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England’s qualifying campaigns: 1994 World Cup – did we not like that?

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December marked the 25th anniversary of the draw being made for the qualifying stages of the 1994 World Cup. The campaign would become infamous as England, semi-finalists at Italia ’90, failed to make it to the USA and Graham Taylor’s managerial reign ended in ignominious fashion.

The weekend of December 7-8, 1991, was certainly one for draws being made. On the Saturday lunchtime, Saint & Greavsie viewers saw a certain Donald Trump help make the Rumbelows Cup quarter-final draw. That night, Match of the Day broadcast the FA Cup third round draw – with title protagonists Leeds United and Manchester United paired together for the second time in a day. And the following day the 1994 World Cup qualifying groups were decided. Few could have envisaged just what a calamitous campaign lay ahead for England.

For the first time England were placed in a group of six sides, European football having welcomed an influx of new countries following the break-up of the Soviet Union. But England would not meet any of them, and apart from minnows San Marino – entering only their second major qualifying tournament – there was little in the way of originality. The Dutch, who seemed set to provide the sternest test, had met the English at both Euro ’88 and Italia ’90 (and it was a distinct possibility they could also face each other at Euro ’92). Poland were in England’s group for the third qualifying tournament in succession, while Turkey had been paired with the English in three other campaigns in the past decade. You had to go a bit further back for the last clashes with Norway, England infamously losing to them during qualifying for the 1982 World Cup.

If the draw lacked in novelty for England fans, then at least on paper it looked like the side had a strong chance of progressing. The Three Lions only had to finish second to qualify, having always finished at least that high in every previous qualifying group even when they failed to make it. The Dutch were an obvious threat, but no other side in the group had qualified for a major tournament since Poland reached the 1986 World Cup. But as with the Poles 20 years earlier and Denmark a decade before, England had landed a joker in the pack who were about to represent their undoing. Norway had beaten Italy in Euro ’92 qualifying and they would pose a serious threat to the established order.


The pressure was increasing on Graham Taylor after Euro ’92.

At the time the draw was made, Graham Taylor was enjoying a decent reign as England boss having lost just once since taking over in the summer of 1990 and qualified for Euro ’92. But then came the turning point of the European Championship in Sweden, a negative England crashing out in the group stages as the ‘Turnip’ taunt began against the boss. He had seemed tetchy when dealing with the media during the competition and now faced a tough challenge to win over the doubters, not helped by his controversial decision to sub Gary Lineker in defeat by the Swedes.

It was the forward’s last act for his country before retiring, as Taylor now sought both a new captain and star striker. Alan Shearer – fresh from a big-money move from Southampton to Blackburn Rovers – would be the ideal man to fill the latter role, while Stuart Pearce became captain. But injuries would deprive Taylor of both men for part of the campaign, midfielder David Platt taking the captain’s armband and often being the main goal threat. One man back in the picture was Paul Gascoigne, returning to action after more than a year out injured and now playing in Italy for Lazio.

Pegged back by Norway

By the time England next took to the field in September 1992, the new Premier League was under way. Paul Ince was handed his debut as he began his lengthy England career in a 1-0 defeat. But it was Taylor’s last chance to experiment for the qualifiers. The expansion of the qualifying programme meant competitive football would dominate the agenda in the coming months, starting with a home qualifier against Norway in October. In an era before the international calendar as we know it now, Norway had already played three qualifiers and won them all – laying down a marker by thrashing San Marino 10-0 and beating the Netherlands 2-1. They were not to be underestimated.

Paul Gascoigne returned for England against Norway in October 1992.

The build-up was overshadowed by Gascoigne’s ill-judged jokey response when asked by a TV interviewer to say hello to Norway. As the words “f*** off Norway” left his lips they were clearly going to create headlines, assistant boss Lawrie McMenemy trying to limit the damage as he reprimanded the player for his actions. For Taylor it was imperative England got off to a good start and they looked set to do just that when Shearer gave them a second half lead. But as England looked set to see the game out, they were undone by a long-range equaliser from Kjetil Rekdal. It ended 1-1, representing a point dropped by England (UEFA were still applying the two points for a win system) on a night when they had created more chances than the visitors. “Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve from life and this was one of those nights,” reflected Taylor, who remained confident of qualification.

Five weeks later, Taylor expressed his wish for England to give him an early Christmas present by delivering at home to the Turks. Although Turkey had been thrashed by England three times during the 1980s, they had looked much-improved in two narrow defeats during Euro ’92 qualifying. The old order was to be re-established here, the impressive Gascoigne scoring twice in a 4-0 win as England ended a difficult year in better spirits. The resurgence of Gazza was a pleasing sight, but Taylor issued some words of caution: “Gascoigne is not fully fit yet. He knows that himself and the difference could be as much as another two goals out of him.” Rarely did Gascoigne seem as happy or loved under Taylor as he did during the reigns of Bobby Robson or Terry Venables.

John Barnes was abused by a section of the Wembley crowd during England’s win over San Marino.

A joyless 6-0 win

In February England hosted the whipping boys of San Marino, amid the sad news about the legendary Bobby Moore being seriously ill with cancer. He was at Wembley to co-commentate for radio, just a week before he would lose his fight for life. It was not a glorious match for Moore to say farewell to the Twin Towers, England only holding a 2-0 lead until midway through the second half. The floodgates then finally opened, England eventually winning 6-0 with Platt scoring four of them. There would also be a solitary international goal for Carlton Palmer (memorably met with Taylor asking “what was he doing in the f***ing box?”) and a debut strike for Les Ferdinand.

Platt could have equalled Malcolm Macdonald’s achievement of scoring five times in one match for England, only to have his late penalty saved. But the night had already been soured by the jeering of England’s John Barnes. England had won comfortably, but there was little to feel buoyed about. Gascoigne’s display had concerned Taylor, who said: “There is something there with the player that isn’t right and it is affecting his fitness.”

Paul Gascoigne scores for England in their win in Turkey.

Next up was England’s trip to Turkey the following month, goals from Platt and Gascoigne providing a 2-0 win in a hostile atmosphere in which the players were struck by coins. Taylor’s side had seven points from eight and all looked positive going into the huge game at home to the Netherlands in late April.

A crushing blow

Barnes enjoyed a far more positive response from the Wembley crowd than a few weeks earlier and within two minutes had scored a delightful free-kick to break the deadlock. When Platt doubled the lead midway through the half all seemed good in the world, England giving one of their best displays under Taylor. But a touch of class by Dennis Bergkamp reduced the deficit and England would lose the injured Gascoigne thanks to Jan Wouters’ elbow. Taylor later fumed: “It was a premeditated assault, utterly disgraceful. And he didn’t even get a caution.” It wasn’t the last time Taylor would rue refereeing decisions during the qualifying process. But it looked like England would see the game out until five minutes from time. Des Walker had been immense for England at Italia ’90 but was now suffering a dramatic loss of form.


England were frustrated when the Dutch visited Wembley.

Walker panicked into pulling back Marc Overmars, the referee pointing to the spot with Peter van Vossen levelling as the game finished 2-2. The smart money would have been on a draw beforehand and England still stood a good chance of making it, but it was a crushing blow to have squandered victory. They had now been pegged back in home games against their main two rivals. “We played very well in both of those games and if we had won just one, which we deserved to, we would have been ok,” reflected Taylor 20 years later. Mathematically his statement wasn’t quite correct, but things may well have panned out differently had England seen out either of those games.

The nightmare in Oslo

The first serious doubts that England would make it came at the end of the season. During fixture negotiations England had been handed away trips to Poland and Norway within five days, in an era when double headers were rare. If England could take three points or more they would look favourites to make it to the USA, but a defeat in either clash would be worrying. The first match was a Saturday night trip to Poland, England showing their limitations as they trailed at half-time and almost fell further behind. They got out of jail with a first England goal for substitute Ian Wright to salvage a 1-1 draw

Ian Wright rescues England in Poland.

If that had been disappointing, then what followed over the next fortnight would go a long way to sealing Taylor’s fate. England went into the away game against Norway having not lost a World Cup qualifier since their previous visit in 1981, but they produced a performance that sadly merited that run coming to an end. A decision to switch to three centre backs failed to help matters and England missed the combative presence of the suspended Ince, as the side slumped to a costly and deserved 2-0 defeat. For the first time England were in real trouble, while Norway moved closer to qualifying. They would duly top the group.

England or the Netherlands would miss out, with most predicting the former. Taylor was taking a hell of a beating from the press, ‘Norse Manure’ being one standout headline. In The Independent Joe Lovejoy wrote: “For England to qualify they will probably need maximum points from their last three games, which means beating the Dutch away – a task which looks light years beyond them. They were second-best throughout against the group leaders, who might easily have had more than the two goals they scored either side of half-time, through Oyvind Leonhardsen and Lars Bohinen.”

From bad, to worse…

Feeling low from the Norway defeat, England now headed off to the USA to compete in the US Cup against Brazil, Germany and the hosts. If the main aim of the trip was to help England prepare for the World Cup in America a year later then it was already looking a futile exercise. But they did get one piece of positive news while out there, with the Netherlands being held to a draw by Norway in a World Cup qualifier to keep England in with a shout. Any pleasure from that result quickly evaporated on the same evening as Taylor’s side sank to a 2-0 defeat to the USA. It provided more ammunition for Taylor’s critics, ‘Yanks 2, Planks 0’ the latest headline to scream out how badly things were going. Goalkeeper Chris Woods would be a fall-guy, never being capped again.

To their credit, England picked themselves up and produced much-improved displays in drawing 1-1 with Brazil and narrowly losing 2-1 to Germany. But the damage had already been done and the Norway and USA defeats were what the summer would be remembered for. A run of six games without a win meant Taylor urgently needed a response from his side as they prepared for the final three qualifiers. The first was at home to Poland in September, as England at least beat another of the top four sides. The win was wrapped up inside an hour as Ferdinand, Pearce and Gascoigne scored in a 3-0 success. The one downside was Gascoigne picking up a caution to rule him out of the following month’s showdown in the Netherlands, while they would also be without Pearce.

A night of controversy

It wasn’t quite going to be winner takes all in Rotterdam, but to all intents and purposes it was. The sides were level on points so whoever won would need just a point from their last game (the Dutch away to Poland, England taking on San Marino in Bologna) to be sure of going through. If it was a draw then things would get complicated, England needing to beat San Marino by a sufficient score to take them through on goal difference (assuming the Dutch beat Poland). It was a scenario that would suit Taylor’s team. The build-up saw Taylor have an infamous exchange with journalist Rob Shepherd at the press conference, captured in the fly-on-the-wall documentary about the campaign that would soon make headlines (we will save assessing that show for another day).

Given how much was at stake, if you look at it as a neutral for a minute then this was actually a bloody good game of football in which both sides went in search of the result they needed and created several decent chances. The Dutch were always a threat with wingers Marc Overmars and Bryan Roy continually a danger, while at the other end Tony Dorigo and Paul Merson both hit the post and Tony Adams had an effort cleared off the line. 

But controversy and key incidents were never far away, not all to England’s detriment given Frank Rijkaard’s goal was dubiously ruled out in the first half. During the second half the same player was somehow denied by David Seaman. Yet those moments would not live in the memory. Instead it would be the lasting sight of Ronald Koeman hauling back goalbound David Platt at 0-0. The referee initially appeared to award a penalty, eventually determining it was a free-kick on the edge of the box. But more contentious was the decision not to dismiss Koeman. “Is that not a sending off offence?” asked ITV co-commentator Ron Atkinson, rhetorically. Taylor was understandably livid on the touchline.

Graham Taylor experiences a painful night in Rotterdam.

As is well-known, Koeman duly scored a retaken free-kick with Taylor’s wounds deepened by England not having the chance to themselves retake a free-kick after being charged down in similar circumstances. Bergkamp wrapped up the 2-0 Dutch victory to effectively seal England and Taylor’s fate, as the manager told the linesman that his mate had cost him his job. “That blond man should not be on the field,” he said angrily when interviewed by ITV immediately afterwards. The man’s fury and pain was clear for the nation to see, knowing he would now face even more calls to leave.

The inevitable becomes reality

It was a low point, but – although criticism was pouring in over England’s impending absence from the World Cup – there wasn’t the same level of disappointment over England’s display as there had been in Norway. But the damage had been done. England needed the Dutch to lose in Poland and for them to beat San Marino by at least seven goals (assuming Poland only won by a one-goal margin). A big England victory was feasible, and it was possible that the Netherlands could could unstuck in Poland. But most were resigned to the inevitable, the Dutch good enough to get the result they needed against a side already out of the running.

Captain Stuart Pearce leaves the field after England fail to qualify for the World Cup.

England duly scored seven in front of a sparse crowd in Bologna (four netted by Ian Wright), but all their game against San Marino would really be remembered for was for embarrassingly going 1-0 down within seconds to one of the world’s football minnows. It was the final humiliation, symbolic of a campaign of failure. And before the end the BBC sacrificed live coverage to switch to Wales against Romania, as they clung to the hope of seeing a British side reach the USA. By then England’s chances were long gone, the Dutch winning 3-1 in Poland. Only at the moment when the Poles had levelled it at 1-1 had there ever been a glimmer of hope. Steve Curry wrote in the Daily Express: “There was no act of God to provide the miracle for England – just a parable of painful failure as the dream died in the bitter cold of Bologna.”


Taylor’s departure was inevitable, but it would not be confirmed for almost a week. ‘That’s Yer Allotment’ proclaimed The Sun’s front page, again accompanied by a picture of his head as a turnip. The man had failed to take England to the finals, but the joke had gone too far. It was now getting extremely personal and generating an unnecessary level of hatred against a decent man. Taylor’s record in itself was not bad, but in three matches that had really mattered – against Sweden at Euro ’92 and then the World Cup qualifiers in Norway and the Netherlands – England had been beaten and that was sadly what many would remember his reign for. 

England would not be at the finals and for Taylor – so successful with Lincoln City, Watford and Aston Villa – it constituted his first real failure in football management. He had taken stick for his style of football before but now it was for his inability to get results. The flack he had taken – along with predecessor Bobby Robson – created the impression managing England was no longer seen as quite the dream job it once was, as the FA began looking for a successor.

On the night of the qualifying failure, Terry Venables was a pundit on the BBC’s Sportsnight. He remained non-committal when questioned by Des Lynam if he wanted the job, but within weeks he would be in the role as England looked towards Euro ’96 on home soil after a painful World Cup qualifying campaign. The failure under Taylor was a distant memory by the time of Euro ’96, but it would never be totally forgotten…

Six of the Best – England under Sven-Göran Eriksson

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This month marks 15 years since Sven-Göran Eriksson arrived in England to begin his reign as national team manager and a decade since it was announced he would leave after the 2006 World Cup. With that in mind we cast our minds back to six games when all went well for England under Eriksson.

 

Germany (a), September 1, 2001, World Cup qualifier, 5-1

Following Sven-Göran Eriksson’s arrival at the start of 2001 – after leaving Lazio earlier than anticipated – England had made a blistering start. Initial misgivings by many over England appointing their first foreign manager had largely eased as they pulled themselves back into contention to qualify for the World Cup. But the real test would be how England fared in their World Cup qualifier against Germany in Munich in September. England had every chance of beating their old nemesis, given the Germans had one of their poorest sides in years. However, Germany had triumphed 1-0 the previous October in the final match at the old Wembley and were in the driving seat in the group. They also boasted a formidable qualifying record, particularly on home soil.

  

Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard celebrate one of England’s five goals.

When Carsten Jancker put Germany ahead after just six minutes nobody could have envisaged just what was to follow. Michael Owen drew England level, before Steven Gerrard’s excellent drive put them in front just before the break. Owen scored twice more and Emile Heskey put the seal on the night by making it 5-1 to England. “This is getting better and better and better,” exclaimed BBC commentator John Motson. 

It would forever be remembered as an incredible night for English football and elevated Eriksson to hero-like status at the time. In his autobiography, he recalled: “I turned to the huge scoreboard. It read: Deutschland-England 1-5. Even I had a hard time believing that.” The following month David Beckham’s free-kick equaliser against Greece took England through to the finals as group winners.

Argentina (n), June 7, 2002, World Cup group stage, 1-0

Having beaten one old rival in Germany, Eriksson now had the chance to lead England to victory over another when they met Argentina in the group stage of the 2002 World Cup. An uninspiring 1-1 draw with Eriksson’s native Sweden in England’s opening game did not give much cause for optimism, as they now went into a match in Sapporo that they could not afford to lose. Argentina were considered one of the favourites to win the competition, but England hoped to exact revenge for their controversial defeats in 1986 and 1998.

  

David Beckham gives England the lead against Argentina.

The decisive moment came shortly before the break, Michael Owen being fouled in the area. Four years after being sent-off against the same opponents, David Beckham stepped up to put England ahead from the spot. “I have rarely heard a noise louder than the cheer after Beckham scored the penalty,” Eriksson would later recall. England nearly doubled their advantage after the break, an excellent team move ending with Teddy Sheringham’s volley being kept out. England duly held firm to achieve a momentous victory that was wildly celebrated by fans in the stadium and back home.

Denmark (n), June 15, 2002, World Cup second round, 3-0

A forgettable 0-0 draw with Nigeria was enough to see England through to the last 16, where Denmark stood in their way. The Danes had won their group after defeating World Cup holders France and it appeared a close encounter was in store in Niigata. England would certainly have to play better against the Danes than they had against fellow Scandinavians Sweden in the group stage.

 

Rio Ferdinand celebrates as England take the lead against Denmark.

But by half-time it was realistically all over as England led 3-0. Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sørensen fumbled Rio Ferdinand’s effort into his own net in the opening minutes before Michael Owen and Emile Heskey left England well in command. They comfortably saw the game out, England fans for once spared the usual finger-biting tension when watching them in major tournaments. Although England’s performance was not without its faults, a 3-0 win against a fellow European side in the last 16 of the World Cup was no mean feat.

With favourites including Argentina and France having already departed, it suddenly appeared a genuine possibility that Eriksson’s side could go all the way – provided they overcame the sizeable obstacle of Brazil in the quarter-finals. The Guardian reporter David Lacey observed that the prospect of England winning the competition “no longer seems as fantastic as Danny Mills beating Harry Potter at quidditch”. Alas they would exit the tournament with a 2-1 defeat, failing to threaten Brazil’s 10 men in the closing stages as the first noticeable doubts were cast by some about Eriksson.

Turkey (h), April 2, 2003, European Championship qualifier, 2-0

England faced a battle with World Cup semi-finalists Turkey to qualify for Euro 2004. Realistically one would win their qualifying group, the other would have to settle for the play-offs. Their head-to-head record was likely to be decisive. England had already been held to a disappointing home draw by Macedonia when they welcomed the Turks to Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. 

 

David Beckham celebrates clinching England’s victory over Turkey.

Wayne Rooney, 17, started an England match for the first time and he showed he was not overawed by the occasion as he produced a confident display that gave hope to the nation. England had to wait until 15 minutes from time to forge ahead through Darius Vassell, with David Beckham wrapping up the 2-0 win with a penalty shortly before the final whistle.

The one disappointment was the conduct of some England followers, which led to negative headlines and the FA turning down tickets for the return game the following October in a bid to avoid further trouble. That night saw England produce a disciplined display in a hostile atmosphere to claim the 0-0 draw they needed to qualify as group winners. It was another high point of the Eriksson years.

Croatia (n), June 21, 2004, European Championship group stage, 4-2

As we recently recalled, England went into Euro 2004 with a good chance of finally achieving success. They had a good crop of players establishing themselves and no side at the finals looked unbeatable. Although they had lost in the dying seconds to France in their opening game, a 3-0 win over Switzerland left them needing just a draw against Croatia to reach the quarter-finals.

 

Wayne Rooney scored twice for England against Croatia.

Backed by a tremendous support in Lisbon, England enjoyed a high-scoring win to leave the nation believing the long wait for glory could finally be about to end. Four years earlier England had gone out in similar circumstances against Romania when only needing a draw but this time around they would advance with a victory. Despite falling behind to an early goal by Niko Kovač, England led by half-time as Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney found the net. The teenage star was now coming to international prominence and another well-taken goal after the break effectively sealed England’s progress. Although Igor Tudor reduced the deficit to 3-2, Frank Lampard wrapped up an entertaining 4-2 win for Sven’s men.

The quarter-finals saw England lose on penalties to hosts Portugal, as serious question marks began to be raised against Eriksson and his tactics. A few weeks later the ‘Fariagate’ scandal threatened to cost Eriksson his job, but he remained in the role for qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.

Argentina (n), November 12, 2005, Friendly, 3-2

England friendlies under Eriksson could often be a frustrating experience, multiple substitutions making it hard to read much into the results. But this match against Argentina in neutral Geneva was a notable exception, a rare instance where a friendly was genuinely compelling and fiercely contested. England had qualified with a game to spare for the World Cup but recent results included a 4-1 friendly loss to Denmark and a shock 1-0 defeat against Northern Ireland during World Cup qualifying – the first time England had lost a qualifier under Eriksson. A good result was needed against Argentina to boost morale. 

  
Michael Owen scored twice in a dramatic climax against Argentina.

Hernan Crespo gave Argentina the lead before Wayne Rooney pulled England level. Walter Samuel restored Argentina’s lead and that looked set to be the winner. But for once in an England friendly Eriksson kept his substitutions to a minimum, while Argentina replaced four key players in the closing stages. One of the few changes Eriksson made was to bring on Peter Crouch with 10 minutes to go and his introduction seemed to galvanise England. With three minutes left Michael Owen headed England level and in the dying moments he repeated the trick to give England a much-celebrated 3-2 victory.

Suddenly there was widespread optimism again and Eriksson would lead England into the 2006 World Cup with the nation believing their 40 years of hurt could be about to end. By the time they came along it was long known that Eriksson was on his way after they finished, the final straw coming when he was caught out by the ‘Fake Sheikh’. There was much hype surrounding England going into the competition but they seldom rose above the ordinary en route to the quarter-finals. Once there, Luiz Felipe Scolari got the better of Eriksson for a third successive major tournament as England lost to Portugal on penalties.

Erikssons’s England reign tends to divide opinion. There are some who believe his record of steering England to three successive quarter-finals was impressive, particularly given their subsequent failings. However, there are others who feel he squandered a glorious opportunity to achieve success with the Golden Generation at his disposal and that he did not merit his reportedly very high wages – as he failed to even lead the side into a semi-final. Whatever one’s view, it was certainly a memorable era and as we have seen there were some captivating wins to enjoy.

Six of the Best – England in November

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November has long been a busy month for England and one that they have traditionally done well in. We recall six of the best matches from an English perspective from the month during the past 50 years…

November 16, 1966 Wales (h) 5-1 European Championship qualifier

 

England’s first home match after the 1966 World Cup glory was an anti-climatic 0-0 friendly draw with Czechoslovakia, but two weeks later they regained their goalscoring form when it mattered more. Their new aim was to become 1968 European Championship winners, with successive Home International series doubling up as the qualifying group. Against Wales, England fielded their revered World Cup winning XI for the sixth successive – and final – time. Geoff Hurst rounded off his most memorable year by scoring twice, with the Charlton brothers each on the scoresheet along with an own goal by Terry Hennessey as England won 5-1. 

It wasn’t a bad way to end England’s most glorious year, in which they had remained unbeaten. In the Daily Mirror, Tom Lyons wrote: “The World Cup poise and brilliance wasn’t quite there, but England are still a very fine side. They were in command for practically the whole game and probably would have won by an even bigger margin but for some wild finishing, especially in the first half.”

November 18, 1981 Hungary (h) 1-0 World Cup qualifier

  

Paul Mariner puts England ahead against Hungary and the nation breathes a huge sigh of relief.

England’s qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup had been turbulent and they had looked all but out after losing to Norway two months earlier. But then came the stroke of good fortune they had been praying for, as Romania twice slipped up against Switzerland – who in turn lost to Hungary to end their own qualification hopes. Suddenly, England now only needed a draw at home to Hungary to make it – a situation identical to against Croatia almost exactly 26 years later in Euro 2008 qualifying, both matches against teams who were already through. 

But where Croatia played with tenacity and broke English hearts, the Hungarians gave a leisurely performance that helped ease any anxiety at Wembley. In front of a capacity night-time crowd of 92,000 and with millions more watching the BBC’s live coverage, Paul Mariner’s early goal put England on their way. They were rarely threatened and should have increased their 1-0 lead but that mattered little. England were through to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1970 and the feeling of relief around Wembley was tangible. Rarely has an England home win in a qualifier been so widely celebrated. In the Daily Express, Alan Thompson wrote: “Wembley was last night an amphitheatre of happiness, a packed arena waving flags and sore hoarse throats. And that was half-an-hour after the players had disappeared to the dressing room.”

November 14, 1984 Turkey (a) 8-0 World Cup qualifier

   

Bryan Robson bags a hat-trick as England beat Turkey 8-0 in 1984.

Three years on from the Hungary game, England were back on the World Cup qualifying trail as they met Turkey for the first time. Although the Turks were not regarded as a good side at the time, a potentially tough fixture seemed in store in front of a partisan home crowd in Istanbul. But England had renewed confidence after winning away to Brazil in a friendly in the summer and a 5-0 victory over Finland in their opening qualifier the previous month. That buoyancy was in evidence as they won 8-0, looking capable of scoring with each attack. Captain Bryan Robson netted a hat-trick, with Tony Woodcock and John Barnes each bagging a brace and Viv Anderson rounding off the scoring.

It could have been more, leading to manager Bobby Robson saying afterwards he felt England had “let them off the hook” by ‘only’ winning 8-0. But that was just nit-picking, for it had been an excellent afternoon’s work for England. 

November 11, 1987 Yugoslavia (a) 4-1 European Championship qualifier 

  

John Barnes in action for England against Yugoslavia in 1987.

A crunch qualifier for England, as they looked to seal their place at Euro ’88. A draw away to Yugoslavia would be enough, but if they lost to a decent-looking side then in all probability they wouldn’t make it. A tight contest was forecast, with England expected to keep things tight on a filthy afternoon in Belgrade. To everyone’s amazement England led 4-0 within half an hour, as they looked extremely potent in front of goal. “I had to pinch myself when the third and fourth goals went in,” said a delighted Bobby Robson afterwards.

Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Bryan Robson and Tony Adams all found the net as even the most pessimistic of England fans began celebrating early. Although a late consolation goal would deny England from qualifying without conceding a goal, this was a day to treasure and the 4-1 victory looked a very impressive result. England had scored 12 goals in their last two qualifiers and would seemingly go into Euro ’88 as a genuine contender. Alas, it was not to be.

November 13, 1999 Scotland (a) 2-0 European Championship play-off

 

England celebrate as Paul Scholes scores against Scotland in 1999.

There was excitement both north and south of the border in the autumn of 1999 as old rivals Scotland and England were paired together in the play-offs to decide who would qualify for Euro 2000. England had struggled in qualifying to even reach this stage and they knew they would be up against a determined Scottish side, backed by a fervent home crowd in the first-leg at Hampden Park – where England had not played for 10 years. Kevin Keegan’s side rode their luck a bit at times but enjoyed a memorable 2-0 win as Paul Scholes scored twice in the first half and left the Scots facing an uphill struggle to qualify. “We played fantastic today. I couldn’t have asked for more,” raved Keegan afterwards.

The result meant England were unbeaten in 23 consecutive November matches since losing to Italy in 1976, a record which helped back up former manager Bobby Robson’s belief that this was a time of year when the team was at its best. But sadly it would be the end of the run, as the second-leg was lost 1-0 and England scraped into the finals. However, that first-leg win had been decisive in taking them through.

November 12, 2005 Argentina (n) 3-2 Friendly

  

Michael Owen gives England a memorable win over Argentina in 2005.

So far this century friendlies have – with a couple of exceptions – monopolised England’s November schedule. Although they have enjoyed wins over Germany, Spain (World Cup and Euros holders at the time) and Scotland in such matches that could all have well have made our selected six, the friendly that stands out most took place in neutral Geneva against Argentina 10 years ago. 

“No such thing as a friendly when these two meet,” may be a bit of an overused cliché when England take on any of their main rivals, but in this instance it was true for positive reasons – as unlike many friendlies it felt like a genuine international contest where the result really meant something. Three momentous World Cup clashes between the sides in the previous 20 years added to the fixture’s intensity. Argentina were predicted to be a force in the following year’s World Cup so this fixture looked a good benchmark as to how good England were, coming after poor defeats in recent months to Denmark and Northern Ireland.

Despite a goal from Wayne Rooney, England trailed 2-1 with four minutes remaining before Michael Owen popped up twice to give them a dramatic 3-2 win. Although England’s cause had been helped by Argentine substitutions in the closing stages, this was still a widely heralded win that raised expectations to a particularly high level for the following summer. As England friendlies go, this was as enthralling as it gets. Owen reflected afterwards: “There was so much more to it than a friendly. Even when they scored their fans and players were going mad. It really could have gone either way – they had chances too – and it shows there is not much to choose between the top few teams in the world.”

As we’ve seen, November has often been a good month for England over the years – there were several other games that could have easily been included here. But there have been some exceptions and later this month we will reflect on six instances where things didn’t go quite so well…

Great England goals – Chris Waddle v Turkey (1985)

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Scoring your first international goal is always likely to be memorable and joyful, but that must have been particularly true for Chris Waddle 30 years ago today. A mesmerising run against Turkey ended with him opening the scoring in a 5-0 win as England celebrated World Cup qualification in style, on a night when the nation’s new generation gave great cause for optimism.

1985 was a busy year for Chris Waddle, with the winger earning his first England cap in March in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland. In the summer he moved from Newcastle United to Tottenham Hotspur. And having become established with the England set-up, he netted his first international goal in October on a night of celebration for the nation.

Northern Ireland’s win in Romania earlier in the day effectively guaranteed England would be going to Mexico for the World Cup the following summer, given they had a vastly superior goal difference to Romania who at best could only now only finish level on points with them. Even the most pessimistic of Englishmen accepted they were there with two games to spare. Any concerns that England would now be complacent against Turkey that night were quickly allayed, as Bobby Robson’s side went on the attack from the off against a team they had beaten 8-0 in the away fixture the previous November (in an era before nations such as Andorra and San Marino competed, the Turks were among the lowest ranked nations in Europe). “They still tackled Turkey as if the trophy itself depended on it,” wrote Steve Curry in the Daily Express. Fifteen minutes in England, playing in an unusual combination of red shirts and blue shorts, got their breakthrough through Waddle.

The move started with Waddle bringing the ball forward on the left from within his own half. Although his ball to Ray Wilkins was intercepted, it fell back into Waddle’s path just beyond the halfway line. He ran and ran as he cut cross-field, dribbling with his left foot while heading towards the right flank. Waddle then started to move towards the penalty area, riding a tackle and then sidestepping out of the reach of an opponent within the area. He took the ball onto his right foot and scored from an acute angle, the ball going in at the near post despite goalkeeper Yasar Duran getting a hand to it. Waddle had got the goal his lengthy dribble deserved. Manager Robson later recalled that the strike “brought the house down” at Wembley as fans and players celebrated.

  

Chris Waddle is mobbed after scoring his first England goal.

During the Football League blackout on television and with English clubs banned from Europe, the match was one of the few TV viewers got to see in the opening months of 1985-86. Martin Tyler, commentating for ITV highlights, was certainly impressed with the strike. “It’s his opening goal for England and it’s arrived in the true Waddle style,” he said as the player was mobbed by team-mates. “On and on he went.” Although the Turkish defending was poor and Waddle was afforded more space than he should have been, it remained a spectacular goal for the sheer extent of the dribble.

Lineker steals the limelight

Waddle scored the standout goal of the night but he was to be upstaged in the headlines by Gary Lineker, who netted his first international hat-trick. A good England team was emerging that looked capable of competing for honours in Mexico the following summer, with new blood such as Lineker, Waddle and Everton’s Gary Stevens complementing the established internationals. Bryan Robson was also on the scoresheet as England led 5-0 with over half an hour left, but he would later go off injured. It was the start of a frustrating injury-plagued few months for the captain and England’s momentum was lost on the night, as the Turks escaped having ‘only’ lost by five goals. But all told this was a good night for England, at a time when there wasn’t a lot else to be proud about with the national game.

The following day, there was more cause to smile when UEFA gave England the green light – after a lengthy meeting – to compete in the Euro ’88 qualifiers amid genuine fears they would be expelled due to the hooliganism epidemic. The week had provided a chink of light for English football in a year blighted by tragedy and Waddle’s solo goal was the icing on the cake.

Like his singing partner Glenn Hoddle, Waddle (pictured above) made a habit of scoring spectacular goals in his career. His free-kick for Sheffield Wednesday in the 1993 FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United was one such example. He was more a scorer of great goals rather than a great goalscorer and unfortunately the solo effort against Turkey did not open the floodgates for him. He only managed six goals for his country in 62 caps, the last appearance coming exactly six years later against the same opponents at Wembley (also marking Bryan Robson’s international farewell). But his game was about far more than just scoring. Waddle was a creative player who won plenty of admirers, also proving one of English football’s best exports during his successful spell with French side Marseille. That goal against the Turks in 1985 had underlined the skill and talent he possessed.

Six of the Worst – England in April

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Having looked back at some of England’s best April days in the last blog post, it’s now time to be gluttons for punishment and recall six matches in the month which weren’t quite so enjoyable for a variety of reasons.

April 15, 1967, Scotland (h) 2-3 European Championship qualifier/Home International Championship

A match that will forever be fondly remembered in Scotland as the day they called themselves world champions, but one better best forgotten south of the border. England were World Cup winners and unbeaten since October 1965, but they were to infamously come unstuck with Jim Baxter inspiring his side to victory. The annual fixture had extra spice as the Home International Championships of 1966-67 and 1967-68 were doubling up as qualifying for the 1968 European Championship. It ended 3-2 to Scotland, in a contest that properly sprung to life in the closing stages with a goal rush. A first-half effort by Denis Law was all that separated the sides until Bobby Lennox struck 12 minutes from time to double Scotland’s advantage.

In a hectic last seven minutes Jack Charlton (who bravely played through the pain barrier virtually all match, with no substitutions possible) and Geoff Hurst scored for England, but in between Jim McCalliog got Scotland’s third as they celebrated one of their most famous wins over the Auld Enemy. But England would have the last laugh by advancing to the last eight of the European finals with a 1-1 draw at Hampden Park the following February.

April 29, 1972, West Germany (h) 1-3 European Championship quarter final, first leg

 

No doubt about this one going on the list, the night England could feel themselves slipping from the elite and entering their years in the international wilderness. If their defeat to West Germany at the same stage of the World Cup two years earlier could be dismissed as a bit of bad fortune, there was no sense of injustice here as they were deservedly beaten 3-1. Bobby Moore uncharacteristically lost possession in the build-up to the opening West German goal by Uli Hoeness and it was to be a sobering Saturday night for Englishmen. Although Sir Alf Ramsey’s side pulled themselves back into it thanks to a Francis Lee goal, they were punished twice more in the closing minutes by the superb Gunter Netzer (pen) and Gerd Muller and left with a mountain to climb after their 3-1 defeat. Sir Alf fully accepted the Germans deserved their first Wembley win, but added: “We didn’t get hold of it until the second half. By then West Germany had all the confidence in the world because of the freedom we let them have in the first half.”

Unsurprisingly there was no turnaround in Berlin two weeks later, as the teams drew 0-0 and West Germany went on to win the competition.

April 3, 1974, Portugal (a) 0-0 Friendly

Nothing particularly awful about this result or England’s display, but the match marked an anti-climatic end to Sir Alf Ramsey’s reign in charge of England. He had avoided being axed immediately after they failed to qualify for the World Cup finals the previous October and set about a rebuilding exercise by fielding one of the least experienced England teams in history (there were six debutants and the third most capped player in the starting line-up was Malcolm Macdonald, who was making only his fifth appearance). This was at least partly due to an FA Cup semi-final replay and First Division matches on the same night depriving him of players such as Kevin Keegan, with that match also taking precedence over England’s trip to Portugal in terms of media coverage – the BBC show Sportsnight showed highlights of Liverpool’s win rather than the late-night match in Lisbon.

Several new caps acquitted themselves well including Trevor Brooking and Dave Watson, but giving them a taste of full international life would be Sir Alf’s last act. The man who led England to 1966 World Cup glory was dismissed little more than two weeks later, as he paid a belated price for not reaching the finals this time. One match with Portgual eight years earlier had been a true highlight of his career, but this one would be remembered only for sad reasons as he said farewell.

April 29, 1981, Romania (h) 0-0 World Cup qualifier
It still remains baffling how England managed to qualify for the 1982 World Cup, enduring several poor results along the way like this one. They were jeered off the field by a frustrated Wembley crowd and it could have been even worse after Ilie Balaci almost deceived Peter Shilton with a long-range header in the goalless draw. The display inevitably attracted criticism, including from Daily Express reporter Steve Curry who wrote: “It looks as if English players travelling to Spain next year will be doing so to spend time on the beaches rather than football fields.”

A few months later everyone thought he would be right after things got even worse with defeats for Ron Greenwood’s men in Switzerland and Norway, but they would make it – somehow!

April 29, 1987, Turkey (a) 0-0 European Championship qualifier
More woe on April 29th! Having won 8-0 on their previous visit to Turkey in 1984, there was expectation for England to enjoy another comfortable win as they took a 100% record in Euro ’88 qualifying to Izmir. But it was to be a frustrating afternoon, as Bobby Robson’s side struggled to make the breakthrough against an improved but limited Turkish side and were held to a 0-0 draw.

To make matters worse, there were problems with the transmission of the match as viewers back home were effectively left watching in black and white in the opening few minutes! “Well you’ve seen the apologies for the quality of the pictures this afternoon and may I apologise for the quality of the football you’ve been witnessing,” quipped BBC presenter Jimmy Hill at half-time. It didn’t get much better after the break, as Clive Allen was unable to carry his prolific club form into the international arena. It proved to be the one blemish for England in an excellent qualifying campaign.

April 28, 1993, Netherlands (h) 2-2 World Cup qualifier

 

This was just minutes away from surely making it into the Six of the Best list, but instead Graham Taylor was left reflecting afterwards on “the biggest disappointment of my career”. Norway’s blistering start to the group had put pressure on both England and the Dutch, meaning their head to head meetings could be decisive in who went to the finals in the USA. Taylor’s side started superbly, with John Barnes scoring a free-kick and David Platt doubling the lead. Although a well executed goal from Dennis Bergkamp pulled the Netherlands back into the match before the break and Paul Gascoigne sustained a facial injury thanks to Jan Wouters’ elbow, it looked like England would hold out for a win until the closing stages. Des Walker was uncharacteristically caught for pace and adjudged to have pulled Marc Overmars back in the area (he had first grabbed his shirt outside the box), with Peter van Vossen scoring from the spot.

“We were lucky – England were the better team,” said a relieved Dutch manager Dick Advocaat after the 2-2 draw. As we all know, Taylor would have more reason to curse the Dutch before the qualifying campaign was over.

Six of the Best – England in April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2, 2003 Turkey (h) European Championship Qualifier

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

England’s Qualifying Campaigns – Euro ’88: Peaking Too Soon

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In the latest look back at past England qualifying campaigns for major tournaments, we recall their road to the 1988 European Championship in West Germany. Bobby Robson’s side looked awesome at times in sealing their place and ended with a tremendous qualifying record. What a shame that form wasn’t carried over into the finals tournament…

After the drama and controvery of Mexico ’86, England could look forward to the rest of the 1980s with hope with a relatively young squad. Unlike after the previous World Cup, this time around virtually all the squad would stay in contention for a place and there would be few changes in personnel as thoughts turned to seeking to reach West Germany. Ray Wilkins would soon see time called on his England career, but he was still involved as the qualifying campaign got under way.

England’s very presence in the qualifying campaign had initially been in doubt, with it feared the ban on English clubs in Europe would spread to the national team. But in October 1985 they were given the green light by UEFA to participate. Having failed to reach Euro ’84 (albeit after losing out to an excellent Denmark side), the minimum requirement would be to get through this time. But by now the fear of what English hooligans would do on foreign soil was such that when a qualifying draw was made attention was as much about avoiding serious trouble as having an easy ride on the field.

Draw Delight

Bobby Robson was on a skiing holiday when the draw was made on Valentine’s Day 1986, but he could barely hide his pleasure at being in a group with Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland and Turkey – teams they would be expected to finish above and where trouble would hopefully be avoided. “Overall I am delighted that we will be able to concentrate on our football,” said Robson.

Both Northern Ireland and Turkey had been in England’s qualifying group for Mexico ’86, with neither managing to score against them and the Turks conceding 13 goals in the two games. The Northern Irish had enjoyed an excellent decade so far, but Billy Bingham faced a rebuilding exercise with players such as Pat Jennings having bowed out and limited quality available to replace them. Probably the biggest threat to England’s place in the finals came from Yugoslavia, who had failed to qualify for the World Cup in Mexico but had made it to Spain ’82 and France ’84. Only the top team would progress.

A strong start

England’s first match of the 1986-87 season brought a 1-0 friendly defeat to Sweden but the serious stuff begian a month later as Northern Ireland came to Wembley for the opening qualifier. There was a clearer gulf between the sides than in the World Cup qualifying campaign and far less public interest, as just over 35,000 were there to see it. Billy Bingham had rather oddly chosen to get married on the day of the game, before seeing his side lose 3-0. Now playing for Barcelona, World Cup top scorer Gary Lineker scored twice including a delicious chip to leave manager Robson proclaiming he was the best striker in the world. Given the form he was in, it was hard to argue with that claim at this point.

  
A month later, England made it two home wins out of two as Yugoslavia visited Wembley. Despite having to field a makeshift defence with goalkeeper Chris Woods earning a rare cap in a competitive match and Gary Mabbutt back in the side after a three-year absence, England emerged triumphant in a physical contest. Mabbutt scored a superb header before Viv Anderson completed the 2-0 win, in a match beat remembered for Glenn Hoddle having his head bandaged after a clash of heads with Steve Hodge. It hadn’t been easy, but England had made a superb start to the campaign. 

However, Bobby Robson was left to defend the reputation of his side after they were labelled “too aggressive” by opposite number Ivica Osim, who was angry after his player Semir Tuce sustained a suspected broken leg. “We were hard and competitive, but never malicious or brutal,” retorted Robson, who would now have a three-month break before leading his side into battle again.
Friendly Fire

  

England started 1987 with a memorable 4-2 friendly win away to Spain in Madrid, with Lineker scoring all four and Arsenal defender Tony Adams becoming the first player born after the 1966 World Cup to win a full England cap. It made for a happy 54th birthday for Bobby Robson, who had turned things round from a tough start in the job.

April Fool’s Day brought a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast to preserve the 100% qualifying record, with Bryan Robson and Chris Waddle scoring. The month ended with another qualifier and the first disappointment, as England looked uninspiring away to Turkey. England had won 8-0 on their previous visit in 1984 but this time around they couldn’t manage one goal, as the hosts achieved a moral victory.  Clive Allen had been in prolific form for Tottenham Hotspur with almost 50 goals to his name during the season and he earned an England recall. But a disallowed effort was as close as he or anyone else would come to getting on the scoresheet in the goalless draw. To make things worse, Yugoslavia won in Northern Ireland on the same day to keep the pressure on. 

Pearce and Webb Join the Party

Mercifully there was no long-distance end of season tour in 1987, with England drawing Rous Cup matches with Brazil and Scotland as Stuart Pearce emerged as a a good rival for Kenny Sansom’s left back spot.

After a break of more than three months, England returned to action with a friendly trip to West Germany. The Euro ’88 hosts laid down a warning for the finals with a 3-1 win as the Three Lions again had a bout of ‘Septemberitis’ and started the season with a loss. The night was most notable for substitute Neil Webb becoming the 1,000th player to win an England cap. Almost inevitably not all the headlines concerned matters on the field, with reports of hooligans fighting on the streets of Dusseldorf doing nothing for the nation’s reputation while the European club ban remained in place.

Stuffing the Turkey

  

In October England’s qualifying campaign resumed as Turkey visited Wembley. Determined to avoid a repeat of the frustration in the away game, England went at their opponents from the off and led 2-0 within 10 minutes. They refused to take their foot off the gas and ended up repeating their 8-0 win over the Turks in 1984. Gary Lineker netted a hat-trick, with John Barnes (2), Bryan Robson, Peter Beardsley and Neil Webb also on target in the rout. Barnes and Beardsley had moved to Liverpool in the summer and were helping their new club romp towards the league title in style, with that swagger and confidence seeming to be successfully carried through into the England set-up. 

It had been a great night, but was tinged with disappointment as Yugoslavia beat Northern Ireland 3-0 to leave England still not certain of their finals place. It would now boil down to their final match in the group – their toughest-looking one away to the Yugoslavs on November 11. If England won or drew they would definitely qualify, but if they lost then they would be left clinging to the slim hope that Turkey could get a result against Yugoslavia in the final match in the group.

A perfect 25 minutes

ITV showed England’s match in Yugoslavia live on a Wednesday afternoon and those lucky viewers who were home in time from school or work watched in amazement as Bobby Robson’s men ran riot. There would have been an understandable temptation to keep it tight and settle for a draw, but Robson called it right by getting his side to go for the kill from the off. In the opening 25 minutes Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Bryan Robson and Tony Adams all found the net to put England 4-0 up on a filthy day of weather in Belgrade. In a match containing similarities with England’s 3-0 win over Poland in the previous year’s World Cup the contest was settled by half-time, with the one disappointment being Yugoslavia ending the Three Lions’ perfect record of clean sheets in the group with a late consolation. 

But the 4-1 victory was a great cause for celebration back home, as England atoned for missing out four years earlier by making it in style this time. “I had to pinch myself when the third and fourth goals in,” said a delighted Bobby Robson afterwards. The manager had gone into the game knowing he could have lost his job had England failed to make it, now there was expectation the competition could be won. Since that defeat by Denmark in September 1983, England were unbeaten in qualifying matches which was a good measure of their consistency.

Having qualified with a record of five wins and a draw from six matches and a record of 19 goals scored and one conceded, there was a belief England could go on and lift their first major silverware since 1966. They had looked awesome and full of confidence when thrashing Turkey and Yugoslavia. But typically the euphoria didn’t last long. Within a couple of days of qualification being secured, newspaper stories suggested England could be withdrawn from the tournament if the hooligans struck again. And just six days after the Yugoslavia match, key defender Terry Butcher suffered an injury playing for Rangers that would rule him out of Euro ’88.

It was the start of a slow descent from heroes to zeroes for England, that would see their potency in qualifying evaporate and the tournament prove a nightmare for Bobby Robson…