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When England won Le Tournoi – 20 years on

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June marks the 20th anniversary of England getting their hands on silverware when the side won Le Tournoi in France. Today we look back at that competition, as Glenn Hoddle’s side surprisingly triumphed in a four-team tournament that included strong Brazilian, French and Italian teams. Something to get excited about or merely glorified friendlies?

These days the Confederations Cup is used as the warm-up competition for the World Cup, being staged by the host nation a year before the main act. But back in 1997 the French were left to their own devices and planned their own mini-tournament called Tournoi de France – more commonly known as Le Tournoi – similar to what had happened in England in 1995 with the Umbro Cup (played 12 months before Euro ’96) and in the USA in 1993 with the US Cup. Both those mini-tournaments saw England fail to beat Brazil and they would hope to make it third time lucky in France, with both sides joined on the guest list by Italy. There was no shortage of attractive opposition facing England out in France.

Such tournaments serve several purposes. They are essentially trial runs for the following year, helping the hosts get a flavour for the real thing and offering the home nation a welcome chance to play something approaching competitive matches in a tournament environment. And for the other sides involved it helps in their preparations for the following year’s competition, both in terms of the tournament experience and making plans for 12 months down the line. England certainly did just that in France, manager Glenn Hoddle liking the The Golf Hotel in La Baule so much that he decided they would return there during the World Cup – provided they qualified.

England headed out to the tournament in good spirits after winning a vital World Cup qualifier in Poland on May 31. The main game during the end-of-season programme had been won, now they could focus on Le Tournoi. The real pressure was off, but the next task was about showing England could compete with three excellent sides and using it as proper preparation for a year later. Hoddle was keen to stress there would be no repeat of the antics that had blighted England’s trip to Hong Kong shortly before Euro ’96, with the focus for the week-long trip to France on preparing for the real deal.

Hoddle said: “It will be relaxed but professional. Any relaxing away from football will be controlled. We are there for business reasons. The players would not want it any other way, they don’t want a Fred Karno’s Army with nightclubbing and so on. This is experience for 12 months down the line. If we are to win the World Cup, we will have to make sacrifices.”

Class show against the Italians

England’s first game was in Nantes against Italy, who four months earlier had won at Wembley in a World Cup qualifier – the only blemish on Hoddle’s record so far. The return game would take place in October, so this was to be seen as the least important of the three meetings in a year. But what the game lacked it status it would make up for in English success. Hoddle rang the changes from the previous game but it was perhaps a measure of the depth of talent available at the time that such a different side could play with such confidence.

And that was because England were blessed in terms of the players at their disposal compared to some other eras. Experienced men such as Martin Keown, Ian Wright and stand-in captain Paul Ince were joined for the night by a batch of young players from Manchester United who had won successive league titles. They would further prove to Alan Hansen that you could win things with kids, with one of them particularly instrumental to this triumph.

Paul Scholes (above) was starting an international for the first time and he delivered a pinpoint pass for Wright to open the scoring after 26 minutes. Shortly before the break the favour was returned, Wright feeding Scholes to fire past Angelo Peruzzi. England weren’t just winning, they were turning it on and looking un-English in their one-touch style. David Beckham, winning only his eighth cap, beamed afterwards: “The way we played in the first half, with our one-touch football, has made people sit up.”

England saw the game out to win 2-0 and it wasn’t just young heads who were getting excited by what had taken place. David Lacey, a veteran with The Guardian, wrote: “Glenn Hoddle’s highly experimental side blended a caucus of Manchester United youth with some Premiership wrinklies to produce one of the most stylish performances seen from an England team since Ron Greenwood’s side went to Barcelona shortly before the 1980 European Championship and defeated Spain by a similar score.” This was high praise.

Was it a one-off or were England now really capable of beating everybody? Two big tests that lay ahead…

Beating the French

England fielded a more familiar-looking side against France in Montpellier, with senior players including Paul Gascoigne, David Seaman and Alan Shearer returning to the starting line-up. England’s performance lacked the sparkle of three days earlier, but it was still an encouraging evening wih captain Shearer scoring the only goal in the closing minutes as he pounced after Fabien Barthez spilt Teddy Sheringham’s cross. It was a notable result, given it ended a lengthy unbeaten run at home for the French.

Alan Shearer scores a late winner for England against France.

As Glenn Moore reflected in The Independent: “Saturday showed a different side of England’s game, the ability to eke out wins without playing particularly well. They were not poor but they must now be judged by the standards they set against Italy and by that mark they disappointed. The impressive elements were the defensive strength, the ability to recover from a poor start, and the thoroughness of the preparation.”

The friendly nature of Le Tournoi meant games were being judged as much on displays as scorelines by the media, but for those preferring to view this as a competitive tournament things were looking good for England. They had six points from two games, with France unable to catch them and Italy unlikely to do so given their goal difference. Only Brazil realistically remained a threat, as they prepared to face Italy ahead of playing England 48 hours later. If they won both then the world champions would pick up yet more silverware. But whatever happened it had been an excellent week for England.

On Sunday, June 8, two unusual things happened. England’s cricketers went ahead in an Ashes series for the first time in more than a decade by comfortably beating Australia in the opening test at Edgbaston. And a short time later the nation’s footballers enjoyed winning a tournament with a game to spare, as Italy and Brazil drew 3-3 in Lyon to leave England four points clear with a game to go. For the first time since the 1983 Home International Championship, England’s seniors would win a tournament containing at least four sides.

Winners and losers

Paradoxically, England’s last game in Paris did not matter so far as the outcome of the tournament was concerned but was also their biggest, and arguably most important, test. Brazil were the world champions and widely backed to repeat the feat in France a year later. Although they had drawn both games so far at Le Tournoi, hints of their class and goal threat lingered and Roberto Carlos had scored a jaw-dropping free-kick in the opening game against France. If England looked distinctly second best against Brazil, then a bit of the gloss would be removed from an excellent end to the season.

In some respects that turned out to be the case, as Moore wrote in The Independent of England’s 1-0 defeat: “England can be congratulated for earning the right to joust with the best but last night they discovered that they still have some way to go to match them. While the figures in the Tournoi de France table shows them to be the leading team, the tournament’s football told a different tale. That impression was confirmed on a humid Parisian night as Romario’s 61st-minute goal brought Brazil a victory which was more comfortable than the scoreline suggests.”

England were given a reminder of the scale of the task facing them 12 months later, knowing that in all probability they would have to beat Brazil at some stage if they were to win the World Cup. The result was fair but it hadn’t felt quite like the Brazilian masterclass of two years earlier when they turned it on to beat England 3-1 at Wembley to win the Umbro Cup. Even so, Moore wrote that the England players “looked suitably sheepish when they had to pose and parade with their trophy as We are the Champions rang out and the Brazilians looked on”.

It was perhaps typical of England’s fortunes that, even in winning a tournament, there was an instant reality check. But even so, the sight of Shearer stepping forward to collect the unusual-looking trophy – that appeared to be designed by someone desperate to point out it was a football competition – was a pleasing moment, albeit a long way off the joy that comes with winning a ‘proper’ tournament.

Alan Shearer holds aloft the tournament trophy despite England having lost to Brazil.

We’re not going to overhype Le Tournoi and make it out to be the equivalent of England winning a major tournament, because it wasn’t. This was a one-off competition and the games could easily be dismissed as just glorified friendlies. It’s doubtful anyone in Brazil, France or Italy ever thinks about their failure to win it. But silverware has been thin on the ground for England in recent times and this contained surely the strongest set of opponents of any competition won by the team since 1966. The two victories achieved during Le Tournoi were pleasing, with the performance against Italy particularly hailed.

Perhaps the other key significance was the contrast from England’s experience four years earlier at the US Cup, when they went there off the back of a painful World Cup qualifying defeat to Norway and followed it up by finishing bottom in the four-team competition and suffering a much-criticised loss to the United States. This time around they had enjoyed a precious qualifying win immediately beforehand and then given themselves a psychological boost by triumphing in the mini-tournament.

Now the big challenge awaiting England was to ensure they were back in France for the summer of 1998 for the World Cup and then to go in search of that long-awaited major honour…

England’s Euro ’92 – 25 years on

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This summer marks 25 years since the 1992 European Championship. England went into the finals having lost just once in two years, but as with four years earlier it would end in bitter disappointment and leave the manager a target for the tabloids…

To the many youngsters who fell in love with England and football during Italia ’90 or older fans whose passion was rekindled that tournament, Euro ’92 was to represent the difficult second album. There would be none of the Gazzamania or nerve-jangling excitement that left millions across the nation on the edge of their seats two years earlier, nor was there an England side to feel proud of. Instead, they simply limped out of the tournament after two forgettable 0-0 draws and a defeat to hosts Sweden. For manager Graham Taylor it was a tournament that marked a turning point in his reign for the wrong reasons and his reputation would unfortunately never recover during his time in charge.

England achieved two points more than when they were whitewashed during Euro ’88, yet it is held up as a comparable failure. It would be simplifying things somewhat to say England’s failures in West Germany in 1988 were down to bad luck, but in their first two defeats to the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands they’d at least had a proper go with several chances somehow not going in. That story would have a happy ending, Bobby Robson recovering from being lampooned to bowing out a hero two years later.

But for Taylor and Euro ’92, there would be no such recovery and the tournament represented the start of things going horribly wrong. England’s cause was not helped by injuries to key personnel but they were criticised for their negativity in Sweden – they weren’t the only culprits – and Taylor was becoming a target for sections of the media. He had lost just twice in two years when Euro ’92 ended but he was under pressure and now needed to enjoy a turnaround similar to Robson’s at Italia ’90 to win over the doubters. Sadly, he would never get the chance as England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

But it could have worked out differently. Taylor had led England to the finals as unbeaten group winners in a tight section including the Republic of Ireland, Poland and Turkey. Their only defeat under him so far was in a friendly to Germany and England certainly couldn’t be discounted in Sweden, for the eight-team European Championship. With only the group winners from each qualifying section having made it, this was a tournament promising high standards and little margin for error.

At the draw in January, Taylor hoped to avoid Germany, the Netherlands and neighbours Scotland who had qualified for the Euros for the first time. He got his wish, England being placed in the preferable-looking group with Sweden, France and Yugoslavia. His mood was lifted further by the draw allowing them to stay in Malmo and Stockholm as he had wished. “We couldn’t ask for much more than we got,” beamed Taylor.

Certainly, many seemed to share the view that England had got what they wanted and a place in the last four was the minimum target. “Graham Taylor rode his luck as England were given a European Championship draw that should give them at least a semi-final place,” proclaimed Steve Curry in the Daily Express. But being placed in the ‘easier’ group at the European Championship and avoiding the Germans was not a good omen. In both 1980 and 1988 England had received favourable draws only to crash out.

No game looked a given either. France had rebuilt after being absent from the last two major tournaments and were enjoying a lengthy unbeaten run, seeing them touted as a favourite to win it. Sweden had home advantage and had finished above England in qualifying for Italia ’90. And Yugoslavia could boast an impressive collection of players who had won admirers during the 1990 World Cup. But even as the draw was being made doubts were being cast upon Yugoslavia’s participation in the finals amid civil conflict back home. Just 10 days before the start of Euro ’92 it was confirmed qualifying group runners-up Denmark would take Yugoslavia’s place.

Any planning by Taylor for England’s first game against Yugoslavia could now go out of the window, but they were tipped to beat Denmark who were not held in quite the same esteem as their swaggering side of the mid-1980s. The Danes had not, contrary to the myth, needed rounding up off the beach to head to nearby Sweden but they would only have less than a fortnight to psychologically adjust to definitely being in the finals. But goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel sounded a warning to Taylor and his men. “England could make the mistake of underestimating Denmark,” he said.

Injuries plague England

Underestimating opponents was becoming the least of England’s concerns. Injuries were mounting, with several players ruled out of the finals. Paul Gascoigne had not played for more than a year since the 1991 FA Cup final, while at right back England seemed cursed. In quick succession Taylor lost Rob Jones, Lee Dixon and Gary Stevens, the latter’s hopes ending after England’s final warm-up match in Finland. But he wasn’t the only casualty that day, with John Barnes going down injured and immediately ruled out. “I’ve known him for a long time and I desperately wanted John to play for me in a major championship,” rued Taylor. “The seriousness of the injury to Barnes has hit everybody hard. He’d worked like hell to get himself fit.”

Graham Taylor was left to contend with a mounting injury list.

With players such as Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle having controversially been axed, England were now left short of both flair and tournament experience. The seasoned trio of Terry Butcher, Bryan Robson and Peter Shilton had all retired from international football and England were much-changed from two years earlier, but sadly not for the better. As the injuries mounted Keith Curle and Andy Sinton were drafted into the squad, but things then got worse as it came to light Mark Wright was a doubt.

A club versus country row broke out over whether the injury had been held back from Taylor, but ultimately Wright was the latest to be ruled out and England failed in their bid to call Tony Adams up as a late replacement. England’s 20-man squad was already a player light and particularly short of defensive options. Although England have often been hit by injury concerns ahead of major tournaments, it is hard to think of another occasion when they had it as bad as this.

England went into the finals having avoided losing games, but without convincingly winning them either. A 2-0 victory over France in February had been impressive and provided a big lift ahead of meeting the same opponents in Sweden, but since then England had drawn with Czechoslovakia, CIS and Brazil and narrowly edged past Hungary and Finland. The goalscoring form of captain Gary Lineker was proving a concern ahead of the finals and his impending international retirement. In three successive friendlies he had failed to get the goal he needed to equal Bobby Charlton’s England record and he seemed to lack some of his old predatory instincts. But it was hoped he would recapture his past form on the big stage.

Struggling against the Danes

The tournament began with Sweden and France drawing 1-1, which suited England who would go top if they beat Denmark 24 hours later. Taylor was adamant things were going to go well. “Let me do the worrying. That’s what I’m paid for. Just sit back and enjoy it,” he declared prior to the Denmark game. But there were things to worry about, not least the lack of a recognised right back. Curle, a central defender, would play there against the Danes in Malmo for only his third cap. At the other end Lineker would partner Alan Smith, rekindling memories of their Leicester City days.

Keith Curle performed as a makeshift right back for England against Denmark.

Once again, England struggled in their opening game when fancied by many to get a victory. They almost came totally unstuck, as John Jensen hit the post for the Danes during the second half. “That was our moment of good fortune,” reflected Taylor after a night in which Curle had struggled playing out of position (he would never be capped again) as England laboured to a 0-0 draw. Asked afterwards to sum up his feelings, Taylor told the BBC he was “satisfied” – drawing criticism from pundit Jimmy Hill who believed the performance had been a demonstration of players earning a lot of money to demonstrate they were not masters of their craft. Taylor would later hit back at Hill, one of several instances of the England camp and media being at odds out in Sweden.

“All is not lost by any means,” wrote Curry. “But Taylor has to be asked again just what he is playing at with his team selections and tactical switches.” England stayed in Malmo for their next match against France three days later, with violence in the city once more blighting an England European Championship campaign. On the field Taylor again made changes, midfielder David Batty came in for Curle, while Alan Shearer became the latest forward to be paired with Lineker. Sinton, who had so nearly missed out on the finals, replaced Paul Merson. Carlton Palmer was to play as sweeper.

Sterile and goalless

“The most sterile defensive international I’ve ever covered,” was commentator Barry Davies’ description of the France match in his autobiography and the cagey contest certainly lacked in attacking enterprise. Eight years earlier Michel Platini had inspired France to European Championship glory in style as captain. Now, as manager, he seemed to have fallen into the same trap as others in fearing losing during the last major tournament to apply the two points for a win system. It was also the last act before the backpass rule was introduced, with a fear of losing stinking the place out during the first few days of the tournament. England didn’t escape criticism but emerged with marginally more credit following yet another 0-0 draw, in which Stuart Pearce’s free-kick rattled the woodwork.

Stuart Pearce managed to keep his cool after an incident with Basile Boli.

But that wasn’t what Pearce’s afternoon was mainly remembered for. Blood poured from his face after he appeared to be headbutted by Basile Boli, in an incident which went unpunished. Asked afterwards, Pearce told the media it had been an innocent incident but years later he explained why he said this when he knew full well what had happened. “Common sense told me that if I’d said it was deliberate, then the first thing they would have done is dig out all the footage of me over the years and I’d be crucified,” he said, adding he received a thank you fax from Boli for his sportsmanship.

But that gesture was little consolation for England as they stared potential elimination in the face. For the fourth major tournament running they had no wins on the board after two games. “In my mind there are two games gone and three still to go,” Taylor optimistically told the media, as he remained defiant England could go all the way. To do that they would definitely have to score against the Swedes, who led the group after beating Denmark 1-0. David Lacey wrote in The Guardian that a third goalless draw would see England “flying home amid a barrage of criticism approaching the intensity of that which greeted Bobby Robson and his side after all three matches had been lost in the 1988 tournament”.

Swedes eliminate Turnips

The foreign invasion of English football had yet to properly take hold by the summer of 1992, but a growing number of overseas players were plying their trade on these shores ahead of the Premier League launching a few weeks later. In their opening game of the tournament England had been unable to score past Manchester United’s goalkeeper Schmeichel, while Eric Cantona of Leeds United was in attack for France in the second match. Now Arsenal’s Anders Limpar was gearing up to face England and seemed to want to play mind games beforehand, as he launched a stinging attack on goalkeeper Chris Woods who had been the regular number one since Shilton’s retirement in 1990. “It’s incredible Woods gets in the side,” declared Limpar. “He let in seven goals playing for Sheffield Wednesday at Arsenal. Woods is weak on crosses and for me he is the weak link in the team.”

But Woods was not the only player whose performances were of concern to England. Lineker had seldom looked like ending his drought during the previous two games as rumours grew that all was not well in his relationship with the manager. “He contributed in exactly the way I thought he would,” said Taylor rather cryptically after the France game. The goalscoring record was ebbing away along with England’s chances in the tournament. The match against Sweden could be his last chance. In yet another shift of system and personnel, Lineker now had no other natural forward alongside him for the Sweden match. Shearer and Trevor Steven made way for Tony Daley and Neil Webb.

England had to attack and they made a marvellous start through their main goal outlet besides Lineker – attacking midfielder David Platt, who scored after four minutes. Now they had to negotiate the next 86 minutes and they would be through to the semi-finals. As Denmark were surprisingly beating France, England held top spot in the group. They successfully got through to the break with the lead intact.

But half-time would offer a worrying warning sign to Taylor. In an interview 20 years later, he recalled asking the players at the break if any of them had anything to say. “They looked shattered,” he said. “The only player who said anything was Nigel Clough, who was a substitute. It really hit me at the time that we do take tired players.” Taylor’s case was not helped by the First Division having reverted to 22 teams the previous season, meaning players faced four extra games on top of multiple cup demands. Apart from the Premier League having reduced in size to 20 clubs, many of the same concerns apply 25 years later.

England go behind against Sweden.

Where England had excelled in the first half, they wilted after the break. The Swedes have made a habit of scoring headers against the Three Lions over the years and Jan Eriksson duly netted that way after 51 minutes from a corner. A 1-1 draw would be enough for Sweden to advance, but it would eliminate England and Taylor could see the game slipping away. Ten minutes later he made a decision that would pass into infamy. Captain Lineker was substituted, making way for Smith. England had needed to change things and Lineker was not looking his old self, but it would be a decision that led to Taylor coming under fire. If England didn’t get a goal without Lineker, then the player would never get another chance to equal the goalscoring record.

To make things worse for Taylor, England seldom threatened and on 82 minutes they fell behind. A delightful link-up between Tomas Brolin and Martin Dahlin ended with the former gracefully placing the ball beyond Woods’ reach. “Brilliant. Brilliant goal,” exclaimed commentator Davies. It was a move that perhaps underlined how far this England side lagged behind, being beaten by an effort of quality.

As Denmark were 2-1 up against France, an English equaliser would lead to lots being drawn to decide who went through with Sweden. But it was never likely to come and the side meekly exited the competition. In 45 minutes England had gone from top to bottom of the group. Of the 11 players England had on the field at full time, only Pearce, Platt and Des Walker had featured in the World Cup semi-final two years earlier. Injuries, international retirements and players being dubiously axed had left England looking a weak side. To compound England’s misery, they returned home outshone by Scotland who beat the CIS 3-0 and had played with honour in losing to the Dutch and Germans. As England crashed out, a previously tepid tournament seemed to spring into life with the goals now flying in and Denmark defying all expectations to win the tournament.

Taylor deservedly received many tributes when he sadly died earlier this year, but the morning after the Sweden defeat saw him and England heavily criticised. Curry wrote: “England learned last night that when it comes to illuminating the world of football they carry not so much a burning torch as a flickering candle.” Lacey afforded Taylor some sympathy over the injury situation, but added: “Despite the unavailability of Paul Gascoigne, the loss of John Barnes and a complete absence of suitable right backs, the England manager was always going to face severe criticism if his team failed to reach the semi-finals. But his decision to take Lineker off half-an-hour from the end with the score at 1-1 will surely stoke up the critical furnaces further still.”

Even those at the heart of the England camp could see the problems Taylor was creating for himself by hauling off Lineker, regardless of whether he thought it was the right decision. Assistant Lawrie McMenemy later wrote in his autobiography: “It was quite simply the wrong decision. I could not believe what Graham had done, how a manager of his experience would not see the danger to himself, if nothing else, from the decision.”

But ultimately, it was a witty play on words that created the most lasting damage for Taylor. The manager saw the funny side of the ‘Swedes 2, Turnips 1’ headline in The Sun, but what followed went beyond a joke and did nothing to help his reputation in the eyes of the average man in the street. He was now being portrayed as ‘Turniphead’, the coverage increasingly vitriolic.  Euro ’92 had not been a success for him and mistakes were made, but the personal attacks were unwarranted and they would unfortunately get worse in the months that followed.

All told it had really just been a typical England European Championship campaign, as they have so often ended early and in bitter disappointment. Euro ’92 felt worse because of what had been achieved two years before in Italy and given the group England were placed in, but ultimately various factors made it one to forget for all involved. There was plenty of nostalgia in England for the 25th anniversary of Italia ’90 two years ago. We suspect we won’t be seeing much this June to mark a quarter of a century since Euro ’92.  Try Denmark instead.

  • For a more detailed look back at how Gary Lineker missed out on becoming England’s record goalscorer during the tournament, see here
  • To read the tribute we wrote to Graham Taylor when he sadly died earlier this year, see here

England’s road to the 1966 World Cup final

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Fifty years ago England were playing in the World Cup group stage, beginning their run towards glory. Everyone knows what happened in the World Cup final against West Germany, but – bar the odd moment – far less attention is given to their five matches en route to it. We look back at them today…

“We will win the World Cup in 1966,” famously declared England manager Alf Ramsey. Not everyone believed him, despite England seldom losing after he took over in 1963. But a good run of friendly results prior to the finals and rigorous training meant England were arguably better prepared than ever for a major tournament, while also having the advantage of being hosts. After a long wait, England could now look forward to group stage matches at Wembley against Uruguay, Mexico and France.

Alf Ramsey was adamant England could win the World Cup in 1966.

Uruguay were the first opponents England would face and they were the side in the group with the strongest pedigree, having won the World Cup in 1930 and 1950 and knocked England out in 1954. But they were not seen as a potential tournament winner now, with it looking like they would compete with France for a place in the quarter-finals. Assuming England did their job properly and won the group that is…

By today’s standards, newspaper coverage on the morning of the game seems low-key for the start of the World Cup. The Daily Mirror did though include a four-page supplement, with sports writer Frank McGhee echoing Ramsey as he declared England would win the World Cup in 1966 – interestingly predicting they would beat West Germany in the final. But not all the experts were so confident Ramsey’s men would emerge triumphant. In The Times, ‘Football Association Correspondent’ (Geoffrey Green) wrote: “England will never hold a better chance. Yet England, I suspect, will go no farther than the semi-finals. If achieved, that at least would be their best performance ever in the cup.” Green fancied Italy to win the tournament.

A frustrating start

England’s line-up against Uruguay on July 11 has a familiar look, but a couple of significant absentees from the side that would win the World Cup 19 days later. It read: Gordon Banks, George Cohen, Ray Wilson, Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton, Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves, Roger Hunt and John Connelly. The presence of Connelly meant England had a natural winger in the side – the ‘Wingless Wonders’ reputation was still to come. It’s perhaps interesting to note the two players who would go on to score for England in the final were watching on – Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, both having only won their first cap in recent months. Prior to the match, The Queen declared the tournament open during an opening ceremony that would be deemed basic today. The stadium was not full, with the stayaways hardly left regretting their decision given the dull spectacle the sides served up.

England began the World Cup with a frustrating 0-0 draw with Uruguay.

It proved a frustrating night, England failing to make the breakthrough as Uruguay defended deeply but effectively to draw 0-0. ‘Parked the bus’ would probably be the modern-day description. It was the first time for more than 20 years that England had failed to score at Wembley, meaning it was job done for the Uruguayans who celebrated at the end. In The Daily Telegraph Donald Saunders wrote: “No doubt if I had to watch Uruguay in action every week I should soon be looking for a more interesting job. That does not alter my view that they adopted the correct policy last night and employed it with admirable efficiency.”

Greaves, whose scoreless evening summed up a tournament that would prove personally disappointing, wrote in his autobiography: “England began well but Uruguay’s negative tactics soon choked the life out of the game. Uruguay became a clinging cobweb of shifting pale blue shirts, hell bent on suffocation rather than inspiration. For the supporters it was not riveting stuff. It was more like watching riveting.”

Beating the Mexicans

There was frustration at England failing to win or score in their opening game at the time, so one can imagine the over the top reaction we’d get in the modern world with #RamseyOut trending on Twitter and hours of inquests conducted in the media. A visit for the squad to Pinewood Studios would provide a welcome diversion as attention now turned to England’s second match against Mexico five days later. The Mexicans were considered the weakest side in the group and five years earlier had been thrashed 8-0 by England. But in their opening match they had drawn with France and there was a danger England would again struggle to break their opponents down in this Saturday night Wembley clash. 

Ramsey selected Terry Paine in place of Connelly as the side again operated with a winger, while Peters came in for Ball. Bobby Charlton scored a stunning goal to break the deadlock, with Hunt wrapping up a 2-0 victory. Charlton’s goal had kickstarted England’s campaign. They hadn’t excelled, but they had achieved the win they needed.

Bobby Charlton sets England on their way with his long-range goal against Mexico.

It was only the fourth time England had won a World Cup finals match, despite having played at each tournament since 1950. In The Times Green wrote about England: “If their technique and imagination is limited, their morale and fitness are certainly at a peak.” Green would state that after one week “no one team towers head and shoulders above the field” in the competition, a situation perhaps similar to what we saw 50 years later at Euro 2016. If ever England were to go on and win a major tournament, then the 1966 World Cup on home soil appeared the ideal chance. 

The result left England on course to qualify for the next round, although they could still be eliminated if beaten by France. Uruguay had beaten France 2-1 at White City and then drew with Mexico, meaning a draw or win against the French would see England top the group and stay at Wembley.

Hunt’s birthday treat

With Paine having sustained concussion against Mexico, Ian Callaghan came into the side against France as yet another change was made on the wing. Hunt celebrated his birthday by scoring from close range after Jack Charlton hit the woodwork shortly before half-time, wrapping it up 14 minutes from the end following an assist by Liverpool team-mate Callaghan (who was rewarded by not being capped again until 1977). Ramsey’s first match as England manager in 1963 had ended in a 5-2 defeat by France, so this was welcome revenge and a sign of the progress made in the past three years. The French were departing as the bottom side in the group.

Roger Hunt opens the scoring for England against France.

But England’s 2-0 win was overshadowed by an incident in the build-up to the second goaL Jacques Simon was on the receiving end of a harsh tackle from Stiles, which led to the Frenchman having to leave the field. The foul went unpunished at the time, but Stiles would be cautioned retrospectively and warned about his future conduct. Despite pressure from sections of the Football Association, Ramsey stood by Stiles. “Alf told them he’d resign if he couldn’t pick who he wanted,” Stiles said in 2002. “He was prepared to resign in the middle of a World Cup over me. I’d never found out that ’til he’d died, Alf. What a man.” Simon was not the only player to sustain an injury during the match, as Greaves found blood pouring from his sock and he would need stitches on his shin. He would miss the next match and, as it turned out, the rest of the tournament.

Hurst’s instant impact

England were into the last eight and two of the pre-tournament favourites were not, with Italy and holders Brazil on their way home. England’s quarter-final would be against Argentina at Wembley, with the South Americans having finished behind West Germany in Group Two. Hurst came in for Greaves, while Ball – who had feared he would play no further part in the tournament – returned in place of Callaghan. England were without a recognised winger and they would not be using one again in the finals. Unlike their South American neighbours Brazil and Uruguay, Argentina had yet to lift the World Cup. They would believe they had a chance of finally winning it provided they could eliminate the hosts.

Chaos as Antonio Rattin is ordered off during England’s win over Argentina.

As with when the sides met in the knockout stages of the World Cup in 1986 and 1998, there would be plenty of controversy and lasting memories from a contest that really ignited a rivalry between England and Argentina. It was certainly not a contest for the faint-hearted. Speaking in 2006, Jimmy Armfield – who watched the match as a non-playing squad member, said: “They’re like the little boy in the story book, Argentina. When they’re good, they are very, very good. When they’re bad, they’re horrible.” Cohen would later admit: “If they hadn’t resorted to all the physical stuff they might well have beaten us.” There was a feeling Argentina took an unnecessary over-physical approach when they potentially had the ability to compete football-wise with the hosts.

Argentina’s hard tackling tactics won them few admirers in England, with the match forever remembered for the controversial sending off of their captain and key player Antonio Rattin during the first half – and his refusal to go as chaos ensued for a few minutes. The situation was not helped by language barriers between him and West German referee Rudolph Kreitlein – Rattin claiming he had been repeatedly requesting an interpreter. “The sending-off should never have happened and it wouldn’t have done if I could speak a word of German,” he said. “All I wanted to do was talk to the referee, but the next thing I knew he was pointing off the pitch.”

In the closing stages Hurst justified his selection with a deft header from an excellent Peters cross – straight from the West Ham United training ground – to give England victory, although Argentina would claim the goal was offside as they cursed decisions made by the officials. England had triumphed on a brutal afternoon in the Wembley sunshine – one in which they were not innocent in proceedings, committing more fouls than their much-criticised opponents. But Ramsey was clearly unhappy with the conduct of the South Americans, infamously preventing George Cohen from swapping shirts with an opponent while already midway through the act.

Alf Ramsey prevents shirts being swapped after England beat Argentina.

If that was controversial, then Ramsey’s next public act would produce outrage in Argentina. In a TV interview he said: “We have still to produce our best and this best is not possible until we meet the right type of opposition. That is a team that comes out to play football and not act as animals.” Ramsey had not directly referred to Argentina as “animals” but he may as well have done for the angry response he got in South America and how the quote is remembered half a century later. There would be unsavoury incidents behind the scenes too; the England players reporting years later that a chair was thrown into their dressing room, smashing a glass door as tempers boiled over afterwards.

The match was making global headlines. Two days later The Daily Mirror‘s front page headline was ‘Too-tough Argentina facing World Cup ban’, having been fined 1,000 Swiss francs and warned they could face suspension from the 1970 World Cup after the ‘Battle of Wembley’ (a tag that has not stuck). Argentina were now left with three players hit with suspensions following events at Wembley, including Rattin for four matches. On the sports pages Peter Wilson laid into the Argentine approach. “It was not as though the Battle of Wembley was an isolated incident,” he wrote. “Argentina had been the only country before Saturday to have a player – Albrecht – sent off. They were warned then to watch their play in the World Cup – and their officials declined to pass on the warning. This is sporting anarchy, soccer in chaos, welfare for nationalistic aggrandisement run riot. This is shameful.”

At the same time as England beat Argentina, the other three quarter-finals were taking place. The Soviet Union and West Germany both won through, but of direct concern to England was the match at Goodison Park. North Korea sensationally led Portugal 3-0, before Eusebio inspired the Portuguese to a 5-3 victory. For the first time since 1954 a European side would win the competition.

Charlton’s double

According to the fixtures issued before the tournament, England’s semi-final originally should have been played at Goodison Park but it would now be held at Wembley instead (a move some critics feel gave them an unfair advantage). English football prepared for a major night. “The feeling was that if we could stop Eusebio then England would win,” said broadcaster Barry Davies in 2006. The Mozambique-born forward had been a major star at the finals, having scored seven times in four games. It was the first time Portugal had qualified for the World Cup and they were making up for lost time by reaching the last four and looking to win the competition. 

England kept the line-up that beat Argentina and a much friendlier contest took place. Bobby Charlton – who along with brother Jack had been cautioned against Argentina – gave the hosts a half-time lead, before excellent work by Hurst allowed the Manchester United star to score his second on 80 minutes. But two minutes later the England defence was breached for the first time in the competition, Jack Charlton handling in the box in a bid to stop the Portuguese scoring. It proved a futile gesture, Eusebio stepping up to beat Banks from the spot. The English nation endured a nervous closing few minutes, before the final whistle sounded. England were in the World Cup final.

England and Portugal prepare to meet in the semi-final.

Eusebio left the pitch in tears, Portugal enduring the first of several near-misses before finally ending their 50 years of hut at Euro 2016. The Portuguese could take some consolation in the praise coming their way from the English press. Albert Barham wrote in The Guardian: “No finer semi-final match than that in which Portugal were defeated 2-1 could have been anticipated. No finer sporting team have had to bow out to England, at their best, in this competition. How the audience of 90,000 were held in the spell of this fine Portuguese attacking side, and of the great performance England put up against them to win. This was attacking football at its best, magnificent in every department; a triumph too, in these troublesome times, for true sportsmanship.” Two nights later Portugal beat the USSR 2-1 at Wembley in the third-place match, Eusebio scoring a penalty to take his tournament tally to nine goals.

Now all that stood in England’s way were West Germany at Wembley…

Six of the Best – England under Ron Greenwood

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This week sadly marks the 10th anniversary of the death of former England manager Ron Greenwood. Today we recall six of the best games of his reign, choosing one match per year from 1977 to 1982.

November 16, 1977 Italy (h) 2-0, World Cup qualifier

  

Trevor Brooking in action for England against Italy in 1977.

Ron Greenwood was still in caretaker charge of England when they faced Italy in their last World Cup qualifying match in November 1977. Whatever England did, the night was always likely to be tinged with disappointment as Italy still had the luxury of a home game against whipping boys Luxembourg to come to claim the qualification spot. To make things genuinely tough for the Italians, England would need to beat them by several goals to potentially go through on goal difference. 

Most had accepted it wouldn’t happen and simply wanted to see the team restore pride with a good performance and win. They duly did so, Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking scoring as England triumphed 2-0 and the crowd went home satisfied with what they had seen. The FA evidently felt the same way as Greenwood was handed the job on a permanent basis the following month ahead of Brian Clough.

May 24, 1978 Hungary (h) 4-1, Friendly

Greenwood made a positive start in the England job and the Home International Championship was won before they concluded the 1977-78 season with a friendly against Hungary, who had qualified for the World Cup. England’s display gave cause for optimism as they beat the Hungarians 4-1 with Peter Barnes, Phil Neal (penalty), Trevor Francis and Tony Currie all finding the net. “England are back” chanted the buoyant Wembley crowd. It may only have been a friendly but there was a new-found belief about England and it boded well for the qualifying programme for the 1980 European Championship.

In The Times, Norman Fox wrote: “England offered their apologies for not qualifying for the World Cup when, at Wembley last night, they gave their best display since being taken over by Ron Greenwood. Against the Hungarians, who 25 years before had been the first foreign team to beat them at this stadium, they showed that in a few months they had learned a lot.”

June 6, 1979 Bulgaria (a) 3-0, European Championship qualifier

In a grim 1970s England had paid for away defeats to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Italy as they crashed out in three successive qualifying groups. Now they headed to Sofia standing every chance of making the 1980 European Championship, knowing that getting a good result in a potentially tough away match against Bulgaria would boost their prospects. They duly did that, winning 3-0 in energy-sapping heat to get the nation believing they were at last going to see England in a major tournament again. Kevin Keegan put England in front, before two goals in a minute from Dave Watson and Peter Barnes sealed the win. 

Greenwood purred: “We are trying to produce what I think is essential in world football – complete technique in every department with the physical effort to go with it.” There was no looking back and qualification was all but wrapped up in October with a 5-1 away win against Northern Ireland. With a qualifying record of seven wins and a draw from eight matches, it proved to be a very successful campaign for England and Greenwood.

May 13, 1980 Argentina (h) 3-1, Friendly

  

Diego Maradona was on the losing side against England in 1980.

In May 1980 England were preparing for the European Championship finals and they welcomed world champions Argentina to Wembley, which was full to its 92,000 night-time capacity. The match afforded the English public a first chance to see 19-year-old Diego Maradona in action and, although only a friendly, it would also act as a useful yardstick as to how good England now actually were. Sporting a new-look kit, England delivered and went 2-0 up thanks to goals from the impressive David Johnson either side of half-time. Daniel Passarella pulled a goal back from the penalty spot before Kevin Keegan sealed a 3-1 win for England, leaving fans genuinely optimistic for the summer in Italy. Hailing Johnson, Daily Express reporter Peter Edwards wrote: “A 92,000 crowd that had come to pay homage to £3m-rated Diego Maradona left saluting the exuberant Liverpool striker.”

Typically the euphoria proved short-lived, England being beaten 4-1 by Wales just four days later and then failing to progress beyond the group stage at the Euros. Now their attention turned to trying to qualify for the 1982 World Cup.

June 6, 1981 Hungary (a) 3-1, World Cup qualifier

England’s qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup was fraught and a poor 2-1 defeat in Switzerland in May saw Greenwood, 59, make up his mind to retire. He would delay his announcement until after the following weekend’s tough-looking trip to Hungary, where few were expecting an England win after a dreadful run of form. The recalled Trevor Brooking gave them the lead in Budapest, only for Hungary to level before the break through Imre Garaba after a mistake by Ray Clemence. But in the second half Brooking restored England’s advantage with a beautiful shot that saw the ball memorably became lodged in the stanchion of the goal, describing it as the “finest goal I scored in my entire career” in his autobiography. Kevin Keegan wrapped up a fine 3-1 win from the penalty spot and qualifying for Spain was now a realistic possibility again.

  

Trevor Brooking scores for England against Hungary.

On the flight home, Greenwood informed the players he was quitting but they talked him out of it and he focused again on leading England to the World Cup. Another bad defeat in Norway left alarm bells ringing, but other results went in their favour and a joyful 1-0 win over Hungary in the return game at Wembley saw them through to their first World Cup finals since 1970.

June 16, 1982 France (n) 3-1, World Cup qualifier

Greenwood was to leave the England job after the 1982 World Cup – this time not being persuaded to continue – and he looked to go out with the nation basking in success. England’s first match of the tournament brought them up against a decent France side featuring Michel Platini in Bilbao. Those English fans in the stadium or who had rushed home from work or school to watch it on TV were rewarded as Bryan Robson famously opened the scoring after just 27 seconds. Gerard Soler pulled France level but Robson headed England back into the lead during the second half. Paul Mariner wrapped up the 3-1 victory and England could savour beating their main threat in the group. 

It had been a long wait to see England play at a World Cup and the team had responded with a performance that they would struggle to match in the remainder of the tournament. Greenwood, who gave credit to assistant Don Howe for the set-piece which they scored their opener from, said: “Everyone in the England camp is delighted with the result and I think everyone agrees that we deserved it.”

  

Bryan Robson opens the scoring after 27 seconds against France.

Although England did not concede in any of their other four games at the tournament, their goals dried up and successive 0-0 draws against West Germany and Spain in the second group phase saw them make a rather low-key exit. They came in for criticism for their negative approach in the second phase and it marked a slightly anti-climatic ending to the manager’s reign. Greenwood’s England had been beaten just once across eight matches at two major tournaments, but at neither did they make the final four. 

Greenwood called time on his football career, other than offering his opinions as a radio summariser. He died on February 9, 2006, aged 84. Although he may not have received the widespread tributes when he died that were afforded to his successor, Sir Bobby Robson, there were plenty who spoke affectionately of Greenwood and his footballing contributions. As we have seen, his England reign included some memorable victories and he returned the nation to major tournaments after a dreadful era under his predecessors.
 

 

 

 

England’s Euro 2004 – Rooney’s emergence

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In the run-up to Euro 2016 this summer, we will look back at how England have fared when they previously qualified for the European Championship. Today we turn the clock back 12 years to Euro 2004 in Portugal, a tournament that saw teenager Wayne Rooney come to international prominence with some blistering performances. For England the tournament represented a golden opportunity to at last win a major competition, but the penalty-shoot-out curse would strike once more…

  

Wayne Rooney’s performances would be the standout memory of England’s Euro 2004.

England headed to Portugal having won their qualifying group with an unbeaten record, clinching their finals place with a tense 0-0 draw away to Turkey in the final game. There was a belief England could challenge for Euro 2004 glory, with a settled squad of players who mostly had age on their side. Gary Neville and Steven Gerrard, who had both missed the 2002 World Cup through injury, were fit this time around and a new star had burst onto the scene. Eighteen-year-old Everton forward Wayne Rooney was proving a genuinely exciting talent and by the time of the Euros he had already been playing for his country for 16 months. Now he had the chance to become well-known across Europe. Other players to have broken into the set-up in the past two years included Chelsea’s Frank Lampard and John Terry.

Veterans such as David Seaman and Teddy Sheringham had left the international scene since the 2002 World Cup, but the most significant absentee from England’s Euro 2004 squad was Rio Ferdinand. The Manchester United defender had been banned from playing football since missing a drugs test the previous September, with the controversy having overshadowed the build-up to the decisive qualifier in Turkey. Terry and Ledley King would contest the right to partner Sol Campbell in the centre of defence in Ferdinand’s absence.

   

England would be without the banned Rio Ferdinand for Euro 2004.

Since Sven-Göran Eriksson had taken over as England boss in January 2001 – initially attracting opposition from some quarters as he wasn’t English – there had become a feelgood factor surrounding the national team, with joyful wins against Germany and Argentina recorded along the way. Thousands of England fans were heading to Portugal for the finals, making most games feel like home fixtures. 

Euro 2004 appeared to represent as good a chance as any for the new-found ‘Golden Generation’ to end the long wait. To help their cause, no side at the finals looked unbeatable. France were favourites and holders but they had lost their armour of invincibility with group stage elimination at the 2002 World Cup; Germany were in transition and had looked unusually vulnerable in recent years; Italy were unpredictable, having lost to Wales during qualifying; and Spain were still considered underachievers with their glory years yet to come. England could be placed in the same bracket as nations including the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and hosts Portugal – they were in with a decent shout provided all went to plan.

After qualifying in October, England’s results had been patchy as they prepared for the finals. A 6-1 thrashing of Iceland was their only win, having drawn with Portugal and Japan and lost to Denmark and Sweden. The Euro 2004 draw placed England in Group B with holders France, Croatia and Switzerland. Although starting with a game against the French was probably not what England would have wished for, they stood a good chance of progressing to the quarter-finals and potentially further.

Zidane strikes twice at the death

On the second night of the tournament, England took on France in Lisbon. As England so often do in their opening games at major competitions, they struck first as Lampard headed in Beckham’s free-kick. All was going to plan and in the second half they were handed the perfect chance to wrap up the win after a powerful run by Rooney ended with him being fouled in the area. But Beckham’s spot-kick was saved by his former Manchester United team-mate Fabien Barthez.

  

Frank Lampard puts England ahead against France.

Despite this blow, England still seemed on course for a memorable victory against a side containing Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry. ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley jumped the gun, pointing out how France’s Tottenham Hotspur-bound boss Jacques Santini could be taunted with “1-0” chants in the coming season. It was the kiss of death. In the final minute, Emile Heskey conceded a free-kick just outside the box. Zidane underlined his ability by curling the ball into the bottom corner of the net with David James stranded.

  

Zinedine Zidane scores France’s winner from the penalty spot.

England seemed shaken by the goal and deep in stoppage time Gerrard played a fatal backpass towards James. Henry got in first and James brought him down in the area. Zidane scored from the spot and England had somehow contrived to lose 2-1 in a game they had looked destined to win.

 “Afterwards my head was pounding with ‘what ifs’. We were devastated. I still am. In the post-match press conference I said we hadn’t been shown any footage of Zidane taking free-kicks or penalties. I don’t think the FA thanked me for saying that, but it was the truth. It wasn’t a premeditated comment, I just responded honestly to the question. In some ways it took the focus off the result – if the media hadn’t had that to go on they would have found something else to pick at.” David James speaking in 2012 as he reflected on the aftermath of the France match.

Rooney comes of age

With Croatia and Switzerland having drawn their opening game, England still stood a strong chance of progressing – but they needed to get a result against the Swiss in their second match in the heat of Coimbra. England began nervously and it was against the run of play they took the lead on 23 minutes. Michael Owen crossed for Rooney to head home from close range – in the process becoming the youngest ever scorer in the European Championship, although he would only hold the record for four days.

In the second half Switzerland were reduced to 10 men when Bernt Haas was red-carded. Rooney would seal the win, although his effort could have been classed as an own goal as it struck the post before going in off Swiss goalkeeper Joerg Stiel. A third goal from Gerrard added gloss to England’s victory. Although 3-0 flattered them, England had claimed a win when they most needed it. Croatia and France drew that night to leave England needing only a draw in their final game against the Croatians to advance, while still having a chance of topping the group.

  

Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring against Croatia.

If there was excitement over Rooney after the Switzerland game, then it turned into hysteria after the match against Croatia. Backed by a tremendous support in Lisbon, England enjoyed an enthralling 4-2 win with Rooney scoring two well-taken goals. Although they fell behind early on, England recovered to achieve their win with Paul Scholes ending his three-year international scoring drought and Lampard wrapping up the success.

It had been a good night that emphasised England’s attacking strengths, the only downside being they missed out on top spot after France beat Switzerland 3-1. But for the first time England had progressed from a European Championship group on foreign soil, with all the talk being about their 18-year-old star who seemed totally unfazed by the challenges of a major tournament. “I don’t remember anyone making such an impact on a tournament since Pele in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden,” purred Eriksson about Rooney. Now came the next challenge: a quarter-final clash with hosts Portugal three nights later in the same stadium.

Penalty pain 

Portugal had come close to bowing out at the first hurdle, needing to beat rivals Spain in their final group game to stay in the competition. Both England and Portugal had reason to believe this could be their year, with Portugese star Luis Figo knowing this might represent his best chance to win silverware at international level. Four years earlier he had scored as Portugal came from behind to beat England 3-2 at Euro 2000. This match would again see Eriksson come up against Luiz Felipe Scolari, who had been in charge of Brazil when they knocked England out at the same stage of the World Cup two years earlier. Sharing the stage with Rooney was another much-hyped teenager – Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

With the game just three minutes old, Owen instinctively flicked the ball past goalkeeper Ricardo to put England ahead as he scored for the fourth major tournament in a row. But before the half-hour mark Rooney went off injured and some of England’s momentum seemed to go with him. They appeared increasingly defensive as the game progressed, unconvincingly holding on to their one goal lead. With seven minutes left they were finally undone. Helder Postiga, brought on for Figo, headed past James – this coming after he had scored just one league goal during the previous season with Tottenham Hotspur.

For the second time in the tournament, England had been punished when seeking to protect a 1-0 lead late on. But they went back on the attack and they thought they had snatched victory in the final minute, as Swiss referee Urs Meier took centre stage. Owen struck the crossbar from Beckham’s free-kick and Campbell forced the ball home. But Meier ruled that Terry had impeded Ricardo and the effort was ruled out. It was cruel on Campbell, who had also had a ‘winner’ disallowed against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup.

  

Frank Lampard equalises for England against Portugal.

England now had to raise themselves for extra-time, having already brought on three substitutes. After a goalless first period of extra-time, England fell behind with 10 minutes left. Rui Costa fired an unstoppable shot off that went in off the underside of the bar. But again conceding seemed to galvanise England, Lampard scoring his third of the tournament to pull them level five minutes from time. Once again, penalties would be needed to settle an England tournament match.

  

That familiar painful feeling as England once more bow out on penalties.

By England’s poor standards this was one of their better shoot-outs, twice putting Portugal in a position where they had to score to stay in the contest. But that was of little consolation as for the fourth time they exited a major tournament on spot-kicks, losing 6-5 in the shoot-out. Beckham continued his dismal recent penalty record by firing England’s first effort over, amid suggestions the penalty spot had moved (‘Sod It’ screamed the back page headline in the Daily Mirror). During sudden death, Vassell saw his effort saved by Ricardo – who then in turn scored past opposite number James to end England’s dream. Portugal reached the final but they came undone against Greece, as the outsiders surprisingly lifted the trophy.

The aftermath

One man who probably wished England had prevailed was referee Meier, given the abuse he was about to receive. His decision to disallow Campbell’s goal would have been largely forgotten and forgiven had England progressed, but their exit led to the inevitable hunt for a scapegoat. The tabloid press swiftly chose one, as Meier found himself facing a barrage of criticism – particularly from The Sun which overstepped the mark by encouraging readers to send him emails (Meier claimed he found thousands in his inbox the morning after the match). He had to go into hiding with police protection after saying he received death threats

Although it was open to debate whether Meier had got his decision right (UEFA insisted he had), he certainly did not deserve to have to put up with such threats and The Sun continued its campaign against him by placing a giant English flag near his home. Eriksson wrote in his autobiography of Meier’s treatment: “When I heard what had happened, I called him on behalf of the England team. There was no excuse for that kind of behaviour.” In a tournament where their fans had largely conducted themselves well, it was a section of the tabloid press which had dimmed England’s reputation.

 

Urs Meier felt the full force of the English tabloids after the nation’s exit from Euro 2004.

Not everyone believed Meier was the sole culprit for England’s exit. Although there had been the odd murmuring before – mainly after the loss to Brazil at the 2002 World Cup – Euro 2004 really represented the first time question marks were seriously appearing about Eriksson and his tactics, particularly given the excessive wages he was reputedly earning in the role. England had increasingly retreated against Portugal and been punished for it and many experts were unimpressed with what they had seen. In The Guardian, Kevin McCarra wrote: “He [Eriksson] got it badly wrong in the Euro 2004 quarter-final and in future his wisdom will not be taken on trust by the public at large. Eriksson is experiencing a small taste now of what it was like to be his predecessor, Kevin Keegan.”

Despite the individual talent available, finding the correct midfield combination was proving difficult and the tournament really marked the start of the Gerrard/Lampard conundrum that would remain unresolved for years. Successfully resolving the left-sided problem in midfield also continually appeared a challenge to Eriksson. Captain Beckham’s performances came in for criticism and not just because of the missed penalties.

  
Doubts were starting to be cast about Sven-Göran Eriksson.

Had England advanced they would have had to play out the rest of the tournament without Rooney, whose foot injury would rule him out until September. By that point he had moved on to Manchester United in a big money move, his stock having risen during the Euros. But one of his new club team-mates would no longer be playing alongside him for England, as Paul Scholes announced his international retirement at the age of 29.

And to cap everything that summer there was ‘Fariagate’, a scandal which did the FA no favours. Eriksson remained in charge after being cleared of any wrongdoing but there was now increasing pressure on him to succeed with England at the 2006 World Cup. Euro 2004 had represented a golden opportunity for England to finally win a major tournament again and it had been squandered. 

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
Paris
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
London
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
Bratislava
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
London
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
London
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
London
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 Worst – Failures to Make the Euros…

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The qualifying stages for Euro 2016 began last week and the expansion to 24 teams has led to a feeling in some quarters that there is little danger of European football’s big names failing to make it (although Portugal’s defeat by Albania may suggest otherwise). But the Euro qualifying stages have not always been like this. In one of our blogs looking back at more general international football matters, we recall six sides who were noticeably absent from the finals since they grew to eight sides in 1980.

(To clarify, this is not intended as a list of which six teams I think were the best who failed to qualify in terms of what players they had at the time etc – it is based mainly on reputations from recent tournaments. I’ve limited it to a maximum of one entry per nation and per tournament).

Italy 1984
World champions in the summer of 1982, the Italians were out of the running to reach the 1984 European Championship within months. Golden memories of beating Brazil and West Germany in Spain were rapidly replaced by being held to a draw by Cyprus and losing 3-0 at home to Sweden. Italy headed a notable list of absentees from the finals including England, the Netherlands, USSR and Poland (third at the 1982 World Cup). The Italians were entering a period of transition and won just one match out of eight, finishing well behind Romania, Sweden and Czechoslovakia. World Cup winning manager Enzo Bearzot stayed at the helm and the Italians would qualify for the 1986 World Cup. The Italians would miss out again on Euro ’92, finishing behind USSR in their qualifying group.

France 1988
In 1984, Michel Platini inspired France to the European Championship crown on home soil. Four years later they weren’t even at the finals to defend the trophy and they had barely even turned up in qualifying. Unlike the World Cup at this time there was no automatic qualification for the Euro winners at the next tournament and France paid for it. Having been World Cup semi-finalists either side of their Euro ’84 triumph, France were regarded as a genuine force and entertaining with it. But the good days were coming to a close, with the great Michel Platini about to end his career and this side not matching what had gone before. Within three games it was as good as over, having drawn with Iceland and East Germany and lost to USSR. In the end they trundled home in third spot with just one win to their name, seven points behind USSR. To prove this failure was no fluke, France would miss out on the 1990 World Cup finals as they lost out to Yugoslavia and Scotland in their qualifying group.

Spain 1992
If qualifying for the European Championship today is perceived as getting too easy, it’s worth remembering less than 25 years ago it was harder than making the World Cup finals. As recently as Euro ’92, there were just seven places up for grabs with the host nation automatically taking up the other slot. One of the most significant absentees was Spain. Despite their reputation until recent domination as under-achievers, they were consistent in getting to major tournaments and this was the sole exception since the mid-1970s. They had the misfortune to be in the same group as an invincible France and a decent Czechoslovakia, finishing well behind both of them and losing to Iceland along the way. They did beat Albania 9-0, but the academic away game would never even take place. It had been a campaign to forget for the Spaniards.

Republic of Ireland 1996
The expansion to 16 teams from Euro ’96 meant fewer big names were missing out on a place in the finals. Perhaps the most obvious side to not get there were Sweden, semi-finalists at both Euro ’92 and USA ’94. But looking at things from an English perspective the failure of Jack Charlton’s the Republic of Ireland stood out, making for an anti-climatic end to his otherwise excellent reign. In his decade in charge they had become established on the international scene by reaching two World Cups and one European Championship and narrowly missing out on another with an unbeaten qualifying record. But this would be his first true failure with Ireland and reinforce the belief he should have left at the natural end of the cycle – after the 1994 World Cup. They had the double inflicted on them by Austria, were crushed 3-0 in Portugal, embarrassingly drew away to Liechtenstein and finished level on points with neighbours Northern Ireland (not considered in the same class as them at this time). They scraped second place and as the side with the worst runners-up record entered a play-off with the Netherlands at neutral Anfield. They were outplayed at times by an excellent Dutch side, who deservedly won 2-0 and Charlton inevitably departed shortly afterwards. He would not be leading his adopted country to a major tournament in his homeland 30 years on from the World Cup triumph.

Big Jack’s reign ends in disappointing fashion

Croatia 2000
Incredibly at every World Cup from 1982 to 2002 the third place team came from Europe and then would not qualify for the European finals two years later. Poland (1984), France (1988 – see above), Italy (1992), Sweden (1996), Croatia (2000) and Turkey (2004) were all quickly brought down to earth and each could have warranted a place in our top six. But Croatia had looked good in their first major tournament in Euro ’96 and then shone at the 1998 World Cup, beating Germany 3-0 in the quarter-finals. Now they moved onto the Euro 2000 qualifying campaign, with fate conspiring them to be drawn in the same group as Yugoslavia and Macedonia just a few years after the break-up of the old Yugoslavia. They were in trouble after losing their opening game to the Republic of Ireland and had to win their final match at home to Yugoslavia to make it. They drew 2-2 and finished in third place to miss out (despite having a better record than England did in coming second in their group and going on to qualify).

England 2008
Surely the most high-profile failure to not qualify since the finals were expanded to 16 teams in 1996. England had been very lucky to make it to Euro 2000 but they would not be so fortunate eight years later. With the so called ‘golden generation’ at their disposal, there had been a sense of disappointment at three successive quarter-finals in major tournaments. But those achievements suddenly started to look all the more impressive as England quickly found themselves in trouble. A 0-0 home draw with Macedonia and a 2-0 away defeat to Croatia early on set alarm bells ringing, but results improved and when they led Russia away from home in October 2007 during the second half they were almost there. They proceeded to lose 2-1 and looked all but out, but were then thrown the ultimate lifeline as the Russians lost in Israel. England now needed merely a draw at home to Croatia to qualify automatically in second place. But it was to be an infamous night in the rain at Wembley, as Steve McClaren earned the ‘Wally with Brolly’ tag and England sank to a 3-2 defeat – the younger generation’s equivalent of Poland in 1973 but without the same feeling of bad luck, just cursing where it had all gone wrong.

A night to forget for England