and Don Revie’s side were eliminated.
During group games taking place in 1974 and 1975, England – featuring Clemence, Whitworth, Beattie, Madeley, Watson, Cooper, Bell, Todd, Keegan, Channon, MacDonald, Francis, Brooking, Worthington, Clarke and Thomas – were crucially unable to beat Portugal (them again) home or away. Again Wales out-qualified England, winning their group but failing to progress to the four-team final stage in 1976.
France 2016 (European Championships)
Let’s hope Portugal do finish runner up in Group F on Wednesday night so we can avenge those past defeats. Let’s beat them in a Euro 96-style goal glut like the 4-1 defeat of the Dutch but if (probably) not, let Portugal pay the penalty this time for England’s typical struggle for goals.
Let’s embrace England’s significance of six. Roy’s boys; Hart, Walker, Rose, Smalling, Cahill, Dier, Rooney, Alli, Lallana, Kane and Vardy – can make it to a fifth quarter-final appearance in the sixes. Following in the footsteps of ‘66, ‘86, ‘96 and 2006 to meet the challenge of hosts France head on.
With the French taken care of England’s semi-final opponents (likely to be) Italy, Spain or Germany shouldn’t prove a problem. Then onto the final on Sunday 10 July … sorry, got a bit carried away. Some things never change!
Richard Coleman, Pundit Arena