In the 14 World Cups England have participated in, they have only won their first group game on 5 occasions. An incredible statistic. Of the remaining 9 tournaments, they have drawn 6 and lost 3; in 1962, 1986 & 2014. With those stats history does not bode well for the Three Lions. So on the eve of their opening match in Russia, let’s have a look at the 5 victories to give us all a sense of optimism…
1950 World Cup: England 2-0 Chile
Not only was this England’s first game of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, this was their first World Cup game ever. Hopes were high with their own ‘Golden Generation’ of the time. A squad with such names as Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Jackie Milburn, Stan Mortensen, captain Billy Wright and future manager Alf Ramsey, were dubbed as ‘The Kings Of Football’ by the Brazilian press. In a very wet and still under construction Maracana stadium, the match was the perfect start for England with a convincing 2-0 victory over the Chileans, with goals from Mortensen and Wilf Mannion. Things deteriorated for Walter Winterbottom’s men after this match. A catastrophic 1-0 defeat to part timers USA (widely regarded as their worst ever result, before the Iceland defeat anyway), and a loss to Spain by the same score line eliminated England in the group stages. The ridiculous 31 hour flight home must have seemed even longer to the players after that tournament.
1970 World Cup: England 1-0 Romania
England went to Mexico 70′ as world champions and were one of the favourites for the tournament, with their squad seen as being stronger than the 1966 heroes. Before the World Cup, England’s preparations were thrown into chaos after captain Bobby Moore was arrested for allegedly stealing a bracelet in Bogotá while preparing for a pre-tournament friendly with Colombia. Moore was detained for 4 days until the charges were finally dropped and he joined back up with his teammates just before the opening match with Romania. With their captain reinstated into the side, England were treated to a difficult match in Guadalajara by the Romanians. The only goal coming in the 65th through a clinical Geoff Hurst finish after a precise flick on from Francis Lee. Following a resilient 1-0 defeat by Brazil in the next match (spoken about in my previous post), a 1-0 victory over Czechoslovakia ensured qualification to the quarter finals where they fell to West Germany. Having failed to qualify in 1974 and 1978, this was to be England’s last World Cup for 12 years.
1982 World Cup: England 3-1 France
The public were confident for the English side going into Spain 82′, even having been deprived of playing on the world stage for over a decade. Without a doubt this match is the best start England have ever had to a World Cup. In fact the game itself was only 27 seconds old in Bilbao when Bryan Robson connected to a Butcher flick-on to score the fastest goal in World Cup finals history at the time; a record beaten in 2002 by Turkey’s Hakan Sukur. France equalised before half time, but a second goal from Robson and a strike from Ipswich striker Paul Mariner sealed the match. This was a tremendous result for the Three Lions as the French would get to the semi-finals of this World Cup, go on to win Euro 84, and reach the semis again of Mexico 86′. England toppped the group after further victories against Czechoslovakia (2-0) and debutants Kuwait (1-0). The second group stage is where they became unstuck, drawing 0-0 with both West Germany and Spain to go home before the semi-finals. Incidentally captain Kevin Keegan only played 27 mins in the whole tournament; in the final match against Spain, which ended his international career.
1998 World Cup: England 2-0 Tunisia
Manager Glenn Hoddle loved making sure the players and the media knew he was the boss. First there was the huge decision to drop an unfit Paul Gascoigne from the final squad; a decision I agree with to this day to be fair. Then there were photos of Teddy Sheringham drunk and smoking a cigarette outside a nightclub in Portugal just days before the squad met up, for which Hoddle made Sheringham make a grovelling apology to the nation. But once the World Cup was underway, their first game was all about the selection of one player, David Beckham. Hoddle decided to drop Beckham from the opening game as he ‘wasn’t focused on his football’, apparently spending too much time on his phone to his new girlfriend, Victoria Adams from the Spice Girls. Even making the Man Utd player face the media to talk about his admission. With Darren Anderton taking his place on the right, the manager’s selection seemed justified as England sailed to a comfortable 2-0 victory in Marseille, with goals from a Shearer header and a 20 yard strike from Paul Scholes. My own memories of this game as a 14 year old are mainly of my mother letting me have the afternoon off school as it was a 1:30pm kick off, with a dishonest note sent to my form teacher. Of course I have a dentist appointment Miss Pascoe! Things changed for England in the second game as they lost 2-1 to Romania and Hoddle bowed to public pressure to reinstate Beckham and bring in a young Michael Owen for the final game against Colombia. A convincing 2-0 victory with a goal from Anderton and a superb free kick from Beckham sealing the win. The wry smile didn’t last long on the face on the future England captain, as his petulant kick on Diego Simone in the second round match against Argentina cost his team dearly. The ten men battled to a brave 2-2 draw, only to go out on penalties again.
2006 World Cup: England 1-0 Paraguay
This was meant to be it. This was the tournament where the ‘Golden Generation’ were at their peak. Names like Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, Ashley Cole, Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham, Rooney and Owen, were winning big trophies year after year. This was the time for them to deliver after 40 years of hurt. After the mild success of Euro 2004 where England played their best stuff since Euro 96′ and were unfortunate to go out on penalties (again!). In my lifetime I cannot recall such optimism and expectation as before the Germany World Cup in 2006. St George’s flags were literally hanging out of every window as I walked down to my local pub to watch their opening match against Paraguay. This was the height of England fever. The match itself was very much an anticlimax despite the perfect start in Frankfurt. In the 3rd minute a David Beckham free kick was turned by Paraguay captain Carlos Gamarra into his own net giving the sense of an easy afternoons work. What took place after the goal however was quite an uneventful match, with both sides not really testing either keeper. I remember the BBC cameras being more interested in showing pictures of the notorious WAGS during the game, or an injured Wayne Rooney on the bench. In conclusion a laboured performance from England, but 3 points on the board no less. This was the story of the 2006 World Cup for Sven Goran Eriksson’s men. An unconvincing 2-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago followed, with a 2-2 draw with Sweden ensuring they came top of the group. Next, a tight 1-0 second round victory over Ecuador has now turned out to be the last time England have won a knockout match in a major tournament, 12 years ago! The dream was over a few days later though, as a penalty shootout defeat to Portugal in the quarter finals sent the Three Lions packing. Yet again football was not coming home.