Shoot-outs have been its Achilles heel

In 13 editions of the Cup, England has only one win, one semifinal and six quarterfinal finishes to boast of. Iconic players have come and gone, but till date, it’s still Alf Ramsey’s ‘Wingless Wonders’ of 1966 who fly high.

Evidence of a football like kicking game having existed dates back to 15th century Nottinghamshire. The country of England is home to some of the oldest clubs in the world. The oldest tournament is still the English FA Cup competition. In fact the modern game of football was first conceptualised and codified in London in 1863. So England is naturally the home of football.

But for all its rich past, except for a solitary World Cup victory in 1966, England’s record has been abysmal. Where its history could have given the side an impetus to co-opt the game and its premier prize as one of its own, it has instead failed to counter the rising competition that has come with the globalisation of football.

In 13 editions of the Cup, England has only one win, one semifinal and six quarterfinal finishes to boast of. Iconic players have come and gone, but till date, it’s still Alf Ramsey’s ‘Wingless Wonders’ of 1966 who fly high.

England did not enter the competition till 1950. Through the first three Cups in 1930, ’34 and ’38, the English FA dissociated itself from the world body and no amount of pleading and cajoling would convince it to return. In 1950, after a monumental loss to the United States of America it crashed out in the first round. In 1954, it finished in the last eight.

The pattern repeated over the next two editions, a first round exit and a quarterfinal exit each, until the zenith was reached at home in ’66. Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks et al combined to deliver England’s solitary success. Since then a succession of early exits had to be endured till Bobby Robson, in Italy 1990, came closest to matching the achievements of Alf Ramsey.

After succumbing to a moment each of infamy and brilliance from Diego Maradona in 1986, the side went out in 1990 to Germany in the semifinals, on penalties. Shoot-outs have been its Achilles heel since then for it exited the 1998 and 2006 editions the same way to Argentina and Portugal respectively.

In the 1990s, with the advent of the English Premier League, the popularity of English football rose rapidly. So did people’s expectations both within and outside the country. Stardust was supplied by David Beckham. Foreign managers were roped in — Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2002 and ’06, Fabio Capello in 2010.

Yet, the side never seemed in step. The 4-1 defeat to Germany in 2010 and the resultant 13th place finish was its worst ever in World Cups.

* * * Shot Stoppers & Strikers

In the pantheon of English stars the World Cup winning trio of Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst and Gordon Banks occupy the upper strata. Regarded as one of the finest mid-fielders of all-time, Charlton was capped 106 times by England, scoring 49 goals. He also won the Ballon d'Or in 1966.

To this day, Geoff Hurst remains the only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final - against Germany in 1966. His second and England's third on the day is still a hot topic for discussion as it is yet unknown whether the ball crossed the line after coming off the underside of the bar.

Famous for one of football's greatest ever saves, when he denied Pele a goal in the 1970 World Cup, Gordon Banks played every game of the 1966 Cup. He was voted the second best goalkeeper of the 20th century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics after Lev Yashin.

Peter Shilton was in action during two of England's most eventful World Cups since 1966. In 1986, he saw Diego Maradona score the notorious `Hand of God' goal as well as what is widely seen as the greatest goal ever. He made a then world record 125 appearances and retired following England's run to the semis in 1990. Behind Charlton, Gary Linekar is second on the list of all-time highest scorers for England, with 48 goals. Top-scorer at the 1986 Cup (six goals), he is the only Englishman to have won the Golden Boot.

Linekar scored four goals in England's run to the semifinals in 1990, its second best performance ever, before losing to the Germans. He then made the immortal statement: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win."