England has a long history of tournament misery with some notorious exits. Since their sole victory at the 1966 World Cup, theirs has been a far different story. Near misses, key injuries and notable penalty defeats are too familiar a story for Three Lions supporters. It is partly why, despite having a wealth of talent at their disposal, there are many supporters who feel that it’s just not meant to be for England.

Euro 2024 could be different. England has a strong squad, and it is among the favorites to lift the trophy on July 14. Regardless, the memory of tournament exits plagues the minds of the England faithful. Here’s a potted history of some of the crueler ways in which England has conspired to exit tournaments.

Famous England international tournament exits over the years

1986 World Cup – The Hand of God (and feet of a genius)

England faced Argentina in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup. Lining up for their opponents was a player whose singular talents were starting to be widely recognized and who would use the tournament as undeniable proof that he was the greatest player in the world: Diego Maradona. His performance against England was a calling card that displayed both his incredible footballing gifts and his utter determination to win. He scored both of the goals in a 2-1 victory and each of them would go on to live long in the memory.

It was his first that remains a hard pill for England to swallow – Maradona, a man under 5-and-a-half-feet tall – ‘outjumped’ a 6ftplus goalkeeper to head the ball home. Although he didn’t. He punched the ball home and later cheekily claimed it was ‘the hand of God’ behind the goal. His second, a mazy solo run from inside his half, took out the entire England defense. It remains the greatest goal scored in a World Cup. England fell to injustice and inspiration.

1990 World Cup – Penalty defeat to Germany

For the first time since 1966 England reached the last four of an international tournament at Italia ’90. Inspired by new national hero Paul Gascoigne, the team faced West Germany for a place in the final. As Gary Lineker’s late goal forced an additional 30 minutes of injury time, penalties loomed. It was the first of many painful defeats in this brutal manner suffered by England as the game was ended by Chris Waddle sending his spot-kick yards over the bar.

1996 Euros – Another penalty defeat to Germany

Having failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in America, England played host for the European Championships two years later and quickly won over a nation with an eye-catching Paul Gascoigne goal against neighbors Scotland and an all-time great performance against the Netherlands. They even managed to win a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals against Spain before once again coming face to face with Germany in the semi-final stage. The players may have been different. Yet, the outcome was the same as before, Germany won, with current England manager Gareth Southgate failing to convert his spot kick. It remains one of the cruelest exists for the country.

1998 World Cup – Red cards and a familiar exit

The first signs of a golden generation were starting to emerge for England. An 18-year-old Michael Owen was fast becoming one of the hottest properties in the continent and an equally young David Beckham was already a fixture on the front and back pages of England’s tabloid press. In the last-16 game against Argentina, each player left their mark with wildly different contributions. Introducing himself to the wider world, Owen’s solo run and finish to bring the game to 1-1 went down as one of England’s finest at this level.

Beckham’s contribution, however, was less positive. Annoyed by a foul from Deigo Simeone, he lashed out at the Argentine. Beckham purposefully kicked him to receive an instant red card. The torrent of media and fan-led abuse for the months that followed sparked a change in the star. As the sides were still level after extra time, it was yet again a penalty shoot-out that ended England’s time in an international tournament.

2002 World Cup – The star player injury

By the time the next World Cup arrived, David Beckham had established himself as his country’s captain and talismanic leader. All was forgiven in the eyes of the press, and he was set to lead a starry team full of potential. But there was a problem. Just weeks before the tournament Beckham was struck by injury, breaking bones in his right foot and teaching the country the word metatarsal in the process. The nation held its breath while he recuperated and the same press that vilified him just four years before were now using their front pages to pray for Beckham’s recovery. While he was declared fit for the tournament, he never looked fully comfortable, least of all when he jumped out of a tackle against Brazil allowing his opponent to run down the other end of the pitch and score.

2004 Euros – A new hero, a new injury but an old-fashioned exit

The 2004 Euros was the tournament where Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene, taking the group stages by storm and becoming the youngest scorer in the history of the tournament. England had unearthed a new star, and the hype was building. It was almost predictable then that it would be Rooney’s time to suffer an injury. England had taken an early lead against Portugal in the quarter-final when Rooney went down in the first half-hour. His exit from the game seemed to take a level of belief out of the England team who would concede a late equalizer before once again falling to a penalty defeat.

2006 World Cup – Rooney sees red (and, of course, penalties)

Much like Beckham before him, referees sent off England’s star player, Wayne Rooney, for a petulant kick of an opponent. It happened in his team’s quarter-final against Portugal. His Manchester United teammate Cristiano Ronaldo did his best to encourage the referee to lift the red card. After that, the game takes on a certain inevitability and England lose on penalties. This is becoming quite a habit.

2010 World Cup – The ghost goal that brought global changes

England was awful at the 2010 World Cup. The one positive for the side was bringing about a change in the game. In a mismatched last-16 game against Germany, Frank Lampard thought he had leveled the game at 2-2 just before half-time. His shot from outside the box clipped the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down over the goal line. But the referee and linesman thought differently, despite replays showing Lampard clearly scored. Failing to be convinced that the ball had crossed the line, the referee allowed play to continue.

England would eventually be on the end of a chastening 4-1 defeat. Lampard’s goal-that-wasn’t would have a lasting impact though. It went on to inspire the goal line technology that has become a fixture across the globe.

2012 Euros – Penalties… again

This was an England side that never looked likely to trouble the latter stages of the tournament. Thanks to yet another penalty defeat, this time against Italy, they didn’t.

2016 Euros – Peak embarrassment

A rarity in some ways was that this was a tournament that didn’t end in a penalty defeat. England managed to find a way to exit the 2016 Euros that was even worse. A humiliating 2-1 defeat to Iceland came on the back of a performance that resulted in the instant resignation of manager Roy Hodgson. The anger of 50 million people did not quench the lingering effect of such an outcome.

2020 Euros – A home final and an inevitable outcome

Football almost ‘came home’ in a covid-delayed 2020 Euros. England made it to the final of a tournament for only the second time in its history. Additionally, the odds were in England’s favor. The Euro 2020 Final was at the side’s national venue, Wembley Stadium. It was the site of England’s only other major triumph, the 1966 World Cup. A lively crowd desperate for them to end their trophy-less years showed up en masse on that summer day. The opponent was Italy, which failed to qualify for the previous World Cup. The Azzurri had bettered expectations just by reaching the Euro 2020 Final.

Things started well when Luke Shaw opened the scoring within five minutes. Yet, a familiar pattern soon arose. England started to look more and more cautious, inviting pressure and bringing on an Italian equalizer. As the minutes ticked away the nation could sense what was coming. Penalties. To the surprise of nobody, England once again fell short at the final hurdle, missing three penalties.

Penalties spelled the end of a storied Euro 2020 run. Now, England will work to better its result from three years ago when it opens Euro 2024 in Germany.


Euro 2024

Here are some resources to get you ready for Euros!
Euro Bracket: Download a free PDF bracket for the tournament
Euro 2024 Schedule: Full schedule of all games for the 2024 tournament
How to watch: Information on where to find the games on TV and streaming
How to Stream Learn how you can stream Euro games live in 2024
2024 Soccer Calendar: Get the lowdown on what will be a busy year in soccer