A Short History of England’s Fortunes at the World Cup
The history of England’s fortune at the World Cup is seen more like a roller coaster than a steady set of affairs. In their 68 years of competing in the greatest tournament on Earth, they have seen the highest of highs, winning the cup in 1966 all the way through to not even qualifying for the tournament in 1978 (Argentina), 1974 (West Germany) and 1994 (United States). But now, as we stare down another World Cup this summer in Russia, the people of the U.K. ponder another opportunity that sees them pitched against an eclectic group of teams: Panama, Tunisia and Belgium.
This year’s team ranks at a lukewarm 14/1, with their star player Harry Kane and co. facing either Columbia or Poland in the quarter-finals. But if history is to teach us anything, it’s anything can happen at the World Cup.
England have qualified for the World Cup 14 times, and since they first appeared in 1950, they have produced some of the world’s top players from Kenny Dalglish to Ryan Giggs to Gary Lineker, who to this day holds the record for most goals scored for England, all great players who have attempted to make their mark every four years.
When England first debuted in 1950 — a performance that is still regarded as by far their strangest — an amateur U.S. side made up of postmen, dishwashers and cab drivers managed to put them out of their misery in a shocking defeat of 1-0. This haunted them for many decades to come.
Or how about at the 1984 Mexican World Cup where the most famous player in footballing history Argentinian Diego Maradona used his ‘hand of god’ against England.
Who can forget a fresh-faced Michael Owen who at 18 in his first World Cup performance in 1998 electrified a nation with a goal that saw him pivot past two defenders, striking at the heart of Argentina? Some say it was the goal of the tournament.
However, their best performances by far were their only win in 1966 on home turf and coming in fourth in 1990 in Italy. Only eight teams have won the World Cup, which makes it an elite band of nations to hold that trophy, but in 1966, they did so, thanks in no small part to their greatest player ever, number 9, Bobby Charlton, who won it over West Germany 4-2 in extra time.
And in 1990, at the 14th World Cup, England managed to top their table alongside Ireland, Netherlands and Egypt, routing Cameroon 3-2 in the quarter-finals and then sadly lost out to the eventual winners West Germany in a penalty shoot-out 1-1 (4-3) in the semi-finals.
All in all, in the last few decades, it’s been a sliding scale for the U.K. where the last few results have seen the England side exiting early in either the group stage in 2014 or in the round of 16 in 2010. But with their domestic league, which is arguably the best in the world, the U.K. population always hold their boys in high regard, heaping huge praise and pressure on the team. Let’s just hope that the red and white can better their first stage exit in 2014 this year.