This summer marks the 15th anniversary of the 2002 World Cup, a tournament that brought the all-too-familiar feeling of quarter-final disappointment for England. But there had at least been the joy of a memorable group stage win over Argentina to enjoy…
The start of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s reign in 2001 had been close to perfect, England’s fortunes being transformed as the side qualified as group winners for the following year’s World Cup and won 5-1 away to Germany. Now suddenly the young team were being hyped-up as a potential threat at the finals in Japan and South Korea. However, the final qualifying match at home to Greece had provided something of a reality check as Eriksson’s side struggled and famously needed a David Beckham equaliser in the dying seconds to clinch a place in the final. It was the start of a continual pattern of hopes being raised and dimmed in the coming months.
At the start of December the draw was made and it dealt England a tough hand. They were not seeded and were placed in a group with old rivals Argentina, touted as one of the tournament favourites. To compound matters, the group also contained Eriksson’s homeland of Sweden – a side England had long struggled against – and Nigeria, who had won admirers when making the knockout stage at the last two World Cups. There was no minnow and the inevitable ‘Group of Death’ cliches followed. To make matters worse, it seemed likely whoever finished second would end up playing holders France in the second round.
Eriksson, staying diplomatic but dropping hints of disappointment, said: “We are in the most difficult group, there is no doubt about that. We will have to be very well prepared if we want our World Cup to last longer than three games. The draw is the one part of the process we have no control over, but at least we have a chance of staying in the same country for the whole of the tournament, which is good.” England would be in the Japanese half of the draw and would dream of making the final in Yokohama. But simply a prolonged stay in the tournament looked a decent return as things stood.
Injuries mount up
The months before the tournament included friendly draws with Sweden – played prior to the draw pairing them together in Japan – and the Netherlands, in which debutant Darius Vassell scored a cracker on his debut, and a 4-0 thrashing of Paraguay. But problems never seemed far away. Eriksson’s love life was making front page news, while his side would be hit by a succession of worrying injuries. Regular right back Gary Neville was ruled out of the finals with a broken foot, while midfielder Steven Gerrard – who had come to the fore in the qualifying campaign – limped out of Liverpool’s final match of the season and was to stay at home for the summer.
England’s World Cup side in 2002, a line-up affected by injuries.
England were already two key players down, while also having to cope with a dearth of talent on the left flank as Steve McManaman was overlooked. Trevor Sinclair would end up operating there for much of the tournament, but he only made the final squad after Danny Murphy – called up to replace Liverpool team-mate Gerrard – was himself ruled out. Sinclair had flown home from Japan after seemingly missing out on the finals, only to then make the return journey after being given his second chance. It was a trip worth making.
But the biggest injury hype would concern captain Beckham, the man whose goal had clinched England’s place in the finals. He broke a bone in his foot playing for Manchester United in April, as suddenly the nation became familiar with the term ‘metatarsal’. He faced a race against time to make the finals. As with Kevin Keegan in 1982 and Bryan Robson in 1986 there was now great concern about the captain’s fitness – but this time it had become a major talking point beyond football circles. Now you had Uri Geller trying to play his part to get Beckham fit and the subject was cropping up everywhere. Beckham would make it to Japan, but the attention given to his injury was threatening to send out a message that England were a one-man team who would be unable to cope without him.
David Beckham sustains his metatarsal injury and a nation becomes obsessed about it.
That was very debatable but the squad was certainly lacking in tournament experience. The year 2000 had marked the end of an era for England, with the likes of Tony Adams, Paul Ince and Alan Shearer ending their international careers and the departure of manager Kevin Keegan paving the way for Eriksson to be appointed as the side’s first foreign boss. Although some of the old guard remained from previous tournaments – such as Sol Campbell, David Seaman and Teddy Sheringham – this was essentially an inexperienced side that was building towards the future.
After heading to South-East Asia, England drew matches with South Korea and Cameroon as they continued to send out mixed messages over what they were capable of. The general consensus was this tournament may be a stepping stone to the 2006 World Cup when many of the side would be at their peak, but the class of 2002 couldn’t be totally discounted. The 5-1 win over Germany had certainly raised expectations and shown that, if England clicked, they could achieve results. They had clearly made progress since flopping at Euro 2000 under Keegan.
Struggling against the Swedes
England’s first match was against Sweden, as millions back home unusually settled down to watch a football match on a Sunday morning. There was also good support out in Japan, the reputation of England fans showing signs of improvement from the dreaded hooligan image of previous years. They were celebrating as Sol Campbell headed in a corner during the first half, but the second period saw England stagnate and increasingly allow the Swedes back into it. They conceded an equaliser through Niclas Alexandersson after an error by Danny Mills and England could have few complaints about failing to pick up three points as the game ended 1-1, with David Seaman called upon to deny the Swedes a winner.
Sol Campbell celebrates scoring for England against Sweden.
Only five of the 13 players used by England during the match had played at a World Cup before, with that level of inexperience seen as contributing to the young side fading as the game wore on. David Lacey wrote in The Guardian: “Unless England rapidly acquire some further education over the next five days they may be back home watching the World Cup on television from the second round onwards. For the moment, at this level, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s team look like fourth-formers who have wandered into a sixth-form college.” Argentina beat Nigeria on the same day and England would be deep in trouble if they lost to the South Americans five days later.
Revenge is sweet
In the build-up to the indoor showdown in Sapporo it was hard to escape the past, as the controversial World Cup meetings of 1966, 1986 and 1998 all loomed over the fixture. Certainly the latter had not been forgotten by England, not least the celebrations from the Argentine players on the bus afterwards when parked next to that of Glenn Hoddle’s side. In the intervening four years the film Mike Bassett: England Manager had depicted England beating Argentina 1-0 in the group stage to stay in the World Cup thanks to a controversial goal. Real life was about to imitate fiction…
Regardless of whether the average Englishman was most bothered about revenge over Argentina or simply staying in the World Cup, they would have been delighted following a memorable victory, This time it was England’s turn to get a decision in their favour, referee Pierluigi Collina pointing to the spot after Michael Owen went down in a move that opponent Mauricio Pochettino (yes, that one) still insists was a dive rather than a foul. Four years after being portrayed as the villain following his sending-off against the same opponents, Beckham was the hero as he put England ahead from the spot on the stroke of half-time.
David Beckham puts England in front against Argentina.
Unlike against Sweden, England continued to play with vibrancy and belief after the break and almost scored a superb goal as an impressive move ended with Sheringham going close with a volley. But there was a nagging feeling that if the second goal didn’t come England may be punished as Argentina upped the tempo, with Campbell and Ferdinand thankfully having impressive games to keep them out and Seaman on hand to make important stops. It was tense and only when Collina blew his final whistle could the celebrations begin, as England pulled off one of their most joyful victories in years.
There was certainly a triumphant tone in our newspapers the following day, Beckham’s face on the front of most of them. Rob Shepherd began his report in the Daily Express by writing: “Gotcha! Let’s not beat about the bush, it doesn’t get any sweeter than beating Argentina. That England did so with style and dignity made it all the better. The nation should quite rightly be proud of a victory which turned the England dressing room from the funeral party it had been last Sunday, into a house party.” In an amusing irony following the events of four years earlier, Sinclair would inadvertently step aboard the Argentina team coach afterwards. This time the Argentine mood was rather more sombre, as one of the favourites stood on the brink of potential group stage elimination.
After the gloom of the inquest into the Sweden game, suddenly it was back to England being hyped up as being able to beat anyone in the world and a feeling that maybe, just maybe, this young side could go all the way…
Expectations fall – then rise again
After the euphoria of beating Argentina, the next game against Nigeria proved an anti-climax and brought expectations back down to a more realistic level. The Nigerians were already out and were struggling to match their group displays in the last two World Cups, but they were determined to depart with a good result. The millions watching back home over breakfast saw a forgettable goalless contest in the heat of Osaka, in which Sheringham squandered a golden opportunity to win it. But a point was always going to be enough to advance if not win the group, with Sweden having that honour on goals scored after getting the point they needed to eliminate Argentina by drawing 1-1.
The basic target for England of getting out of the group had been achieved and pre-tournament fears of a second round showdown with France had been averted. The world champions joined Argentina in being home before the postcards, with Denmark topping the group after beating them 2-0 and lying in wait for England. The Danes were not to be underestimated, but England had a good chance to advance. The main downsides of being second were a gap of just three days between matches and favourites Brazil being the likely opponents in the quarter-finals. Had England topped the group then they would have played surprise package Senegal, followed by Japan or Turkey in the last eight.
Most England knockout wins over the years have been tense, so it was a welcome relief that the clash with the Danes would be surprisingly done and dusted by half-time as Eriksson’s side led 3-0 in Niigata. The Danes had looked strong in beating France four days earlier, but they seemed nervous here and made a costly error just five minutes in as Ferdinand’s header was fumbled into his own net by Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen. Nicky Butt capped an impressive tournament by setting up Owen to double the lead, before Emile Heskey slotted home shortly before the break. As with when England beat Poland 3-0 at the 1986 World Cup, the job was done in the first half and the remainder of the match saw them prevent any hopes of a Danish comeback.
Celebration time for England as Denmark are beaten 3-0.
Once more expectations were lifted and it seemed quite feasible that England could go all the way – particular as the second round fallers included Italy, meaning three major nations had gone home – although there were also those who felt the scoreline flattered England a little. “I don’t think we got enough credit for how well we played in that game,” reflected Eriksson in his autobiography. But the main thing was the side were through to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 1990. Lacey wrote that “the idea of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s team reaching the final or even winning it no longer seems as fantastic as Danny Mills beating Harry Potter at quidditch”. There was certainly a belief that if England could beat Brazil, then they could win it. It was a big IF though.
It may be simplifying things a little to assume the trophy would be England’s if they could overcome Brazil, but the lack of a dominant side in the finals meant they would hold every chance. Yet the task immediately in front of them was major. Brazil were the favourites, World Cup winners in 1994 and runners-up in 1998 and boasting the ‘three Rs’ in attack of Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. However, they had struggled during qualification – finishing 13 points adrift of Argentina – and not looked invincible in their four tournament matches so far despite winning them all. Their reputation compared to past great Brazil sides had not been helped by Rivaldo’s antics when he feigned injury against Turkey during the group stage.
A sad end for Seaman
The day before England met Brazil in Fukuroi City it rained and that would suit the English fine, but 24 hours later the sun was back out as Eriksson’s side faced a gruelling afternoon. But midway through the first half the nation rejoiced as Owen capitalised on defensive hesitancy to score as the forward – who had been an injury doubt for this game – evoked memories of his rise to fame at the World Cup four years earlier. Now the acid test for England was being able to see the game out, but on the stroke of half-time they were undone. Rivaldo ended a Brazilian move that had begun when Beckham appeared to pull out of a challenge in the opposition half and was followed by Paul Scholes also missing a vital chance to intercept. It was a measure of Brazil’s attacking abilities that they could sweep forward and score so quickly, as Ronaldinho ran through the England defence to feed Rivaldo. But criticisms would also be levelled at the English defending.
Conceding so late in the half was a crushing blow for England and Eriksson now faced the job of lifting the side. The current incumbent of the role was unimpressed by what he heard, substitute Gareth Southgate infamously coming out with the “we were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan-Smith” line. The game would generate the first significant criticism of Eriksson in his England reign, just a fortnight after being hailed for masterminding the win over Argentina. He would come under fire for his choice of substitutes, including keeping creative youngster Joe Cole on the bench.
David Seaman is beaten by Ronaldinho and England are on their way home.
With the second half still in its infancy, England were dealt a fatal blow. Whether it was meant a cross or shot, Ronaldinho’s free-kick ended up deceiving Seaman from way out and for the first time in the tournament England were behind. Despite the goalscorer controversially receiving a red card a few minutes later for a challenge on Mills, England never looked like getting back in the game and failed to make anything of their extra man. All hope had realistically gone before the end, as yet another major tournament finished with England losing a game they had led in. Seaman was devastated by his error and at 38 it was always realistically going to be his last major outing for his country. He wouldn’t retire from international football, but took further criticism for a goal conceded against Macedonia in October and was never capped again.
The loss to Brazil represented a disappointing conclusion to a tournament that had produced some highs for England. It was a tournament where, depending on whether you were a glass half full or empty person your lasting memory was likely to be either Beckham’s joy against Argentina or Seaman’s pain against Brazil. The big thing now was that England pushed on and won either Euro 2004 or the 2006 World Cup. England had lost to Brazil in the 1962 World Cup quarter-finals and won it four years later. They had to hope history repeated itself 40 years in.
But as we all know it didn’t. Had England fulfilled the potential that appeared to be building and soon afterwards won a major tournament then the 2002 World Cup would probably be fondly recalled as representing a big step forward. But unfortunately it followed exactly the same narrative as the next two tournaments, Eriksson being beaten by Luiz Felipe Scolari in the quarter-finals each time. Given the draw they had been handed England could feel some sense of achievement in reaching the last eight in 2002 and the Argentina game had brought widespread delight, but regret also lingered. Had England beaten Brazil then the path would have been the clearest it had arguably ever been. It would have been Turkey in the semi-final, then a Germany side they had thrashed 5-1 less than a year before in the final. Although aided by a kind draw that saw them avoid any leading football nations until the final, Germany had once more gone further than England at a major tournament.
It wasn’t just that England had lost to Brazil that represented disappointment, there was also the concerning sight of Eriksson’s side never looking like getting back into the game when up against 10 men. The tournament had seen England score six goals, but none came in the second half. It wasn’t an issue in the games against Argentina and Denmark where England impressed, but against both Sweden and Brazil there has been a sense that they were off the pace and the Nigeria game was something of a non-event.
Reflecting years later in his autobiography, Eriksson wrote: “The truth was that it was not Seaman’s fault that we were knocked out of the World Cup. Brazil were better than us. It was that simple. But we had played a very good tournament and we had a young team. We were not ready yet. It was the next World Cup that we were going to win.” And Eriksson knew full well it didn’t turn out that way. The Brazil game sent out a warning sign that England still had work to do to be on a par with the world’s best. But there had been good moments in Japan too, one of which would forever be fondly recalled.
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.
This weekend England visit Germany for a friendly in Berlin. With that in mind and as this summer marks 10 years since the 2006 World Cup on German soil, we take a 10-step look back at England’s involvement in the tournament. Expectation was higher than ever, but the end result was all too familiar…
There have been plenty of occasions when England have been built up going into a major tournament, but the 2006 World Cup in Germany was the daddy of them all. England had won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and finally regained The Ashes in cricket in 2005. Now there was expectation that the football team could end their 40 years of hurt. The ‘Golden Generation’ tag wouldn’t go away, with England billed as possessing one of the best sets of players around and a 3-2 friendly win over Argentina the previous November had heightened expectations. “We had a complete team,” wrote manager Sven-Göran Eriksson in his autobiography.
The fact it was the 40th anniversary of 1966 added to the hype, with Sir Geoff Hurst canvassed for his opinion. “I think we’ll be very disappointed if we don’t get at least to the semis,” he told the BBC before England’s opening match against Paraguay. The fact England were in a group with Sweden, Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago increased the optimism, coupled with the fact they would probably have a very winnable second round tie provided they topped their group.
England’s ‘Golden Generation’ were much-hyped going into the 2006 World Cup.
The reality of what England could achieve was more dubious. England had suffered a 4-1 friendly loss to Denmark the previous year and then been beaten by Northern Ireland in World Cup qualifying, showing they were far from invincible. Questions were being raised about how well Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard could link up together in midfield. Eriksson was no longer seen as the messiah who had steered England to momentous wins over Germany and Argentina a few years earlier, with his revelations to the ‘Fake Sheikh’ having marked the final straw for the FA. He would be departing after the finals.
There was also great media hype over Wayne Rooney’s fractured metatarsal, as the participation of England’s main attacking threat in the finals was in doubt. Although he recovered to feature in four matches, he failed to score or reach the same level of performance as at Euro 2004 and his tournament would end in controversial circumstances.
One area where the English nation could feel proud at the World Cup concerned the number of fans making the journey to Germany. More than 100,000 were reported to have travelled to support the team, many knowing they would have no chance of getting a ticket but wanting to part of the World Cup party. This would be one long beerfest for many.
England fans travelled en masse to Germany.
Back home the interest in the tournament was also very high, borne out by big screens being installed in city centres so matches could be shown. Unfortunately, some screenings were blighted by violence. Meanwhile, countless individuals sang an England World Cup song as the hype grew. Stan Boardman was one of the dozens to do so; Tony Christie was another. The honour of recording the official England song went to Embrace. The vast majority have long since been forgotten, in keeping with how England were generally uninspiring on the field.
The call-up of Walcott
There have been plenty of controversial selection choices made when England World Cup squads have been announced over the years – dropping Paul Gascoigne in 1998 perhaps the prime example – and Eriksson’s decision to pick 17-year-old Theo Walcott in 2006 is one of them. The forward had not played a match for Arsenal since moving from Southampton in January and had never been capped by England when the squad was announced. But Eriksson made the shock decision to call him up for the World Cup. “It’s a big gamble. I know it is,” admitted Eriksson, who seemed genuinely excited by Walcott’s pace.
Theo Walcott would spend the World Cup watching on from the bench.
Walcott was destined to establish himself more with England in the future but the 2006 selection baffled many, mainly because he was one of just four strikers selected – with fitness concerns surrounding Rooney and Michael Owen. Leaving proven strikers such as Jermain Defoe at home did indeed look a gamble and it didn’t pay off. Owen was carried off just moments into the third match against Sweden. Even though England were already through, Eriksson refused to bring Walcott on in his place and he would never enjoy any action at the finals, leading to increased criticism of the player’s call-up in the first place. Gerrard was among the most vocal. Despite having initially backed the decision, Gerrard laid into Walcott’s selection in his autobiography published shortly after the finals. “He had no right to be in Germany. None at all. I was gobsmacked to find him on the plane,” he ranted.
And having been left out of the squad for the 2010 World Cup and then injured for the 2014 tournament, Walcott has still yet to make an appearance at a World Cup.
Perhaps what defined England’s 2006 World Cup more than anything was the attention given to the squad’s wives and girlfriends – forever to be known as the WAGs. When England triumphed in 1966, the wives and girlfriends weren’t even allowed to sit in the same room as their partners during the celebration banquet. Now, under the liberally-minded Eriksson, the WAGs stayed near their partners during the tournament in Baden-Baden and the socialising and shopping activities of Victoria Beckham and friends attracted widespread media coverage. Critics felt the WAGs were a distraction for the players, with disciplinarian Fabio Capello making sure there was no repeat when in charge of England at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Much media attention was afforded to the England WAGs at the 2006 World Cup.
We can also safely assume there will be no similar fun and games on away trips at Valencia either under Gary Neville, having been critical of the situation that developed with the WAGs. “It was the one farcical issue of Sven’s reign,” he said in 2011. “What people overlooked was that the situation had been brewing in 2004. WAGs had been regular visitors to the team hotel in Portugal. If it was a minor irritation then, it had grown into a monster by 2006.”
The underwhelming wins
Three minutes into England’s opening match of the 2006 World Cup, Paraguay’s Carlos Gamarra turned David Beckham’s free-kick into his own net. England have a tendency to score early in their first game at a major tournament, but don’t always build on the lead. That was the case here as they toiled rather than excelled in the Frankfurt heat, struggling to a 1-0 win.
Steven Gerrard’s goal for England against Trinidad and Tobago sealed an unconvincing 2-0 win.
The performance in the second match against Trinidad and Tobago in Nuremberg was even less convincing. John Terry had to hook an effort off the line and just seven minutes remained when Peter Crouch appeared to pull Brent Sancho’s dreadlocks as he climbed above him to head home. Gerrard’s excellent strike sealed a 2-0 win and for the first time since 1982 England were through before their final group game at a major tournament. But, given the expectation levels, few were rejoicing. At least though they were still winning even when not playing well.
The goal by Cole
England’s stuttering showings continued in their third match, as defensive lapses meant they were held to a 2-2 draw by Sweden. But the night did produce England’s one real highlight of their five games at the World Cup. With the game in Cologne goalless during the first half, midfielder Joe Cole chested the ball before unleashing a stunning volley from 35 yards that flew into the net.
Joe Cole scores his superb goal against Sweden
It would be celebrated as one of England’s greatest World Cup goals. Despite winning a host of major honours while with Chelsea, some feel Cole never quite fulfilled the potential shown when he first burst onto the scene as a teenager at West Ham United. But the goal for England against Sweden was one that any player would be proud to score. The result ensured England finished top of their group and avoided the hosts in the second round.
The last knockout victory
England took on Ecuador in the last 16 in sunny Stuttgart. Again Eriksson’s side seldom sparkled against moderate opposition and it took a free kick from David Beckham to earn a 1-0 win and a place in the quarter-finals. But they had still yet to give a display that made them look like potential champions and they could have easily fallen behind before Beckham’s goal – the captain defying illness to play and take England through.
David Beckham scored the winner as England beat Ecuador.
Going into Euro 2016 this summer, England’s men have not recorded a single knockout victory since the Ecuador win. It is a poor record which sums up their limited achievements in the past decade.
England were now ready for their last eight showdown with Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Portugal – just weeks after he had looked set to named as Eriksson’s successor only to turn it down. Scolari had managed Brazil to victory over England at the 2002 World Cup and Portugal to success against them at Euro 2004. But now Eriksson had his chance for revenge, with Portugal being without midfielders Costinha and Deco who were both suspended after a card-laden second round tie against the Netherlands.
Wayne Rooney is red carded against Portugal.
A dull first half in Gelsenkirchen was followed by Beckham limping out of the action early in the second, in what would be his last match before relinquishing the captaincy. Shortly after the hour mark came the match’s key moment, Rooney being adjudged to have stamped on Ricardo Carvalho. Rooney’s Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo appeared to encourage the referee to brandish the red card, before being caught on camera winking at the Portuguese bench.
Rooney was adamant when interviewed afterwards that he shouldn’t have been dismissed, as English venom was directed towards Ronaldo. ‘Get lost Ronaldo’ screamed The Daily Mail, claiming few would mourn his probable departure from English football. BBC pundit Alan Shearer said he would not be surprised to see Rooney “stick one on him” when he next encountered Ronaldo.
In You’re Off!: The talkSPORT Book of Red Cards, Adrian Besley took a different stance, writing: “You have to wonder about the English collective football brain sometimes. Having treated David Beckham like a latter-day Lord Haw Haw for a petulant snipe, only eight years had passed before Wayne Rooney was instantly forgiven for a far more serious offence and the blame was laid firmly at the eye of Cristiano Ronaldo.”
Cristiano Ronaldo’s infamous wink.
Ronaldo did not leave Old Trafford or England that summer. He remained and enjoyed his best season since arriving in 2003, playing a major part as both he and Rooney won the Premier League for the first time in 2006-07.
The same old story
England’s 10 men battled well and took the tie to penalties, two years after losing to the same opponents that way at Euro 2004. The past record from the spot did not generate confidence but England had players in their squad such as Gerrard and Lampard who were used to taking penalties at club level. But neither converted in the shoot-out, while Jamie Carragher did but was ordered to retake it after taking it too early. He duly missed the second effort. Only Owen Hargreaves – one of the few England players to excel at this World Cup – scored from England’s four penalties. The Portuguese failed to convert their second and third penalties but – thanks to goalkeeper Ricardo – still had the luxury of wrapping it up before England’s final kick, Ronaldo inevitably having the final word.
England players yet again experience defeat on penalties.
England’s performances had not warranted trophy glory, but that did not soften the blow. The sinking realisation for many was they may not see England win the World Cup again for a very long time – possibly never in their lifetime – and that such a glorious chance to at least make the semi-finals had been spurned.
The end for Sven
England’s exit meant Eriksson departed after a third successive quarter-final loss to the same opposing manager. His reign tends to divide opinion between those who believe he failed miserably given his high salary and set of players at his disposal and those who defend him, believing a record of three successive quarter-final spots was an acceptable return on balance – particularly given England’s subsequent failings.
Eriksson leaves as England boss, while Beckham stands down as captain.
But at the time there was little sympathy coming his way and Erkisson himself conceded this last eight exit was not good enough. “Sorry,” he repeatedly said at the following morning’s press conference. The BBC’s Phil McNulty wrote: “It was a comprehensive apology for an apology of a World Cup campaign. Eriksson’s words cut little ice and did not bear close examination, because events in Germany have summed up his reign and ensured his apologies had a distinctly hollow ring. England’s hopes were hyped to the maximum, by the players as well as the media, and yet Eriksson presided over a failure that was not even heroic compared to past exits on penalties.”
But if things seemed bitterly disappointing now for England, they were soon going to get much, much worse…