The 1966 tournament apart, watching England in the World Cup has been a largely painful experience. In the seven tournaments they have qualified since being crowned World Champions England’s biggest achievement has been winning through to a solitary semi-final in Italia 90, while the past four competitions have seen the side go out on penalties three times. But amidst all the angst and heartbreaks there have been some magical moments. A Different League takes a look at the top ten.
Although David Beckham’s contribution to France 98 will always be remembered for the wrong reasons it was also the tournament where he announced his arrival on the World Cup scene in style with the type of goal that would become his trademark.
After being left out for the first two games Beckham started the third tie against Colombia and he made up for his earlier absence with a textbook free kick from about thirty yards out which he sent dipping over the wall before swerving viciously away from the keeper and into the corner of the yet.
9 – David Platt’s goal vs. Belgium – Italia 1990
If not for a late David Platt goal against Belgium in the 1990 second round tie we might never have had England’s defining post 1966 game, the semi-final defeat to Germany where Paul Gascoigne cried and our shootout hoodoo began. With the Belgium game deadlocked at 0-0 after 119 minutes, Platt scored the winner with a strike of sublime technique. Paul Gascoigne floated a diagonal free kick into the penalty area which the Aston Villa midfielder allowed to drop before swiveling to hook a volley into the far corner of the net, a hugely difficult skill made to look easy
8 – David Beckham penalty vs. Argentina – Japan & South Korea 2002
After Diego Simeone hoodwinked the referee into sending David Beckham off against Argentina at France 98 Beckham undeservedly became England’s public enemy number one. When England met the same opposition in the 2002 competition it gave him the chance he had been waiting for to exorcise his Argentinean demons.
After a questionable foul on Michael Owen, Beckham stepped up to take the resultant penalty and smashed it home to give England victory and sweet revenge over their South American rivals. Beckham’s delirious celebration showed how much the goal meant for him and his country.
7 – Quarter final victory vs. Argentina – England 1966
Although this match was not the greatest of spectacles the victory sent England on their way to glory and it is this significance that makes it one of the greatest England World Cup moments. England won 1-0 thanks to a Geoff Hurst goal but the game was marred by serious foul play from the Argentineans and the sending off of their captain Antonio Rattin who refused to leave the pitch for 10 minutes. Alf Ramsey branded the opposition ‘animals’ in his post match comments, but was delighted to see his team win through to a first ever World Cup semi-final.
6 – Gary Lineker’s goal vs. Argentina – Mexico 1986
Although England lost this game Gary Lineker’s headed goal was his sixth of the competition winning him the Golden Boot. Lineker remains the only Englishman ever to achieve this feat and he went on to score 4 more goals at Italia 90 making him the equal seventh highest scorer in the history of the World Cup. His record of 10 goals in 12 World Cup matches means the England legend’s goals per games ratio is higher even than that of all time leading scorer Ronaldo, an achievement the Match of the Day pundit should be very proud of.
5 – ‘The final that never was’ vs. Brazil – Mexico 1970
Going into the 1970 World Cup reigning world champions England were judged by many to have an even better squad than four years previously. Up against them in the group stage were two-time winners Brazil.
The resultant game was a classic, featuring an excellent goal by Jairzinho, a master class in defending by Bobby Moore and possibly footballs greatest ever save by Gordon Banks from a Pele header.
Although England lost the game 1-0 they ran the Brazilians very close, and they proved to be the only team in the competition able to seriously challenge the South Americans, a great achievement in itself given that posterity has judged the 1970 Brazil side to be one of, if not the, best team football has ever seen.
4 – Semi final defeat vs. West Germany – Italia 1990
Despite their eventual defeat this game was the pinnacle of England’s post-1966 World Cup achievement. It could easily have been so different, but for a deflected Germany goal or an inability to score from twelve yards, England could have gone on to a World Cup final appearance against Argentina and possible victory.
Alas it was not to be, but England’s performance demonstrated to the world that they were amongst international football’s best. The match also produced one of the most memorable World Cup moments when Paul Gascoigne broke down in tears after a booking ruled him out of a potential appearance in the final.
3 – Semi-final victory vs. Portugal – England 1966
England went into their 1966 Wembley semi-final against Portugal having not yet conceded in the competition while Portugal had scored fourteen goals in four games. With Eusebio, one of the world’s greatest players, and Jose Torres amongst others in sparkling form for the Portuguese, this game was always going to be a tough test for the English. Ramsey’s men stood up to the test with a top quality performance, managing to limit their opponents to only one goal from a late Eusebio penalty while Bobby Charlton scored two at the other end to put England through to the World Cup final for the first time.
2 – Michael Owen’s goal vs. Argentina – France 1998
Michael Owen burst onto the international scene with a goal against Argentina at France 98 that has gone down as one of the best ever in a World Cup. Owen ran almost half the length of the pitch in what seems like only a couple of seconds, skinning two defenders with his electric pace before guiding the ball past Carlos Roa in the Argentinean net. And as well as the quality of the goal and the significance of the game, what made this strike even more special was that the Liverpool striker was only eighteen years old at the time.
1 – World Cup Champions vs. Germany – England 1966
There is only one candidate for the number one position in this list. Our nation’s finest hour, victory over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final to become World Champions for the first and only time. The moment when Bobby Moore held aloft the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley marked the peak of England’s footballing achievement. It was the moment when football truly came home, and the inventors of the modern game were crowned world champions, a triumph we can only dream of the current England team emulating in South Africa this summer.