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Six of the Best – England in the last eight of the Euros

Ahead of England playing Ukraine in the quarter finals of Euro 2020, we recall six previous matches involving England at the equivalent stage during previous European Championships…

1968 – Spain 1-2 England

The last eight of the European Championship has taken on a significant number of different identities during the competition’s history, amid continual expansion. It was a two-legged round before the finals (1960-1976); it was the tournament’s group stage (1980-1992); it was the round played after the group stage (1996-2012); and it is now two rounds after the group stage (2016-date).

The context: England first made inroads in the competition in 1968, two years on from their World Cup glory. They narrowly finished ahead of Scotland to emerge from the qualifying group and be paired with holders Spain at the quarter-final stage. Bobby Charlton’s goal gave Sir Alf Ramsey’s side victory in the first leg at Wembley in April. The return came in Madrid five weeks later.

Bobby Charlton’s goal gave England victory in the first leg against Spain.

The match: England, fielding just six of their revered World Cup-winning XI, had already beaten Spain four times during the 1960s. But they were given a scare as Amancio Amaro put Spain in front early in the second half. Yet Ramsey’s men showed typical powers of recovery, with Martin Peters quickly equalising on the night and restoring the aggregate lead. With the game entering the final 10 minutes, Norman Hunter – an unlikely occupant of the number 11 shirt – smashed in the killer goal to seal England’s place in the last four.

The significance: This would be the last time England progressed beyond this stage of the competition until overcoming the same opponents in 1996. It also continued their impressive record on mainland Europe under Ramsey, but defeat would not be far away.

Player milestone: This was the first time Peter Bonetti kept goal for England in a competitive international. The only other occasion he did so in his seven caps was at the same stage of the World Cup two years later, with the 3-2 defeat to West Germany marking a sad end to both England’s reign as world champions and Bonetti’s international career.

The consequences: England headed to Italy for the finals of the tournament. But their dreams of adding the European crown to their trophy cabinet were swiftly ended, following up a 1-0 friendly loss away to West Germany with defeat by a similar scoreline to Yugoslavia in an ill-tempered semi-final contest. Alan Mullery would make unwanted history by becoming England’s first player to be sent off. It was slightly anti-climatic after the glory of two years earlier, but only once since then have England got beyond the quarter-final stage of the Euros.

1972 – England 1-3 West Germany

The context: Four years on from the win over Spain, England had been dethroned as world champions. They had reached the last eight of the European Championship through an unbeaten but unconvincing qualifying group performance. Now the biggest hurdle emerged, as they faced a two-legged tussle with West Germany – the nation that had eliminated them at the World Cup two years earlier.

West Germany deservedly beat England 3-1 at Wembley.

The match: The English nation may have still clung to the belief that the 1970 defeat by West Germany was a fluke, owing primarily to Gordon Banks being ill and Ramsey misjudging the substitutions. But this first leg clash at Wembley underlined that the Germans were now the dominant force, offering a stylish performance that went against the usual cliches about efficiency. “Dream football from the year 2000,” was one assessment at the time of their inspiring display (it turned out to be light years ahead of what they produced at Euro 2000).

Although Franny Lee restored parity after Uli Hoeness had put the visitors in front, England looked second best. The outstanding Gunter Netzer restored the German lead with a penalty, before Gerd Muller once more haunted England by making it 3-1.

The significance: The match would act as the beginning of the end for the Ramsey era, with three of the most cherished members of the Boys of ‘66 – Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks and Geoff Hurst – all having nights they would rather forget. The Germans had their revenge for six years earlier and would now enjoy the upper hand both in the fixture and at tournaments.

Player milestone: Geoff Hurst’s England debut had come against West Germany at Wembley in February 1966 and his most famous game involved the same sides at the same venue later that year. But the third instalment of Anglo-West German encounters at Wembley would contain an unhappy ending. He was substituted and never played again for England, finishing one appearance short of the 50-cap mark.

The consequences: England still had a slight chance of turning things around in the second leg, but Ramsey seemed to favour damaged limitation rather than attacking ambition as the tough-tackling Peter Storey was among the players selected. The goalless draw took the Germans through, ending England’s hopes of potentially hosting the final stages. Belgium instead had that honour and it was West Germany who lifted the trophy, following it up with the World Cup two years later. England didn’t even make the finals and Ramsey would depart with the team having slipped a long way back from the glory of 1966.

1992 – Sweden 2-1 England

The context: England qualified for the expanded eight-team European Championship in 1980 and 1988, but on both occasions their hopes of winning the competition were over after just two group games. In 1992 their final group game against Sweden did have plenty hanging on it for both sides. This was in effect a knockout quarter-final tie, where whoever won would go through to the semi-final stage. England, who had yet to score or concede at the finals, needed to find a creative spark that had been so far lacking.

The match: Two forgettable goalless draws against Denmark and France had underlined how bereft England were of internationally-proven players, due to a combination of injuries, retirements and controversial non-selections. Yet England at last seemed to click into gear and led at half-time through David Platt. After this it all went horribly wrong and the tide would turn against Graham Taylor.

Gary Lineker’s England career ended with him being substituted against Sweden.

The significance: Graham Taylor already had his critics despite having lost just one match in almost two years in charge of England. But they would swell in number after Thomas Brolin’s stylish winner ended their involvement in the finals, with the main bone of contention being Taylor’s decision to substitute his captain, Gary Lineker.

Player milestone: Lineker had seemed certain to become England’s record goal scorer prior to the tournament, but he seldom looked like finding the net to match or surpass Bobby Charlton’s tally during the finals. Having already announced his intention to retire from international football after the tournament, Lineker was running out of time and he got even less than he bargained for when Taylor replaced him with Alan Smith when the score was 1-1. As had happened to Charlton at the 1970 World Cup, Lineker’s England career ended with him sat on the bench as the team wiltered.

The consequences: Even Taylor would concede that the ‘Swedes 2, Turnips 1’ headline was witty, but far less amusing was that it spawned some venomous ‘Turniphead’ front page jibes. He could not afford a stuttering qualifying campaign for the 1994 World Cup, but that was unfortunately what unfolded.

1996 – England 0-0 Spain

The context: Some 28 years after last getting past this stage by beating Spain, the sides were paired together at Wembley during Euro ‘96. Both at the time were perceived as perennial underachievers, with neither having won a major trophy since the mid-1960s. But England were on a high after their unforgettable demolition of the Netherlands to seal top spot in their group and they expected to see off the Spaniards.

The match: Terry Venables’ side were unable to replicate their fluidity of four days earlier and were pushed hard by the Spaniards, who would be on the wrong end of a dubious disallowed goal decision. It was the only England game at the tournament in which Alan Shearer failed to score, with nobody else doing so either as 120 minutes of tension failed to produce a goal. It led to what BBC commentator Barry Davies would call a “penalty competition” taking place. In it he got to describe Stuart Pearce scoring and David Seaman saving as England triumphed amid jubilation at Wembley.

Stuart Pearce celebrates converting against Spain in the penalty shoot-out.

The significance: England had now been involved in two penalty shoot-outs and won one of them, the pain of the World Cup semi-final heartache against West Germany seemingly now eased slightly. But not for long. England fans would have a lengthy wait for another triumph on penalties.

Player milestone: Pearce stepped forward with memories still fresh of him failing to convert in England’s previous shoot-out. He confidently scored here, with his pumped up celebration becoming an iconic moment in England’s history. He followed it up by also scoring in the semi-final shoot-out against Germany.

The consequences: England had won this shoot-out but they would be again undone by the Germans and penalties in their epic semi-final clash four days later. Gareth Southgate would infamously miss the decisive spot-kick, but he would one day have his revenge.

2004 – Portugal 2-2 England

The context: With teenager Wayne Rooney on fire and several big names already eliminated, an opportunity was emerging for England to finally go all the way. A captivating 4-2 group stage win over Croatia had lifted the spirits of the huge travelling support ahead of a showdown with the hosts Portugal, containing a teenage star of their own in Cristiano Ronaldo.

The match: England would be haunted by their four ghosts of tournament pasts on the same night – injuries, controversial decisions, failing to see out games and penalty shoot-out agony. They led 1-0 for a long period thanks to Michael Owen’s early goal, but their hopes were dented the moment Rooney went off injured. They became increasingly cautious and were punished by Helder Postiga seven minutes from time, only to then have a last-gasp Sol Campbell ‘winner’ contentiously ruled out.

Rui Costa put the hosts ahead during extra-time, but England showed fight when Frank Lampard levelled. But penalties would once more bring a painful outcome.

Frank Lampard equalises for England against Portugal.

The significance: It was the second successive major tournament that Sven-Goran Eriksson had been undone by Luiz Felipe Scolari, with Portugal’s manager having been in charge of Brazil at the 2002 World Cup. It wouldn’t be the last time.

Player milestone: Paul Scholes found himself deployed on the left of midfield at Euro 2004 as Eriksson tried to accommodate both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the middle. Not only was the creative Scholes playing outside his natural position, he was also routinely being substituted whenever he pulled on an England shirt. He was withdrawn after 57 minutes here and it would be his 66th and final cap for his country. Later in the summer he announced he was retiring from international football, aged just 29, rejecting overtures to come back to the fold.

The consequences: Referee Urs Meier became a hate figure among a section of the English public over the disallowed goal, but some question marks were also raised about Eriksson’s tactics. Portugal reached the final, but the tournament would end as it started with them losing to Greece. England endured a summer of turmoil as ‘Faria-gate’ dominated the front and back pages. Eriksson kept his job, but he was now realistically one more wrong move away from hearing the final whistle. By the time Scolari again got the better of bim on penalties at the same stage of the 2006 World Cup, it was already known Eriksson’s time was up as England boss.

2012 – England 0-0 Italy

The context: Tonight England face Ukraine in Italy. When they last reached the quarter-final stage in Euro 2012 they took on Italy in Ukraine. It was a bit of a strange tournament so far as England were concerned. Widespread disillusionment had set in after the miserable 2010 World Cup campaign and there was noticeably less hype than usual going into the finals. The side was in transition, with many of the ‘Golden Generation’ either gone or nearing the end. Preparations were hit by Fabio Capello’s departure as manager early in 2012, with Roy Hodgson only taking over shortly before the finals. But despite all this England still managed to win their group ahead of France, setting up a meeting with Italy.

The match: Fortune seemed to be on England’s side as they amassed seven points during the group stage and it looked like their luck might hold in Kiev, as Italy dictated proceedings but were unable to make the breakthrough. But the Italians would prevail in the shoot-out, England going from being ahead after two rounds of kicks to not even getting to take their fifth as defeat was already assured. The two Ashleys, Young and Cole, would both fail to hit the target. The defining image was the masterful Andrea Pirlo cooly chipping his ‘Panenka’ penalty into the net beyond Joe Hart.

England’s class of 2012 experience a familiar feeling.

The significance: Few had expected England to go all the way and even fewer would have believed they deserved to go through on the balance of play, but losing on penalties brought a familiar depressing feeling. Some 16 years had passed since overcoming Spain at Euro ‘96 and in that time they had failed to win a shoot-out or get to the last four of a major tournament. Things would get worse before the waiting finally ended.

Player milestone: Ashley Cole had his penalty saved by Gianluigi Buffon and it was to be his final touch at a major tournament, having played at five of them since the 2002 World Cup. He would subsequently pass the 100-cap mark, but miss out on going to the 2014 World Cup.

The consequences: The quarter-final appearance was to be as good as it got when it came to tournaments for Hodgson’s England, who again lost out to Italy during the group stage of the 2014 World Cup and then were humiliated by Iceland in the last 16 at Euro 2016.

englandmemories View All

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

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