Famously, England have endured 52 years of hurt since they were crowned world champions at Wembley in 1966, but the Three Lions have actually come closer to competing for a second World Cup than many might think.
On three occasions since 1966 they have been knocked out by the eventual champions, while this also happened in Chile in 1962. Here, we take a look back at the four World Cups when England were conquered by the team who went all the way.
1962 Quarter-final: Brazil 3-1 England
The 1962 World Cup in Chile has been jotted down into the history books as one of the grittiest ever, with tempers flaring and with the officials permitting the kind of violent play that would nowadays result in a lengthy ban and a social media meltdown.
For England, they found it tough early on and only just scraped through the group stages after one win, one draw and one defeat, against Argentina, Bulgaria and Hungary respectively.
Having emerged from that first round, they came up against Brazil, but there was some optimism given the injury suffered by Pelé. “It was a relief to discover that Pelé was still injured,” Johnny Haynes later said of the opponents, although he was rightfully wary of another skilful Brazilian. “On the other hand, we’re up against Garrincha, who was also capable of winning a match on his own.”
Sure enough, that’s what he did, scoring the first goal in Viña del Mar and putting Brazil ahead again after Gerry Hitchens’ equaliser. It was his powerful free-kick which made Brazil’s third too, before the Botafogo legend inspired Brazil all the way to the title, beating Chile and then Czechoslovakia.
1986 Quarter-final: Argentina 2-1 England
Given how the famous quarter-final match between Argentina and England at the Azteca played out, it’s easy to forget that the British side went into that match as the in-form team, having switched tactics to revert to a deep back four and then smashed Poland 3-0 in their final group match, before seeing off Paraguay by the same scoreline in the last 16.
But Argentina had Diego Maradona. In the space of four second-half minutes, the magician conjured up two of the most memorable World Cup goals of all time. The first was celestial, as a Hand of God reached into the sky and punched the ball past the towering Peter Shilton. The second was just as spectacular, but for a completely different reason, as the No.10 danced and dribbled past defender after defender, before sliding the ball into the net.
Although Gary Lineker scored an 81st minute goal to give England some hope, it simply wasn’t to be. It was meant to be Maradona’s World Cup. England may have given Argentina one of their toughest tests of the tournament, but they were on their way back home before the semi-finals once again.
1990 Semi-final: West Germany 1-1 England (4-3 on penalties)
The 1990 England side were less convincing than their 1962 and 1986 predecessors, but they went further than either of those other two squads. With just three goals scored, they had somehow done enough to reach the quarter-finals and little by little momentum was building.
A swashbuckling Cameroon side had lit up the tournament and went toe to toe with England in the final eight, with Bobby Robson’s men eventually progressing thanks to Gary Lineker’s equalising penalty seven minutes from time and then another spot kick from the striker in extra time.
Up next stood West Germany. Although England were the underdogs, they put in a memorable performance. Again, it was Lineker who equalised late on to make it 1-1 and to bring about another extra time nail-biting festival, with both teams hitting the woodwork before the second full-time whistle blew. Of course, we all know how the penalty shootout against the Germans ended.
Rather than return to the final, England were in the third-place match and lost to Italy. Despite that, there was a sense that if they’d made it to the final their momentum would have carried them all the way. “We would have had a good chance to beat an under-strength Argentina side, with Diego Maradona not fully fit,” right-back Paul Parker later wrote. “But, of course, we’ll never know for sure.”
2002 Quarter-final: Brazil 2-1 England
The 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea was one of shocks and by the time England met Brazil in the quarter-finals the likes of France, Italy, Argentina and Portugal had already been knocked out. This only served to make the quarter-final clash between Luiz Felipe Scolari and Sven-Göran Eriksson even more mouth-watering. Whoever won this tie would surely be considered the favourite to go all the way.
Michael Owen’s 23rd minute goal made it seem like this really could happen for England. In blue rather than their famous yellow, Brazil didn’t seem quite as Brazilianly scary, but a 22-year-old Ronaldinho soon stepped up and stamped his studprints onto the game, and then on Danny Mills. First, he beat Rio Ferdinand and set up Rivaldo for the equaliser, before looping a free-kick into the top corner when nobody, especially not David Seaman, expected it.
A bad challenge on Mills saw the maverick dismissed with over half an hour to play, but it just wasn’t to be for one of the most talented England squads to go to a World Cup. Had they beaten Brazil then who knows what could have happened. But, as had happened three times before, they became just another victim of the eventual champions.
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