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Six of the Best – England in the World Cup second round

Ahead of England’s last 16 match against Colombia, we recall the six occasions the Three Lions have previously played in the the knockout second phase since it was introduced in 1986…

1986 v Paraguay (3-0)

In 1982 England’s ‘reward’ for winning their first round group stage was to land a harder second round group involving Spain and West Germany than if they had finished runners-up. Four years on the format had changed and England would benefit more from finishing second in their group than if they had won it, as they were paired with Paraguay in the new second round knockout phase (rather than West Germany for group winners Morocco). The Paraguayans were considered the weakest South American presence at the tournament and the only downside for England was having to adjust to playing at higher altitude in Mexico City than they had experienced in their group stage base of Monterrey.

Bobby Robson’s side had a lucky escape when a bad back pass from Terry Butcher presented Paraguay with a great opportunity to break the deadlock. But England survived that let-off to take control, with Gary Lineker opening the scoring before half-time and Peter Beardsley pouncing to double the lead while Lineker was off the field receiving treatment for a whack to the throat.

Lineker recovered to score England’s third goal and his fifth in the space of two games. The side and manager Robson were visibly delighted at the end of the contest. In little more than a week England had gone from facing an immediate trip home to being talked about as potential World Cup winners, as they prepared for a never-to-be forgotten showdown against Argentina.

1990 v Belgium (1-0, AET)

Although they are far from identical, we are starting to see quite a few similarities between England’s 1990 and 2018 World Cup campaigns. The side had suffered humiliation at the Euros two years earlier and a strong run of results in the intervening period had failed to silence the doubters; small but significant personnel changes were made over the previous two years; there was relatively limited expectation before the World Cup; the tournament saw the nation begin to fall back in love with the side; and England were handed a favourable path in the knockout rounds. If they could beat Belgium and Cameroon, England would reach the semi-finals.

There is a tendency for some to dismiss Belgian teams before the current Golden Generation as having been poor. While the 1990 side may not have contained as many celebrated players as the current crop, they were certainly no pushovers and four years earlier they had reached the World Cup semi-finals (further than the present side has so far progressed). The general feeling then was similar to the Colombia game now – it had the potential to be fairly even and whoever had a bit of luck on the night might prevail, with a winnable quarter-final next up for whoever got through.

And so it proved. This was a tense struggle in which what many would regard as Belgium’s two best-known players of the time – Jan Ceulemans and Enzo Scifo – both rattled the English woodwork, while there was plenty of debate over whether it was right to disallow a goal by England’s John Barnes for offside. The game would famously end with substitute David Platt deliciously volleying in the winner in the dying seconds of extra-time, sending the nation into delirium and seeing Bobby Robson dance a jig of delight on the touchline.

There are plenty who consider England to have been fortunate that night, but Robson could probably afford himself a wry smile over that. As an England player in the 1958 World Cup he had two goals controversially ruled out and four years later he was in the squad but was left watching on from the sidelines; then as manager in 1986 the ‘Hand of God’ decision had gone against him in the infamous defeat by Argentina. At last the luck seemed to be on his side at a World Cup – and more would come his way five days later, although in both cases England also displayed endeavour at crucial periods to claim the win.

1998 v Argentina (2-2, AET – lost on penalties)

The mother of all England’s last 16 knockout games. The clash with Argentina had everything: rivalry, controversy, drama, skill and a rollercoaster of emotions. It was 12 years since the ‘Hand of God’ game and this would be a worthy follow-up that remains fondly recalled two decades on – albeit with the enduring disappointment from an English perspective of having lost out on penalties.

The night began with Argentina and England’s respective tailsmen, Gabriel Batistuta and Alan Shearer, scoring penalties and it would be followed up by a series of memorable incidents. Teenager Michael Owen scored a wondergoal to give England the lead; Paul Scholes missed a glorious chance to double the advantage; Argentina made great use of a free-kick to draw level on the stroke of half-time through Javier Zanetti; David Beckham was sent-off for kicking out at Diego Simeone; Sol Campbell had a late ‘winner’ disallowed; and after England’s 10 men had admirably fought on to earn a penalty-shoot-out, David Batty was denied when he had to score and the English dream was over.

A bitter-sweet night, but one that certainly sticks in the memory.

2002 v Denmark (3-0)

Prior to the start of the 2002 World Cup the general consensus was that if England reached the second round as runners-up they would have to play holders France. But this year’s tournament is similar to 16 years ago in that many leading sides fell early. The French crashed out in the group stage and so it would be Denmark standing in England’s way. Not for long though.

By half-time it was as good as over. Rio Ferdinand’s early effort was turned into his own net by Thomas Sorensen, with Michael Owen and Emile Heskey also on target to leave England 3-0 up at the break. They successfully saw out the second half to reach the last eight for the first time since 1990.

While critics would argue England had been three goals better than the Danes only in scoreline, the way they had taken their chances underlined some of the growing belief and potential within the young English squad. There was now a feeling that, due to the number of major fallers, IF England could beat Brazil in the quarter-finals then they would go all the way.

2006 v Ecuador (1-0)

The hype surrounding England at the 2006 World Cup was even higher than usual, from a media obsession with the WAGs to the increased hope that this could finally be the nation’s time. But the group stage had seen England deliver a series of performances that rarely rose above the ordinary – albeit in return for seven points – and that trend would continue against Ecuador during the last 16 phase.

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side were fortunate not to go behind in the first half when an Ecuador shot was deflected onto the bar, but the Three Lions would make the breakthrough on the hour through David Beckham. The captain once more delivered from a free-kick, becoming the first player to score for England at three World Cups. It wasn’t a vintage display, but England had again demonstrated they could grind out results as they prepared for a tougher test against Portugal in the quarter-finals. Depressingly, England have not won a knockout match since the Ecuador game.

2010 v Germany (1-4)

The 2010 World Cup was a joyless experience for England. The mood in the camp never seemed right and Fabio Capello’s side struggled to turn in decent performances, making hard work of getting out of the group stage and now having to face a resurgent Germany in the last 16 in Bloemfontein.

The standout moment for many was when Frank Lampard’s shot was deemed not to have crossed the line – how much VAR would have been welcomed then – as Germany finally had direct revenge for Geoff Hurst’s second goal being given in 1966. There are two schools of thought about it. The first is that England were robbed and lost due to it not being given (Germany were leading 2-1 at the time). The other is that it would have merely papered over the cracks and Germany would have still comfortably disposed of England.

It was an afternoon that confirmed England’s so-called ‘Golden Generation’ would never win anything at international level, the side being made to look clearly second best by the Germans who repeatedly took advantage of defensive weaknesses. Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski put Germany 2-0 up prior to Matthew Upson giving England hope and Lampard’s ‘did it cross the line?’ moment with half-time approaching. But two further goals from Thomas Muller killed the game with 20 minutes to go and the day acted as a stark warning to England of where they stood compared to the very best sides.

englandmemories View All

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

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