The 5 Best England Performances At World Cups
England do not have the most illustrious history at the FIFA World Cup, but every so often they do turn up at the biggest tournament on the planet and show signs of what they can do.
There have been plenty of low points, but England have had some cracking World Cup campaigns, and here are the five best.
World Cup 2002 – Japan and South Korea
England came very close to something special in 2002, and that was despite only really turning in two good performances in the tournament before they were eliminated by Brazil in the quarter-finals.
The England team at the time had some great talent – Beckham, Scholes, Owen, Ferdinand – but also some low points – Vassell, Heskey, Mills, Sinclair. It was good, but by no means great and that is how they looked in the group stage.
There were unremarkable draws with Sweden and Nigeria, but the memorable victory over Argentina saw the Three Lions into the knockout stages. There, they battered Denmark 3-0 in the Round of 16 before facing Brazil in the last eight.
Michael Owen gave England the lead and things looked very exciting indeed, but Rivaldo and Ronaldinho had other ideas, giving Brazil the lead early in the second half. Even a red card for Ronaldinho after just 57 minutes was not enough to let the Three Lions back in and England were narrowly beaten by the eventual champions.
World Cup 2006 – Germany
Just like in 2002, it was not a thrilling group stage, but it was an entirely successful one as England topped Group B undefeated.
There were low-key wins over Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago before a more memorable 2-2 draw with Sweden which featured a stunning Joe Cole volley and a last minute equaliser from Henrik Larsson.
The last 16 contest with Ecuador was not exactly a thriller, but a David Beckham goal gave England a 1-0 win and they were into the final eight where they would meet Portugal.
This was a very good England side, lining up with a midfield of Beckham, Lampard, Hargreaves, Gerrard and Cole behind a prime Wayne Rooney up front. Portugal boasted the talents of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo, but England were favourites to succeed.
The game finished 0-0 after extra-time, with the most memorable moment being Rooney’s red card just after the hour mark. Who knows what would have happened if he had not snapped at that moment, but England went on to score just one of their four penalties and lose in the shootout.
World Cup 1982 – Spain
The one and only time England have ever won all three group stage games came at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, and this was after not qualifying for the tournament since 1970.
The team, featuring Bryan Robson, Trevor Francis, Paul Mariner and Steve Coppell saw off France, Czechoslovakia and Kuwait to top Group 4 in style, scoring six and conceding just once.
The bizarre format of the tournament in ’82 saw England move into a second group stage where they would play West Germany and Spain. In two close contests there were no goals scored, but as West Germany beat Spain 2-1, England were eliminated as they finished second in the group.
Winning three and drawing two games at the tournament, whilst only conceding one goal left England feeling very unfortunate that they were on the way home after an impressive showing.
World Cup 1990 – Italy
Italia 90 was the only time England have been eliminated in the semi-finals of the World Cup and is officially their second best performances at the tournament. However, they never made anything easy for themselves and really scraped their way through to the final four.
The group stage saw Bobby Robson’s side lose a lead to draw 1-1 with Ireland and then manage a goalless draw with the Netherlands before a tight 1-0 win over Egypt saw them top Group F and head into the second round.
Then came back-to-back victories in extra-time, first against Belgium and then against Cameroon in the quarter-finals. David Platt’s superb volley get the Three Lions past the Belgians 1-0, whilst the win over the African side was something of a classic.
It was Platt that headed England into the lead in the first half, but Cameroon were not to be intimidated. Emmanuel Kunde scored from the penalty spot after an hour and Eugene Ekeke gave them the lead four minutes later.
It took a late Gary Lineker penalty to take the game to extra-time, before the same man scored from the same spot in the added stanza.
Into the last four they went where they met their old foes, West Germany. Again it was into extra-time they went after Lineker and Andreas Brehme left it 1-1. 120 minutes couldn’t separate the sides, but missed penalties from Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle could as England lost in a World Cup shootout for the first time.
World Cup 1966 – England
Obviously there is only one tournament that could top this list and that is when England lifted the trophy on home soil back in 1966.
England had not done well at all in their first four cracks at the World Cup, never winning more than one game and never getting past the quarter-finals, but that all changed when they hosted the event.
It started slowly, with a goalless draw against Uruguay, but 2-0 wins over Mexico and France took England into the last eight without conceding a goal. There they beat Argentina 1-0 in a violent affair at Wembley, setting up a semi-final with Portugal, who were led by the rampant Eusebio, who had just scored four goals in the quarter-final contest with North Korea.
Eusebio scored again in the semi-final, but Bobby Charlton scored twice to put England into the final for the first time, where they would play West Germany, who had been champions in 1954.
It was a classic final which saw the German take the lead, then England go 2-1 ahead before a late Wolfgang Weber goal took the game to extra time. Geoff Hurst scored his second of the match thanks to the Russian linesman judging the ball to have crossed the line and then he got his third as people were on the pitch.
It may prove to be the finest performance England will ever put in at a World Cup.