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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 World Cup 2006 – winks, WAGs and woe

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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…

The hype

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.

The support

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.

The WAGs

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.

The wink

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…

England Qualifying Campaigns: Euro 2000 – Staggering Home

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With the qualification draw for 2018 World Cup having paired together England and Scotland, we look back at the last time they met in qualifying for a major tournament by recalling England’s road to Euro 2000. It was a campaign in which England were far from convincing, but they managed to stagger their way into the finals…

In September 1998, England began their quest to qualify for the Euro 2000 finals in Belgium and the Netherlands with the memories of the 1998 World Cup still fresh in the memory. Despite the heartbreak of the Argentina game, there were reasons to be optimistic about Glenn Hoddle’s side with a strong blend of youth and experience and the manager’s belief in an attractive style of play. Unfortunately for Hoddle, his other – far more controversial – beliefs would soon spell the end for his time at the helm.

The Euro 2000 qualifying draw in January 1998 had paired England with Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Poland and Sweden. Minnows Luxembourg were always going to be whipping boys, so it was effectively a four-way fight for the top two spots – the winner going through automatically, the runner-up into the play-offs. 

It wasn’t easy looking but Hoddle’s side would be favourites. Sweden had failed to qualify for the last two major tournaments; Bulgaria had been present at the last three of them and reached the semi-finals at the 1994 World Cup, but their poor performances in the 1998 finals suggested the good times may be over; and although memories of that fateful night at Wembley in 1973 persisted, Poland had not qualified for anything since the 1986 World Cup. Excluding Euro ’96 – when they qualified automatically as hosts – England had now been paired with the Poles every qualifying campaign since Italia ’90. It seemed almost inevitable they would be drawn together. “We certainly know our way to Poland,” said Hoddle as he reflected on England being in a group which The Guardian felt was the “short straw” due to the number of tough opponents. 

Ominous Start

When Alan Shearer scored from a free-kick a minute into England’s opening qualifier in Stockholm in September 1998, it was hard to imagine the sheer struggle that lay ahead over the next 15 months. But by half-time it was pretty clear of how things would pan out as Sweden came from behind to lead 2-1.  They held out for the remainder of the match as England started with an ominous defeat. Hoddle’s side were without the suspended David Beckham, who had become only the fifth England player ever to be sent-off against Argentina in the World Cup. The match against the Swedes saw Paul Ince become the sixth, with it being far from the last show of indiscipline from the side during the campaign.

  
Jamie Redknapp in action during England’s tedious 0-0 draw with Bulgaria.

This qualifying campaign marked the start of the regular international double headers we are now used to and in October England played two matches in five days. They did little to boost Hoddle’s reputation, coming after the controversial publication of his My 1998 World Cup Story book had left some players unhappy at dressing room secrets being revealed. At Wembley against Bulgaria – who had lost 3-0 to Poland the previous month – England were far from impressive. They were held to a sterile 0-0 draw that attracted much criticism. 

The End for Glenn

Things looked like they were about to get a whole lot more embarrassing away to Luxembourg when England’s part-time opponents were awarded a penalty five minutes in. Dany Theis squandered the chance by firing well over the bar, bizarrely prompting Channel 5 commentator Jonathan Pearce to excitedly react almost as though a major football nation had missed a crucial last minute penalty against England. Hoddle’s side eventually won 3-0 with Owen, Shearer and Gareth Southgate all scoring. But there were few cheers for the win, as there remained a sense of a World Cup hangover lingering in the air. Hoddle angrily dismissed tabloid speculation of a dressing room mutiny, but it was clear all was not well after a mediocre start to the qualifying campaign.

1998 ended with a 2-0 friendly win over the Czech Republic at Wembley, in what would turn out to be the end of the line for Hoddle. As England prepared to face world champions France the following February in another friendly, Hoddle’s contentious views expressed in an article in The Times about the disabled and reincarnation would cost him his job. It was a messy end to his reign and former Leeds United manager Howard Wilkinson took temporary charge for the France match, which saw Arsenal’s Lee Dixon make a one-off international return after more than five years and England beaten 2-0.

Kev Takes Charge

Before England played their next qualifier in late March against Poland, they had a new boss. Kevin Keegan, the man England so often turned to for on-field inspiration in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was now tasked with helping leading the team towards the Euro finals. He had won managerial plaudits for the free-flowing football his Newcastle United side had played a few years earlier, although major honours had eluded him after the Premier League title slipped through their grasp in 1996. Keegan made clear he was only taking charge for four games as a job share with his role at Fulham, adding his wish to see a “1,000% effort” in those games.

  

All smiles after Kevin Keegan’s first match in charge of England produces a 3-1 win over Poland, with Paul Scholes scoring a hat-trick.

He got the right response in his first match, Paul Scholes scoring three times against Poland in a 3-1 win at Wembley to boost their qualification hopes. All seemed well with the world and Keegan duly left Fulham and took the role on a permanent basis, but doubts were setting in again. 

After a 1-1 friendly draw in Hungary in which Wes Brown, Jamie Carragher, Michael Gray, Emile Heskey and Kevin Phillips made their England debuts, the qualifiers resumed in June and alarm bells started ringing. Scholes became the first England player to be sent-off at Wembley in a frustrating 0-0 draw with Sweden. Although England had ended their opponents’ 100% record, the result meant the best Keegan’s men could now realistically hope for was second place in the group. Four days later there followed more disappointment with an underwhelming 1-1 draw in Bulgaria, leaving them still with much to do to make the finals. ‘The honeymoon is over after the first kiss” screamed the headlines, with Keegan’s ‘Messiah’ status having proved short-lived.

  
Summing up the qualifying campaign: Paul Scholes sees red at home to Sweden.

The group had a strong echo of the qualifying process a decade earlier for Italia ’90, with Sweden in front, England at risk in second spot and the Poles the only other side capable of finishing above them. It came as no surprise that England beat Luxembourg 6-0 at Wembley in early September, with Shearer scoring a hat-trick. But it was the match four days later in Poland that really mattered. If England won they would definitely finish second; if Poland won they would be runners-up and England would be out. It was if it ended in a draw that things became complicated, as Poland would then need a result in their final match in Sweden to edge out England.

Keegan’s side seemed torn between going for the win to seal a play-off place and a draw to at least give them a chance. The goalless match summed up England’s qualifying campaign, as David Batty was red carded and the team struggled to stamp their authority on the game. Indeed, they could easily have lost and been definitely out of the running. England had failed to qualify for the next World Cup after being semi-finalists in 1990 and it looked like history would repeat itself after coming so close to winning Euro ’96. They still had a chance, but it was out of their hands.

England now had a month to wait and hope Sweden could do them a favour. Although there was little doubt the Swedes were a better team than Poland and had a near-perfect qualifying record, they were already through and could potentially take their foot off the pedal whereas the Poles needed a result and that extra desire could see them achieve it. But, as with Switzerland digging them out of a hole in the 1982 World Cup qualifying campaign and – for a few days at least – when Israel beat Russia in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, England were thrown a lifeline they hadn’t really merited. Two goals in the final half hour gave Sweden a 2-0 win and the feeling across England was one of sheer relief. The following day’s friendly against Belgium at the Stadium of Light was not the wake many had anticipated, with a renewed sense of optimism in the air. Jamie Redknapp scored a cracking goal in the 2-1 win, as cousin Frank Lampard made his international debut.

Drawing the Scots

For the first time since 1972 England would now be involved in a two-legged tie as they awaited the play-off draw. And what a draw – Scotland v England. “I think we’ve both hit the jackpot,” said Keegan. The sides had met just once in the previous decade since the demise of the Rous Cup and now they were reacquainted with a place in the Euro 2000 finals at stake. Although England would start as favourites, the Scots had a good recent qualifying record and, like England, the only major tournament they had missed in the 1990s was the 1994 World Cup. Scotland boss Craig Brown seemed content with the draw, declaring: “I think the England team were stronger in Euro ’96 [the most recent meeting] and I don’t think we need to fear them.”

  
Paul Scholes helps England to a 2-0 win at Hampden Park.

After a month of build-up, the talking could finally end on November 13 at 2pm at Hampden Park. Scholes scored twice in the first half as England won 2-0, with Keegan declaring his side “played fantastic today”. Although many would have disputed that version of events, given England rode their luck a bit during the afternoon, there was no question they looked odds on to go through.

The second leg was played four days later, marking Scotland’s final visit to the old Wembley. What should have been a comfortable passage into the finals turned into a night of tension for England and it could have been even worse. Don Hutchinson’s 39th minute goal gave Scotland the lead on the night and if either side looked like scoring again, it was the Scots as England failed to muster a shot on target. David Seaman had to deny Christian Dailly from levelling the aggregate scores late on, as Scotland went in search of extra-time. They never got it, with it not being quite clear who was comforting who as Keegan and Brown hugged at the end. 

England were through but it was Scotland who could leave the field to greater cheers from their fans after winning on the night. “Maybe it was too much for the players psychologically having a 2-0 lead,” admitted a baffled Keegan afterwards, as he again learnt about international management the hard way. But at least England had progressed, something that had looked unlikely after the match in Poland two months earlier. For the Scots, the play-off exit marked the beginning of a long absence from major tournaments – which they are looking to finally end by making it to Euro 2016.

Keegan’s men had staggered into the Euro 2000 finals with a very unconvincing record. They had managed just four victories in their 10 qualifying matches, two of them coming against minnows Luxembourg. After all the excitement of Euro ’96 and France ’98, this had been a serious wake-up call. The finals in the Low Countries would expose England’s inadequacies – and the tactical shortcomings of Keegan – as they crashed out in the group stage.

England Qualifying Campaigns: 1990 World Cup – Robson’s slow road to redemption

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Ahead of England returning to qualifying action next month for Euro 2016 after a poor record at the World Cup finals in Brazil, we recall when they came home from the horror show of Euro ’88 and began the process of attempting to make it to Italia ’90. Bobby Robson was a man under pressure and faced a tough job rebuilding pride and his reputation. It was a rocky path at times, but he would get them there although he would have to wait for the finals for the tide to properly turn in his favour…

England’s route to Italia ’90 really began in December 1987 when the qualifying draw was made. At that point Robson’s side were still celebrating qualifying with an unbeaten record for the European Championships and being one of the favourites to win it. They had no reason to fear other sides in the World Cup qualifying draw and were one of the seeded teams. The draw, not unlike the eventual qualifying process as a whole for England, would prove to be a case of ‘could have been better, could have been worse’.

They crucially avoided the Dutch from pot two, landing Poland who had reached the past four World Cups but were entering a period of decline. They could have drawn an easier side from pot three than Sweden, but they had not qualified for a major tournament for a decade. And Albania were a candidate for the weakest team in pot four, being something of an unknown quantity to the English. The Three Lions were favourites to progress, but being drawn in one of the groups with just four teams meant they would have to finish top to be sure of a World Cup spot. In an era before play-offs became the norm for second place sides, if they had the poorest of the runners-up records from the three groups with four teams in then they would miss out.

But thoughts of the World Cup were put on hold as England focused on their Euro ’88 preparations. Gradually, things began to go wrong with Terry Butcher ruled out with a broken leg and the goals drying up as the finals approached. When they began, Robson’s men would infamously lose all three games and the manager found his future under scrutiny. The use of the term ‘Plonker’ by Del Boy to Rodney in Only Fools and Horses may have been good natured, but it certainly wasn’t when tabloid newspapers screamed out the term about Robson after a bad result. Crucially though, the FA stood by him after Robson appeared set for the axe as the side flopped in West Germany.

Those who demanded my resignation – and I am thinking in particular about specific newspapers – will be disappointed to hear me reinforce my decision not to quit. It might have crossed my mind, fleetingly, when I wondered if my family could cope with almost intolerable strain, that I should step down. But I am not a quitter and will not back down,”  Bobby Robson in his first programme notes after the European Championship.

Robson wields the axe
As the dust settled on Euro ’88, Robson knew he had to act and make tough decisions to regain the winning formula by dispensing with members of his core squad of players. Kenny Sansom, Glenn Hoddle, Mark Hateley and Dave Watson played for Robson for the last time in the finals, while Viv Anderson and Peter Reid were never recalled after winning their final caps shortly before the tournament. Tony Adams played the first three games after Euro ’88 but was never picked again by Robson and fellow central defender Mark Wright was discarded until April 1990 before coming back to prominence at Italia ’90.

In their place would emerge an abundance of new players, gradually phased in with 17 new caps awarded between September 1988 and December 1989. The key men to enter the squad were Paul Gascoigne, Paul Parker, David Platt and Des Walker, who would all start the 1990 World Cup semi-final, while players such as Steve Bull and David Rocastle would also establish themselves in the squad. For several others like Brian Marwood, Mike Phelan and Mel Sterland it would be a very short international road, but they could at least console themselves with the knowledge they had been capped at full level by England. Robson gave several players from the under-21s their chance at full level and also utilised the England ‘B’ squad as a means of assessing the talent available.

A different era
1988 was a very different era to today’s football world, with Luton Town and Wimbledon having just won the two main domestic cups. Chelsea and Manchester City would be spending 1988-89 in the Second Division (when that term still meant the second tier). International football tournaments and qualifying campaigns operated on a two points for a win basis and this was still the era of the old Czechoslovakia, USSR and Yugoslavia taking to the field. The Berlin Wall had yet to fall and the 1990 World Cup would be the final tournament East Germany and West Germany both competed in. Hopes of the ban on English clubs competing in Europe had been ended by further hooliganism in recent months, including at the European Championship. It was genuinely feared the national team could be next to pay the price for the ‘English disease’ and be given a ban from major tournaments if there was further serious disorder.

But domestically there were also moves into the modern footballing world. The summer saw some big money transfers, including Gascoigne’s £2.2 million switch from Newcastle United to Tottenham Hotspur. ITV splashed out to secure exclusive coverage of the Football League. Their deal would have particular emphasis on the ‘Big Five’ (Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs) and the First Division title race. The BBC countered, striking a deal for exclusive terrestrial rights of the FA Cup and England matches. England fans would be hearing a lot from Jimmy Hill in the coming years.

Out with the old, in with (some of) the new
England’s road to recovery would appropriately begin with a clash with fellow Euro ’88 flops Denmark in a friendly at Wembley in September, an unofficial decider for the wooden spoon winner of the tournament. Old campaigners like Peter Shilton, Bryan Robson and Terry Butcher were joined by three debutants. Gascoigne and Walker came off the bench, on a night when Rocastle also made his first appearance. Luton Town’s powerful striker Mick Harford won his second and final cap in attack as Robson tried to find an alternative big man to Hateley up front, while Stuart Pearce was now first choice left-back after previously being Sansom’s understudy. Neil Webb scored the winner in a low-key atmosphere, just 25,837 showing up.

Five weeks later came a more important test as Sweden visited Wembley in the opening World Cup qualifier. It proved to be a night of frustration as England were unable to break down their opponents, for whom defender Glenn Hysen ran the show. Gary Lineker (who was hospitalised with hepatitis shortly after the Euro finals) seemed to lack the sharpness and precision that had previously made him so deadly. The goalless draw was not a good start for Robson, who now faced a long five-month wait before the next qualifier.

Getting results but not much praise
Things would get worse before 1988 was out, a 1-1 draw in Saudi Arabia attracting the infamous ‘In the name of Allah, Go!’ headline. Robson wouldn’t be leaving and would justifiably point out how the Saudis had managed draws with several other established football nations, but that would not wash with many critics.  The match saw Robson experiment and recognise Arsenal’s strong start to the season with first caps for Michael Thomas, Alan Smith and Brian Marwood along with David Seaman (QPR) and Mel Sterland (Sheffield Wednesday). It was clear Robson was feeling the strain and was increasingly on the defensive with most members of the media, telling BBC commentator Barry Davies he was “impertinent” the following day over his line of questioning in his post-match interview.

The press vultures seemed to be growing in number as England began 1989 with an away friendly in Greece, but mercifully Robson’s side came from behind to win 2-1 and keep their unbeaten run going. Come March, the World Cup campaign resumed with a trip into the unknown as England travelled to Albania. It wasn’t a stirring performance and England could have fallen behind, but the watching audience back home on a Wednesday afternoon could at least enjoy a 2-0 win thanks to goals from John Barnes and Bryan Robson (who shrugged off a stomach bug to play and inspire his country to victory). Lineker’s ongoing poor form prompted concern, Jimmy Hill in the London studio calling for him to be dropped for the next match.

Football pays its respects
That match would be the return at Wembley against Albania late the following month. Initially the fixture had been overshadowed by a row over the scheduling over the crunch Liverpool against Arsenal clash for TV purposes, being due to be played just three days beforehand on the Sunday afternoon much to Bobby Robson’s annoyance. But this dispute was totally put into perspective by the horrific events at Hillsborough on April 15th, which sent football into mourning. The Liverpool against Arsenal match was understandably postponed. John Barnes withdrew from the squad, but Liverpool team-mate Peter Beardsley would play.

Wembley fell silent before kick-off 11 days on from the tragedy as English football paid its respects, with the team then turning in a committed display to win 5-0 and boost their goal difference and qualification hopes. Lineker kept his place and scored his first England goal for 10 months and the night was capped by Gascoigne coming off the bench to round off the scoring with his first international goal. Not that Robson was totally satisfied with the young talent, deciding to bring him down a peg as he told Sportsnight interviewer Tony Gubba that Gascoigne had “played in every position of the pitch except the position I told him to play in”.

A chance to experiment in attack
Before the summer break, England still had four matches to play. The Hillsborough disaster meant there was a prolonged end to the league season and limited England’s squad for the Rous Cup, with Liverpool and Arsenal players all absent. The three-cornered tournament was on its last legs, with Chile as the ‘other’ side struggling to capture the public imagination in England and Scotland. Not helped by a tube strike, a record low Wembley crowd for England of 15,628 witnessed a 0-0 draw that saw Wimbledon’s John Fashanu and Nottingham Forest’s Nigel Clough win their debuts in a new-look attack. The selection of the bustling Fashanu was not universally approved and his international career would last for just two matches.

Four days later (the night after Robson had been at Anfield to witness Arsenal dramatically clinch the league title) what turned out to be the last annual Scotland against England fixture brought a 2-0 win for Robson’s men at Hampden Park, with arguably the manager’s biggest selection gamble of his England reign paying off. The powerful Steve Bull was still technically a Third Division player with Wolves, for whom he had been scoring goals for fun for the past couple of years. That potency and confidence in front of goal was on show here as he came off the bench to seal a 2-0 win, ensuring he would stay in the fray.

On June 3rd, England took a big step towards the World Cup finals by beating Poland 3-0 at Wembley. For all the talk in the build-up of the Poles’ infamous last visit in 1973 when they qualified at England’s expense, this was a comfortable win for Robson’s men as Lineker found the net before Barnes and Webb wrapped things up. After four games England led the table by two points from Sweden, who had played a game less, with Poland being cut adrift. There was still work to be done to qualify, but Robson and his players could for once walk off Wembley to genuine cheers. The season ended with a 1-1 draw away to Denmark, Lineker again scoring on a night when Peter Shilton became England’s most capped player. Although it had not been a season when England met world class opposition, the statistics would show it was their first unbeaten campaign since 1974-75.

Sweating blood for the England cause
England’s World Cup qualifying programme resumed in early September 1989. For many years the Three Lions had been hit by ‘Septemberitis’, often suffering bad results in their first international of the season. It was not an ideal time to be facing a crucial qualifier away to Sweden. A draw would edge England towards the finals, although they would not be certain of wrapping up their place there. Reports of trouble involving English followers did not lift the mood as the side prepared for a vital clash. It was a night mainly remembered for injuries: captain Bryan Robson sat it out and watched from the BBC studio with Des Lynam, Jimmy Hill and Terry Venables; Neil Webb was carried off just weeks after joining Manchester United; and most famously of all, Terry Butcher refused to let the fact he split his head open and was covered in blood put him off, as he played on as his white England shirt became increasingly red. It was another 0-0 draw, with England not sparkling but not letting themselves down either. Lineker (now back playing in England with Spurs) again spurned chances and Waddle fired wide after appearing to have done the hard work with a jinking run towards goal.

“I felt we were the better side and it was a disappointment, in the circumstances, that we did not do better,” – Bobby Robson after the 0-0 draw in Sweden.

The draw meant England still had to get something in Poland a month later to be sure of going through. A win would ensure they topped the group, a draw would take them through as one of the best second place sides. It was a big game, with an international break the weekend before the match seeing Saint & Greavsie come live from the England team hotel. Poland’s hopes of making the finals were slim. They would have to win all three remaining games and overturn a fairly substantial goal difference to finish ahead of England.

By the width of the crossbar…
It was a far from vintage display from Robson’s men and they were pretty fortunate to get the draw they needed to make it through to Italy. Shilton gave a vintage display to keep the Poles out and lay the ghost of 16 years earlier to rest, but England rarely threatened and seemed ultra-cautious at times in the hostile Katowice atmosphere. Two years earlier in Yugoslavia they had gone at their hosts early in similar circumstances to wrap up qualification when a draw would have done it; this time around they seemed to let the need for a point dominate their thoughts. Perhaps the failings of Euro ’88 still preyed on their mind. In the dying seconds Shilton was finally beaten from 30 yards out by Ryszard Tarasiewicz, the relief being palpable as the ball struck the bar and bounced away to safety. Moments later the final whistle sounded and England were there, relief rather than joy being the main emotion. But they had qualified without conceding a goal and had not lost a qualifying match for a major tournament since September 1983.

In the weeks that followed, it became clear just how close England came to not making the finals. Had they conceded that last-gasp goal to Poland, they would have been reliant on any of three results going in their favour and none did. They saw Sweden leapfrog them to top spot in their group by winning in Poland, while Denmark’s defeat to Romania and West Germany’s win over Wales would have seen England finish as the poorest of the second-place teams by virtue of having scored less goals than Denmark. As it was, they finished a point ahead of them and the Danes – so stylish at the 1986 finals – had missed out.

England could start planning for Italy and did so with a friendly against the Italians at Wembley in November. The game once more ended 0-0 but was perhaps most significant for another new face, David Platt, making his international debut en route to being a key man for England the following summer. New caps were also handed out to Dave Beasant, Nigel Winterburn and Mike Phelan. Gascoigne had still yet to fully establish himself, playing in the B international against the Italians at Brighton instead.

Before the year was out England would ominously be placed in a World Cup group with European Championship opponents Netherlands and Republic of Ireland, along with Egypt. Preparations were gathering place the finals and a rare December friendly at home to Yugoslavia brought the curtain down on the 1980s, with Tony Dorigo becoming the 17th new cap since the summer of 1988. In a decade when the Robsons symbolised the England set-up, it was perhaps appropriate it would be captain Bryan who scored twice (including a first minute effort) to give England a 2-1 victory.

England would go into the new decade off the back of a 14 match unbeaten run, having qualified for the World Cup finals and started to lay the Euro ’88 mishaps to rest. A momentous and memorable year was in store, but that’s another story…