The summer of 1966, soccer-mania gripped the world as it usually does for the World Cup, the difference this year: the beautiful game had returned home. The host nation, enjoying their best cup run in the tournament’s history, made it to the final at Wembley. The opposition, West Germany, had convincingly dispatched Switzerland, Spain, Uruguay and the then Soviet Union on their way to the final. England had done well to overcome the likes of Mexico, France, Argentina and Portugal.
The stage was set, if no winner was found after 90 minutes the prospect of extra time and then a replay would occur. Regulation time ended. The Germans seeking their second trophy, had snatched a goal in the 89th minute to make the score 2-2 and take the game to 30 minutes of extra time. Two goals from Geoff Hurst to complete his hat-trick sent the nation into hysteria. England had won the World Cup by a 4-3 scoreline.
Four years later in 1970, now as the holders, England faced the Germans again, this time in the quarter-finals. In a similar fashion Germany scored in the 82nd minute to tie the game 2-2 and take the game to extra time. History, however, did not repeat itself. West Germany scored in extra time to knock England out. The biggest moment of the competition had occurred earlier in the tournament as Gordon Banks “save of the century” is still discussed today.
Though being knocked out of the tournament was surely heart-breaking, even more so would be the fact that England would not qualify for another World Cup until 1982. Indeed the English were left to watch on as West Germany (‘74) and then Argentina (‘78) achieved the home-turf triumph they had experienced in the decade before.
In 1982, after nil-nil draws with Germany and Spain in the uniquely formatted second round, the Three Lions failed to progress to the semi-finals. Similarly the English lost to Argentina in 1986 in the quarter-finals thanks largely to the controversial “hand of god” goal by Diego Maradona. The hunger to achieve World Cup glory again now became a national obsession for the English.
And then there was the tournament of 1990, hosted by Italy. A gritty England team went into the semi-final having spent more time on the field than any other participant. The English met a familiar foe in Turin: the Germans, vying for their third trophy. England had struggled through a tough group which included the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands. In the quarterfinals the Three Lions had needed late drama to equalize with Cameroon and then won after extra time.
In the semifinal, the score was 0-0 at half-time. Neither team having taken their chances. Fifteen minutes into the second half, the deadlock was broken as Andreas Brehme put the Germans ahead. With ten minutes left to play English striker Gary Lineker ensured the game would see extra time as he equalized for England.
After the added thirty minutes still neither team had done enough to ensure a spot in the final. And so to penalties; what would become the bane of English World Cup campaigns. In the end, the crying faces of the vanquished England players would snatch the headlines. Perhaps the cruel loss was too hard to brush off quickly, as England again failed to qualify for the following tournament, four years later in the USA (‘94).
In two of the most recent World Cup tournaments England have gone out in the second round: to Argentina on penalties (‘98), and to Germany (‘10). In the other two tournaments they have reached the quarter finals: losing to Brazil despite being up a man for much of the second half (‘02), and to Portugal (‘06), of course, on penalties.
While the highs of the 1966 triumph have yet to be matched, the English have had plenty of drama and frustrations along the way, most notably in Italy, 1990. As the English media downplay their team’s chances at this year’s tournament citing weather, group draws, and team selection as insurmountable obstacles, every England fan secretly hopes for a repeat of the famous win at Wembley, this time in Brazil’s famous Maracana stadium.
However, if history is to teach us anything, it is that England should not play for penalties in Brazil this summer. Should they make it to the knock-out stages and hear the final whistle blow at 120+ minutes with honors even, then it does not look like 2014 will be the year that England add another star to their jersey.
This having been said, England is one of only seven nations to win a World Cup and has plenty of proud moments since that 1966 triumph to celebrate.