England’s Qualifying Campaigns – Euro ’76: Staying in the Wilderness

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England are currently preparing for Euro 2016, having qualified with ease for the finals. But 40 years ago the final stages of the European Championship took place without them, England having failed to progress beyond their qualifying group. Coming after missing out on a place at the 1974 World Cup finals, it added to the gloom for England fans and proved a big disappointment for new manager Don Revie after he appeared to have started well in the job…

In October 1973, England infamously drew with Poland and failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. In the ensuing months the Football Association parted company with Sir Alf Ramsey, with Joe Mercer looking after the shop for seven matches as he sought to help restore national pride. In July 1974 the FA unveiled the new manager, as Don Revie left First Division champions Leeds United to lead his country.

Although Revie may not have had the public support of Brian Clough and his Leeds side were far from universally loved, he had a track record for success – either winning major honours or coming perilously close to doing so. Now the nation hoped he could restore that winning mentality, with England having lost the aura they had held when they won the World Cup in 1966. Their recent record at Wembley, where once they had been almost invincible, was a particular concern. They had been beaten there by West Germany in the European Championship quarter-finals in 1972 and then failed to beat Wales and Poland beneath the Twin Towers in qualifying for the 1974 World Cup. Revie’s first challenge would be to lead England to the final stages of the 1976 European Championship, although he quickly made clear what his real priority was in an era when the World Cup dwarfed the Euros. “The main object must be to build up to the World Cup of 1978,” he said upon his appointment. “Four years seems a long way off, but it isn’t.”

But there was no time like the present and England would be in a Euro ’76 qualifying group with Czechoslovakia, Portugal and Cyprus. None of the four sides had made it to the 1974 World Cup finals. The Czechs had come unstuck against Scotland; England and Portugal were pale shadows of their great sides of 1966; and Cyprus were seen as just making up the numbers. When the draw was made in January 1974, Geoffrey Green in The Times described the group as “a comparatively mild sector at present-day values” given the sides would all be absent from the World Cup. Only the group winners would progress to the two-legged quarter-finals.


Don Revie with his first England captain, Emlyn Hughes. It proved a short-lived partnership.

Revie’s first England match would not be until October 30. However, his first get-together was at a Manchester hotel in September when more than 80 established and potential players were invited to attend. Many of them – such as John Beck, Micky Horswill, Kevin Lock and Denis Smith – would never be capped by England at full level but Revie was certainly going to look far and wide for men who could bolster the squad. However, the rather generous number of debuts he handed out while in charge would attract criticism. So too would be the decision to axe established players, including captains Emlyn Hughes and Alan Ball. Like Ramsey, Revie showed a reluctance to pick the flair ‘Maverick’ players who had burst onto the scene and this also gave ammunition to his critics.

The great start for Revie

Although the late date for his first game afforded Revie time to prepare, he would not have the luxury of a friendly to ease his way into the role. His opening match would be the first qualifier against Czechoslovakia at Wembley. It felt like the dawn of a new era, with a new manager in charge who was bringing in Land of Hope and Glory as a pre-match anthem and England were donning a new-look Admiral kit that divided opinion.

The Czechs held out for more than 70 minutes before Mick Channon and Colin Bell (2) found the net as England won 3-0. “It was a match with a beginning and ending but little in the middle to excite us,” wrote Green, adding a note of caution amid the delight over the result. It was though an encouraging evening, where the introduction of substitutes Trevor Brooking and Dave Thomas had helped push England on. Making effective use of substitutes had not been Ramsey’s forte but his permanent successor had made a double change that had paid off. His decision to hand a first cap to midfielder Gerry Francis had also been rewarded with a good display, with the player going on to be a central part of Revie’s plans.

Back to reality

Revie’s honeymoon would last just three weeks, before being brought back down to earth. Portugal visited Wembley for England’s second qualifier, with the hosts expected to make it two wins out of two – particularly after Portugal were beaten 3-0 in a friendly by Switzerland the week before. A big crowd at Wembley saw the Portuguese adopt a defensive approach that England were unable to breach, although visiting goalkeeper Vitor Damas would pull off some good saves to keep them out. The celebrations of Damas and his colleagues at the finish were an indicator they had exceeded expectations with a goalless draw, while England left the pitch to a loud chorus of ‘what a load of rubbish’.


Dave Thomas in action for England against Portugal.

Revie did not try to hide from the crowd’s disappointment. “No excuses. We didn’t play at all,” he told the media. “It was a bad performance, we didn’t deserve anything more than a draw.” In the Daily Mirror, Frank McGhee wrote: “Quite the worst feature of the whole affair was that England produced so pitifully few ideas during the game to change a course that gradually became inevitable.” To put the result into a gloomy perspective, Portugal would lose 5-0 when they visited Czechoslovakia during the qualifying series.

England’s next match was due to be an away qualifier in Cyprus in February, but it was postponed due to concerns over political unrest. Instead their first game in 1975 was a home friendly against world champions West Germany in March, marking England’s 100th match at Wembley. The night rekindled optimism about Revie’s reign as Colin Bell and Malcolm Macdonald scored in a 2-0 win. Ball was the new captain after Hughes was controversially axed, although ‘Crazy Horse’ would make further appearances under Revie (a man he would regularly criticise in later years).

Malcolm Macdonald 5-0 Cyprus

In April England were in must-win territory as group outsiders Cyprus visited Wembley. Fresh from netting his first England goal the previous month, Macdonald showed his potency by continually being in the right place to score on the night. He scored the lot as England crushed their opponents 5-0. But not everyone felt euphoric about the win or Macdonald’s goal blitz. In the Daily Express, reporter David Miller wrote: “This was Third Division stuff in international terms. Let us keep the champagne for the moment when the English bull does the same against Argentina, Brazil or Holland.”


Malcolm Macdonald helps himself to five goals against Cyprus.

England had unusually played all their three home qualifiers before any of the away ones took place, but in May they finally ventured onto foreign soil under Revie for the return game in Cyprus. An early goal from Kevin Keegan looked like it may open the floodgates, but it was to be a disappointing afternoon for the Three Lions as they had to be content with a 1-0 win. Macdonald couldn’t score and indeed would never find the net for his country again, Miller’s comments the previous month sadly bearing fruit. But England had at least ground out a result. David Lacey wrote in the Guardian: “If their performance was unspectacular, at least they avoided the sort of catastrophe that can easily occur when teams have to encounter weak but spirited opponents in alien conditions.”

The season wound down with the Home International Championship. A 0-0 draw away to Northern Ireland meant Revie’s team had not conceded in six games, a sequence that ended in the next match. Although a 2-2 draw at home to Wales was disappointing, the two debut goals for David Johnson gave encouragement. But England saved their best until last, crushing Scotland 5-1 at Wembley. Francis (2), Bell and Johnson joined Kevin Beattie on the England scoresheet, as they completed the season unbeaten and as Home International champions. Revie appeared to be rehabilitating England and putting the painful memories of 1973 behind them. Sadly, things were about to fall apart.

Ball axed

England were to start the 1975/76 season with an away friendly in Switzerland. But the build-up was overshadowed by Ball discovering he had been dropped and stripped off the captaincy, which was handed to Francis. Ball claimed he received an unsigned letter from Revie informing him of the decision, the player revealing his hurt at the manager not speaking to him in person about the matter. It marked a sad end to Ball’s international career and meant all of England’s World Cup winning XI were no longer playing for their country. The row over Ball coincided with Stoke City manager Tony Waddington speaking out over Revie’s decision to not pick ‘Maverick’ Alan Hudson, with the England boss learning what an unforgiving world international football management could be. But he wasn’t going to cave in.


Alan Hudson and Alan Ball were controversially dropped by Don Revie.

Speaking about players having been axed, Revie said: “I feel particularly sad in the case of Emlyn and Alan, but although I wrote each of them a letter I suppose I shall have to wait until they become managers before they appreciate what I had to do. I haven’t had time for sitting on the fence and postponing unpleasant decisions.”

England won 2-1 in Switzerland, but the most important internationals still lay ahead. They faced away qualifiers in Czechoslovakia and Portugal. England were in the driving seat but they could ill-afford to lose either game. Their game in Bratislava against Czechoslovakia was abandoned at 0-0 after 17 minutes due to fog. The match would start again the following afternoon – a year to the day of when Revie’s reign had begun in style against the Czechs.


England’s hopes faded with defeat in Czechoslovakia.

All seemed to be going to plan as Channon put England in front, but Revie’s unbeaten run came to an end when the result most mattered as the Czechs came from behind to win 2-1. After an ill-tempered contest, England were fuming towards Italian referee Alberto Michelotti for how they felt he had handled the match. Revie, who hailed the way his players had performed despite the result, said: “I saw the worst provocation in this game that I have ever seen in an international match, certainly worse than Argentina against England in the 1966 World Cup.” It was fair to assume he wasn’t blaming his own team for the said provocation. 

The following month, the group picture remained murky after Czechoslovakia drew 1-1 away to Portugal. England led the group by virtue of having a goal difference one better than Czechoslovakia, but that wasn’t much of an advantage in the circumstances. It now basically came down to who got the best result from their final match – England in Portugal, Czechoslovakia in Cyprus. The Czechs faced the easier task and would also know exactly what they had to do as they would be playing four days after England’s match. To believe they would do it, England were realistically going to have to record a big win in Portugal. It was a tall order.

Missing out again

A stunning free-kick from Rui Rodrigues put Portugal ahead and although Channon equalised before the break, England could not snatch a winner and drew 1-1. Their only hope now was for the Czechs to fail to win in Cyprus, which seemed unlikely. According to Green, Revie saved “time, petrol and expense” by cancelling the executive jet to take him to see the match. He seemed to have accepted the inevitable. Any hopes England had of advancing to the last eight were duly extinguished by half-time, as Czechoslovakia led 3-0. Even the most optimistic of English fans would have abandoned hope, with the Czechs duly seeing the game out to go through.

Lacey wrote of England’s latest failure: “An outcome which first emerged as a possibility when Portugal forced a goalless draw at Wembley a year ago, became a probability with the defeat in Bratislava last month, a near-certainty with last week’s draw in Lisbon and actuality when Czechoslovakia beat Cyprus 3-0.” 

Czechoslovakia beat West Germany on penalties to win Euro ’76.

For the second major tournament in a row England had been eliminated in the qualifying group stage, paying the price for losing away to their rivals for top spot. Although there was more far melodrama over England failing to make the 1974 World Cup, this latest disappointment in some ways sent out the greater warning message. England were no longer among the elite and their previous failure could not just be written off as a fluke because of the heroics of a Polish goalkeeper. The Czechs surprisingly went on to win the final against West Germany in Yugoslavia, but that provided little consolation to England. Ten years on from winning the World Cup they were increasingly retreating from international football’s frontline and Revie knew he could not afford to fail again during the next qualifying programme.

Six of the Worst – England in November

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Earlier this month we recalled six of England’s best matches in November. Now we look at things from a less positive perspective and reflect on six games from the past 50 years when things didn’t go quite so well…

November 2, 1966 Czechoslovakia (h) 0-0 Friendly

England’s first home match after the glory of winning the World Cup proved to be an anti-climax, as Czechoslovakia came to Wembley and ground out a 0-0 draw. A crowd of 75,000 turned up hoping to continue the summer’s party, with England fielding the same side as had won the World Cup final just over three months earlier. But it was a frustrating night for Alf Ramsey’s men.

The Times painted a negative picture of the match the following morning, under the headline ‘England fall from grace at Wembley’. The report began: “After the World Cup triumph, the dust cart. That is how England must have felt last night at the end of their goalless draw with Czechoslovakia at Wembley. That too was how a 75,000 crowd must have felt long before the finish.” It was certainly after the Lord Mayor’s Show, but England got back in their stride a fortnight later when they beat Wales 5-1.

November 20, 1974 Portugal (h) 0-0 European Championship qualifier

Three weeks earlier, there was genuine optimism about what the Don Revie era would bring for England when they beat Czechoslovakia 3-0 in their opening European Championship qualifier. But it was to be a short-lived honeymoon, as his second match in charge provided a reality check. Portugal were not of the same quality of the Eusebio-inspired World Cup semi-finalists in 1966 but they stifled England and claimed a 0-0 draw. On the occasions England did threaten, visiting goalkeeper Vítor Damas was in form to thwart them.

‘What a load of rubbish!’ screamed the back page headline in the following day’s Daily Mirror, in reference to what had been chanted by frustrated fans at Wembley. Revie accepted the crowd had every right to vent their frustration, saying: “We didn’t play at all. It was a bad performance. We didn’t deserve anything more than a draw.” A year later, England’s hopes of staying in the competition effectively ended with a 1-1 draw in the return fixture.

November 17, 1976 Italy (a) 0-2 World Cup qualifier

“This is no place to try new ideas,” said BBC commentator David Coleman as England took to the field in Rome for a crucial World Cup qualifier against Italy. But manager Don Revie had decided to make six changes from the previous game against Finland – when admittedly they had not played well – and it was a big gamble to take in such a tough-looking qualifying match. England started reasonably well but never realistically looked like they could get a result. They trailed at half-time as Giancarlo Antognoni’s free-kick deflected in off Kevin Keegan past Ray Clemence. The killer second seemed symbolic of the difference in quality between the sides, a neat move ending with Roberto Bettega scoring a diving header. Italy deservedly won 2-0 and were in the driving seat to qualify for the 1978 World Cup.


England endured a frustrating afternoon in Rome.

“I think we went out on the pitch thinking ‘let’s see if we can get a draw out of this’,” reflected Trevor Brooking years later, summing up the lack of belief in the England side on the day. Few were arguing about the outcome. Bobby Charlton, summarising for the BBC, said: “There’s no question at all the better side won.” There was still a year of qualifying remaining, but already England were in deep trouble and facing up to yet another absence from a major tournament. Although they beat Italy 2-0 in the return game the following November, it was the Italians who qualified on goal difference.

November 16, 1988 Saudi Arabia (a) 1-1 Friendly

England avoided defeat in November following the aforementioned Italy game until 1999, but this didn’t mean there were no disappointments along the way. There were a few low points during the Bobby Robson years with England, but arguably the lowest of them all came with this 1-1 draw away to Saudi Arabia in which they needed an equaliser from Tony Adams to avoid defeat. It was an experimental England side including five debutants – most notably future regular goalkeeper David Seaman – but that counted for little in the eyes of the critics. England had flopped at Euro ’88, failed to win their opening Italia ’90 qualifier at home to Sweden and now the vultures were circling after being held by Saudi Arabia. Robson correctly pointed out that the Saudis had recently achieved some decent results against other established football nations but this fell on deaf ears, as the tabloid press had a field day at his expense.


The chief protagonist was the Daily Mirror, which followed up its previous ‘Go! In the name of God, go!’ headline with the memorable ‘Go! In the name of Allah, go!’ screaming out from the back page. Not content with this and another damning headline of ‘Robbo should be a train driver’, the paper followed it up with more digs 24 hours later. It devoted a double page spread to ’20 facts that say Robbo must go’ complete with the spiteful subheading of ‘there’s 101… but we’ve run out of space’. Given the hero status Robson would enjoy after Italia ’90 it’s easy to forget just how much flack he took at times prior to that – and this was one of the worst examples.

November 17, 1993 San Marino (a) 7-1 World Cup qualifier

For the only time between 1987 and 2013, England scored more than six times in a full international. And yet there wasn’t a shred of happiness among English football fans or for Ian Wright, who netted four times in Bologna. The night represented the culmination of England’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals and would forever be remembered for the calmitious opening moments. Up against arguably the weakest international side in Europe, England found themselves 1-0 down inside nine seconds as Davide Gualtieri seized upon Stuart Pearce’s underhit backpass to score for San Marino.


One of England’s most infamous moments.

England went into the night needing Poland to win at home to the Netherlands and for them to beat San Marino by seven goals to scrape into the finals. It was unlikely, but not impossible (San Marino were whipping boys and the Poles had almost beaten England on home soil). But going 1-0 down seemed to act as confirmation England would not be heading to the USA the following summer and Graham Taylor would soon be out of work. To their credit England did a professional job to recover and run out 7-1 winners, with Wright running back with the ball after scoring as they clung to the hope they could get more goals and somehow make it. But what they did counted for nothing, as the Dutch achieved a 3-1 win to administer the last rites on Taylor’s reign. The BBC switched off long before the end to instead show Wales against Romania, which unlike England’s match still had everything riding on it. And as far as England were concerned, the only goal most people would recall was the infamous one they conceded. 

November 21, 2007 Croatia (h) 2-3, European Championship qualifier

No question at all about this one appearing on the list, England’s darkest night in modern times. Four days earlier they had been thrown a lifeline when Russia lost to Israel, meaning they needed just a point at home to Croatia to make the finals. But on a wet and miserable night at Wembley, England quickly fell 2-0 behind as their makeshift defence and young goalkeeper Scott Carson struggled to handle the occasion. Although a Frank Lampard penalty and a Peter Crouch goal pulled England level and seemingly on their way to the finals, Mladen Petric scored from 25 yards to restore Croatia’s lead – this time for good as they triumphed 3-2.


Croatia denied England a place at Euro 2008.

England were left clinging to the faint hope that Andorra could equalise against Russia to salvage them, but it was never on and the criticism poured in on manager Steve McClaren – soon dubbed the ‘wally with the brolly’. Barely had the tabloids gone on sale the following morning when he was out of a job, as the nation faced up to the team’s absence from a major tournament. Less than 18 months earlier the ‘Golden Generation’ had gone into the World Cup as seemingly a genuine contender – now they weren’t even good enough to make the last 16 of the European Championship. 

Since then England have endured a mixed bag of November matches, with friendly losses to France (2010) and Chile (2013) probably standing out as their worst games. As this blog limits selections to the past 50 years, we’ve omitted possibly England’s most memorable November loss – the 6-3 home defeat to the brilliant Hungary in 1953, which is still talked about today.

Six of the Best – England in April

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Although no longer usually a month when England are in action, April was traditionally quite a busy time internationally with the Three Lions frequently playing at least one match then. Let’s look back at six of England’s best April games from the past 50 years.

April 2, 1966 Scotland (a) 4-3 Home International Championship

Just under four months before England’s greatest day, they made the trip to Hampden Park in the Home International Championship. It ended in a cracking  4-3 win for England as Geoff Hurst, Roger Hunt (2) and Bobby Charlton all found the net in front of more than 123,000 fans. The result ended a poor recent record for England against their old rivals and their attacking display gave hope for the forthcoming World Cup finals (amid concern about defensive frailty having conceded three). Scotland would gain revenge 12 months later by famously winning 3-2 at Wembley.

April 3, 1968 Spain (h) 1-0 European Nations Cup quarter-finals

Bobby Charlton takes a bow after scoring the winner against Spain.

Two years on from their World Cup glory, England were again going in pursuit of silverware as they were paired with Spain in the quarter-finals of the European Nations Cup. The first leg was played at a packed Wembley, with a well-taken Bobby Charlton goal in the closing stages proving decisive for England in their all-white strip. Earlier Martin Peters had controversially had a goal ruled out on a night when England really should have won more comfortably. But they would also win the second leg to advance to the semi-finals held in Italy. Having also overcome them in Euro ’96, Spain remain the only nation England have defeated in the Euro quarter-finals.

April 21, 1970 Northern Ireland (h) 31 Home International Championship

Not so much a classic match as a celebration of Bobby Charlton’s 100th cap, in an era when it was rare for anyone to reach that feat. He was handed the captaincy for the night and scored in a 3-1 win on a much-criticised Wembley pitch, as Sir Alf Ramsey’s men continued their preparations for the World Cup in Mexico. Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst also scored for England, with Charlton’s Manchester United team-mate George Best replying for Northern Ireland. “I am delighted for Bobby – he has achieved a truly great feat,” said Sir Alf afterwards.

April 16, 1975 Cyprus (h) 5-0 European Championship Qualifier 

Supermaccelebrates one of his five goals during the 5-0 win over Cyprus.

A big win for England at home to Cyprus was not unexpected, but it was a significant night. Malcolm Macdonald generally struggled to find the same potency for England as he did at club level, but that wasn’t the case in this match as he scored all five goals as England won 5-0. Don Revie’s side had beaten world champions West Germany in a friendly the previous month and they looked confident as they continually found Macdonald in space to head home. It was the first time since the war a player had scored five times in a match for England, but not everyone was in awe of his achievement. In the Daily Express, reporter David Miller wrote:  “This was Third Division stuff in international terms. Let us keep the champagne for the moment when the English bull does the same against Argentina, Brazil or Holland.”

And sadly such pessimism bore fruit – Macdonald never scored again for his country and England failed to qualify for the European Championship.

April 25, 1990 Czechoslovakia (h) 4-2 Friendly

Celebration time for Paul Gascoigne and Steve Bull against Czechoslovakia in 1990.

The night that changed Paul Gascoigne’s England career and really the start of ‘Gazzamania’ that would sweep the country in the coming months. Almost exactly a year after scoring his first international goal against Albania, Gascoigne was picked to start an international for only the second time as Czechoslovakia visited Wembley. Many saw it as his audition to claim a place in the World Cup squad and, if so, he grabbed it with both hands. Gascoigne shone and rounded off the scoring in an entertaining 4-2 win in front of just 21,342, with Steve Bull (2) and Stuart Pearce also on target. Bobby Robson stopped short of saying Gascoigne would definitely be in the World Cup squad, but dropped a pretty big hint by saying he “passed every test that was set him”.

April 2, 2003 Turkey (h) European Championship Qualifier

It was clear from the moment this group kicked off it would be between England and Turkey for top spot, with their dominance in other fixtures meaning their head to head record was likely to be decisive. That proved to be the case, with this memorable meeting at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light putting England in the driving seat. At 17, Wayne Rooney was handed his first England start and he played his part in a 2-0 win courtesy of goals in the closing stages from Darius Vassell and David Beckham (penalty). A goalless draw in the return match took Engkand through to Euro 2004, preserving their proud record of having never conceded a goal to Turkey.

Six of the Worst – England European Championship Qualifiers

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Last month we recalled six of England’s best European Championship qualifying matches. Now as they gear up for the next round of qualifiers for Euro 2014, we look at the opposite end of the scale when six matches in the qualifying stages did not go to plan for England. It wouldn’t seem the English way to just reflect on the positives, would it?

February 1963, France (a) 2-5
Alf Ramsey’s first match as England manager certainly didn’t inspire the public to share his optimism they could win the World Cup three years later. After drawing 1-1 at Hillsborough in the first-leg before Ramsey replaced Walter Winterbottom, England were torn apart in Paris and trailed 3-0 by the break in this preliminary round tie. Although they gave themselves hope in the second half, the match ended with Ron Springett having conceded five goals. He would make way for Gordon Banks in the next match as Ramsey began rebuilding his side. Only Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton played in the World Cup final after featuring in the Paris debacle.

April 1967, Scotland (h) 2-3
A day still fondly remembered by football fans north of the border, as Scotland triumphed 3-2 against England at Wembley to declare themselves unofficial ‘world champions’ and Jim Baxter taunted the English. Alf Ramsey’s men were unbeaten since November 1965 and only Jimmy Greaves was involved who had not played in the World Cup final victory nine months earlier. The 1966-67 and 1967-68 Home Internationals were doubling up as the qualifying process for the European Championships and there was now a danger England could miss out so soon after lifting the World Cup as they lost 3-2. But they would top the group after drawing the return with Scotland in front of more than 134,000 at Hampden Park the following year, going on to finish third in the 1968 European Championship.

October 1975, Czechoslovakia (a) 1-2
Don Revie had begun his England reign a year earlier by beating the Czechs 3-0 at Wembley, as they appeared to be banishing the bad memories of missing out on a place in the 1974 World Cup. But a costly draw at home to Portugal had led to doubts resurfacing and it was vital they picked up a good result in the return match with the Czechs. Fog led to the match being abandoned after 17 minutes, leading to a hasty rearrangement for the following afternoon. Mick Channon gave them a first-half lead and put them on the brink of qualification, but goals shortly before and after half-time for the hosts turned the match on its head. England never equalised and Revie fumed about the Czechs: “I saw the worst provocation in this game that I have seen in an international match.” A 1-1 draw in their final match away to Portugal effectively ended English hopes, as the Czechs won the group and surprisingly went on to win the tournament.

September 1983, Denmark (h) 0-1
The Danes had quickly emerged from obscurity to be a major threat to England’s place in the Euro ’84 finals. England had been fortunate to gain a 2-2 draw away to Denmark in their opening qualifier. By the time the Danes visited Wembley in September 1983 it was clear whoever won would be favourites to go to France for the Euros, with England having to win for it to be in their hands. Bobby Robson knew just how big a danger the visitors posed and it seemed England were almost intimidated by the dazzling Danes, who could have scored in the opening moments through Michael Laudrup. A penalty from Allan Simonsen gave them a deserved half-time lead, which was only seriously threatened by Luther Blissett in the dying seconds. His shot was saved and England were left praying for a miracle from the remaining games. Their lingering hopes ended shortly before they took the field for their final qualifier away to Luxembourg, after Denmark beat Greece.

October 1998, Bulgaria (h) 0-0
England qualified as unbeaten group winners for the 1988 and 1992 finals and automatically as hosts in 1996, but the road to Euro 2000 was to be extremely rocky. They were in trouble after losing their opening qualifier away to Sweden and things got worse a month later when Bulgaria arrived at Wembley. England started brightly, but after failing to take chances the match totally fizzled out and Glenn Hoddle’s men ran out of ideas. They were booed off and it summed up a poor qualifying campaign for England in which they won just three matches out of eight (two of them against Luxembourg) to somehow claim second spot and then scrape past rivals Scotland in the play-offs.

November 2007, Croatia (h) 2-3
England made the 2004 and 2012 finals without losing any matches, but the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign under Steve McClaren was anything but a smooth ride. Needing to just finish second in their group to qualify, the warning signs were there by October 2006 when they drew with Macedonia and lost to Croatia. A year later came defeat in Russia but – aided by other results – it was back in England’s hands when they entered their final qualifying match needing to draw at home to Croatia. The wet night has passed into infamy, with England appearing to have done the hard work in clawing back from 2-0 down at the break to level before Mladen Petric scored the winner to hand Russia a place in the finals at England’s expense. The ‘wally with the brolly’ tag would stick for a long time for McClaren, who would inevitably leave his job after the loss.

Six of the Best – England European Championship qualifying matches

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As England prepare to get their campaign to reach Euro 2016 underway in Switzerland, let’s recall six of their most memorable qualifying matches from past European Championships (limited to no more than one per qualification campaign).

Czechoslovakia (h) 3-0, October 1974
A game significant for two reasons. Firstly, it was a victory during Don Revie’s first game at the helm as a new era was ushered in at Wembley. And secondly, this result would go on to look particularly impressive two years later as the Czechs went on to win the European Championship. A year to the month of their World Cup failure against Poland, England appeared to start turning the corner as goals in the closing stages from Mike Channon and Colin Bell (2) gave them a 3-0 success. Another highlight would come the following April when Malcolm MacDonald scored all five goals as Cyprus were thrashed at Wembley. But England let qualification slip through their grasp, the Czechs getting their revenge with a 2-1 win in Bratislava the following October.


Bulgaria (h) 2-0, November 1979
The 1970s had been grim for England fans. After losing in the quarter-finals of the 1970 World Cup and 1972 European Championship to West Germany, they fell at the qualifying stage of the next three major tournaments. By the time the 1980 European Championship qualifiers began, there was a sense of desperation for England to end their exile from major tournaments. They did so in emphatic fashion, enjoying big wins away to Bulgaria and Northern Ireland to wrap up qualifying. They were able to celebrate qualifying early and this match saw the nation cheer them towards the finals. Fog postponed the match by 24 hours, but when it took place Dave Watson opened the scoring early on. In the second half came the most memorable moment, as young debutant Glenn Hoddle scored a brilliant side-footed shot to wrap up the victory. The nation was now looking forward to Hoddle starring in midfield during the 1980s. It didn’t always work out quite like that, but more than 50 caps would be won by the Spurs player.


Luxembourg (h) 9-0, December 1982
By the early 1980s, the cliche “no easy games in international football” was being dished out with increased frequency and England’s shock defeat to Norway the previous year was still fresh in the mind. But there was one true exception to the rule in an era before the likes of Andorra and San Marino came on the European national scene and that was Luxembourg. Played just 10 days before Christmas, England tore the minnows to shreds and Luther Blissett helped himself to a hat-trick. They led 4-0 by half-time but it will still only 6-0 with five minutes to go, as some gloss was added to the scoreline with three further efforts – the last coming from a Phil Neal cross that the visiting goalkeeper failed to deal with. But Bobby Robson would come unstuck in his first qualifying tournament, England finishing second to an excellent Denmark side, who won 1-0 at Wembley the following September to move to the brink of qualification.


Yugoslavia (a) 4-1, November 1987
England had one of their best qualifying campaigns in reaching Euro ’88 with some clinical displays in front of goal including an 8-0 win over Turkey. However, they went into their final match in the group needing to get a result in Yugoslavia to ensure their place in West Germany. Within 25 minutes all doubts had been shattered as England led 4-0 against a decent side thanks to goals from Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Bryan Robson and Tony Adams. The hosts pulled a goal back late on but it was a mere consolation in a game that would stand out as one of the best matches of Bobby Robson’s reign in charge. Sadly, the tournament itself would prove a particular disappointment for England.


Scotland (a) 2-0, November 1999 (play-off, first leg)
Probably the most hyped-up European Championship qualifying matches involving England were their play-off fixtures against Scotland in November 1999.  The sides had met just once in the previous decade, as a new generation of England players prepared to make their first trip to Hampden Park. It had been a poor qualifying campaign from England in which they won just one match out of six against the other top four sides (beating Poland in Kevin Keegan’s first game in charge, the only other wins in the group being against Luxembourg) and they had been reliant on Poland losing their final match to Sweden to scrap into the play-offs. Further good fortune helped them over the qualifying line against the Scots. The first-leg at Hampden Park saw them triumph 2-0 with Paul Scholes getting both goals to leave them firmly on course for the finals. Kevin Keegan’s side should have been home and dry but proceeded to lose the return leg 1-0 at Wembley four days later, almost throwing away their Hampden Park success.


Turkey (h) 2-0, April 2003
In the qualifying campaign for Euro 2004, it was clear from the start it would be a head-to-head fight for top spot between England and Turkey. The Turks had made massive strides from their thrashings by England in the 1980s and had just finished third in the World Cup. Sadly not all the headlines from this meeting at the Stadium of Light were made by what happened on the pitch, but the match brought a priceless win for England. 17-year-old Wayne Rooney shone on his first start for England and he helped the Three Lions triumph 2-0 thanks to late goals from Darius Vassell and David Beckham (penalty), going on to win the group with a 0-0 draw in the return game in October that again attracted plenty of talking points.