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Six of the Worst – England World Cup 0-0 draws

There have been some momentous World Cup games involving England down the years, whether they ended in triumph or despair. But not all matches the side have played in the competition stick in the mind quite so much. Today we put the spotlight on six particularly bad goalless draws that are unlikely to generate too much nostalgia among England fans this summer…

1962 v Bulgaria (group stage)

The 1962 World Cup could not be watched live in England and not too many fans made the long trek to Chile either. They didn’t miss much, at least during the excruciatingly bad final group game against Bulgaria. England had beaten Argentina in their previous match to move to the brink of progression, knowing a draw would see them through as runners-up but also that they couldn’t win the group even if they achieved a victory. Bulgaria were definitely out and wanted to go home with something on the board from their first World Cup.

With this in mind it was perhaps little surprise that there were no goals and very few incidents of note as the sides served up a dire spectacle before the small crowd in Rancagua. Even the normally diplomatic Bobby Charlton was scathing. “I have always believed it was the worst game in which I was ever obliged to play,” he later wrote.

1966 v Uruguay (group stage)

To Englishmen, mention of the 1966 World Cup stirs up glorious memories of the side winning the tournament. Not too many dwell upon the opening match, when England were unable to overcome a stubborn Uruguayan defence as the contest ended in a predictable 0-0 stalemate. “We want goals” chanted a bored Wembley crowd.

The match sparked concerns over how the tournament could pan out. “As an entertainment it could scarcely have been worth the £85,000 taken from the pockets of a 75,000 crowd. Yet it seemed to set the pattern of what we may expect in the days ahead in this modern world game where the great thing it seems is not to lose,” wrote an unimpressed ‘Football Correspondent’ (Geoffrey Green) in The Times.

England forward Jimmy Greaves was also left frustrated. “For the supporters it was not riveting stuff. It was more like watching riveting,” he wrote in his autobiography, stating the Uruguayans were “hell-bent on suffocation rather than inspiration”.

1982 v West Germany (second group stage)

1966 at Wembley; 1970 in Leon; 1990 in Turin; 2010 in Bloemfontein. World Cup meetings between the English and Germans are always dramatic and full of talking points. Well almost always. The 1982 World Cup paired the sides in the second group phase along with hosts Spain, with only one of the three teams to go through to the semi-finals. The opening match in the group brought England and West Germany together in Madrid.

It was a cagey and tedious goalless game, one where the fear of losing seemed to outweigh the wish to go for the win as both sides took their share of the blame. England’s managerial team of Ron Greenwood and Don Howe had to withstand criticism over the cautious approach adopted, while others pointed the finger of blame at West Germany. “England went out for a sunset showdown in Madrid last night and met an opponent who didn’t want to fight,” wrote Steve Curry in the Daily Express. England exited the tournament after another 0-0 draw against Spain.

1986 v Morocco (group stage)

The 1986 World Cup is rightly remembered as a strong tournament, but it was a slow burner. The opening week produced a number of forgettable clashes, particularly in England’s group which contained a grand total of two goals from the first four matches. The game against Morocco is forever recalled for England losing Bryan Robson through injury and having Ray Wilkins sent off. But how often do you see anything else from this game, such as near-misses? Never. And that’s because this was an instantly forgettable contest bar the incidents involving England’s captain and vice-captain.

Played in the heat of Monterrey, England managed to see out the game with 10 men to earn a point to keep their World Cup hopes alive. But their failure to beat an African nation would attract inevitable stick from sections of the English media and angry fans in the stadium as calls were made for manager Bobby Robson to go. Morocco wouldn’t escape criticism either, having shown a surprising reluctance to go in search of a winner while they had a numerical advantage.

“They should have been before the Trade Descriptions Act. They were masquerading as trying to win a game,” fumed ITV pundit Kevin Keegan as he laid into the Moroccans for their approach. Both sides would prove themselves in their final group game by going on the front foot and scoring three times – England against Poland and Morocco against Portugal.

2010 v Algeria (group stage)

Some 24 years after the struggle against Morocco, England found themselves in a similar position as they were held to a 0-0 draw by another African opponent in their second match of the tournament. They produced a lame showing against Algeria that left them knowing they could be eliminated in the group stage if they failed to win their final match against Slovenia.

England’s performance lacked cohesion and there was a growing sense that all was not well in the camp, as the ‘Golden Generation’ once more failed to live up to the hype. Wayne Rooney ended a personally frustrating night by being caught on camera mouthing off about the booing England fans. All in all, it had been a Friday night to forget – but it’s a game that continues to be mentioned on social media for how bad it was.

“The match, the drabbest of drab 0-0 draws, might just be England’s footballing nadir,” wrote Darren Richman of The Daily Telegraph when nostalgically reminiscing upon just how forgettable the game was five years later.

2014 v Costa Rica (group stage)

Who, four years on from England’s last match at the 2014 World Cup, can remember anything about the dead rubber against Costa Rica? Played out in the heat of Belo Horizonte, an unlikely turn of events meant Costa Rica were already through after beating Uruguay and Italy while England were out after losing both games against the same opponents.

The match was greeted with a bit of a ‘so what?’ mentality back home, with plenty of viewers giving up on the underwhelming goalless draw and switching over to Uruguay’s win over Italy and major controversy involving Luis Suarez. But the England fans out in Brazil stayed loyal and certainly made themselves heard as they tried to salvage some happy memories from the World Cup, being applauded by the players at the end for the effort they had made. Those scenes were certainly more memorable than the 90 minutes that proceeded them.

And a dishonourable mention for…

We can’t let this pass without acknowledging England’s meeting with Nigeria at the 2002 World Cup. As with the game against Bulgaria 40 years earlier, England went into this match off the back of a great win over Argentina and needed a point to be sure of going through against a side already out. Back home the English nation watched it over breakfast and there was very little to get enthused about as a tame 0-0 draw ensued.

It should though be recognised that not every England 0-0 draw at a World Cup has been dire. Although England were involved in the World Cup’s belated first goalless draw against Brazil in 1958, that match was hailed in the media for its quality. Similarly, the side received praise for their display against the Netherlands in their second match of Italia ’90 – a match far less deserving of its goalless status than the awful 1-1 draw against the Republic of Ireland five days earlier.

englandmemories View All

Blogging about the history of the England national football team, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.

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