Since England first entered the Euros in 1968, their relationship with the tournament has been closely associated with disaster culminating in possibly the greatest disappointment in English football history, losing to Iceland, a nation with a population 190 times smaller than ours.
During the Iceland match, the England players were poor and there did not appear to be a set game plan. But as yet another pass was misplaced and another Harry Kane free kick blazed over the bar, was it really a surprise? It was not the first time that England had failed to live up to, sometimes even lowly, expectations.
Ever since the Three Lions first entered the European Championships in 1968 as favourites, after winning the World Cup only two years before, England have under-performed. Then, it was in losing 1-0 to Yugoslavia in the semi-final (then the first round). Although, goals from World Cup heroes Hurst and Charlton did secure England a third place finish after beating the USSR in the 3rd place game. This was a massive under-performance for a team labelled the ‘Greatest Team in the World’ by the media in the build up to this tournament.
In 1972, England failed to qualify, losing to old rivals West Germany in a play-off and then in 1976 they lost out in qualifying to Czechoslovakia, who went on to win the tournament after Antonin Panenka’s famous penalty in the final against West Germany.,.
In 1980, after the tournament was expanded to 8 teams, England went in to the tournament having enjoyed an unbeaten run in qualifying. A draw with a strong Belgium side gave England fans cause for optimism but that was overshadowed by trouble in the stands. A late Tardelli goal gave Italy a 1-0 victory in their second game in the Group and despite a 2-1 victory over Spain they were out. An unbeaten qualifying record followed by a disappointing tournament with crowd trouble from England fans may sound familiar.
In 1984, England matched the disappointments of the previous decade, with a strong team, the core of which found success at the World Cup in Mexico two years later, failing to even reach the finals. A weak qualifying group should have seen England through but a home loss to Denmark and a disappointing draw against a poor Greece side sent the Danes through.
In 1988 came a performance described by The Guardian newspaper in 2004 as the ‘worst at a tournament’ by any England side. Three defeats, especially against Ireland where the usually prolific Gary Lineker missed a host of chances, led to an ignominious early exit from the competition. The other two defeats came against the eventual finalists, The Netherlands, and the USSR, both by the margin of 3-1.
In 1992 a team the Daily Mail called the ‘least talented squad in England’s history’ failed to get out of their group for the second Euros in a row. Under the poor management of Graham Taylor, England drew with Denmark and France, before a 2-1 loss to Sweden led to the famous ‘Swedes 2 Turnips 1’ headline in the Sun newspaper. In this case, however, the failure had been foreseen, with World Soccer criticizing Taylor’s ‘controversial reputation for “Route One” football.”
Euro 96 – England’s best performance at the Euros
In 1996 football came home, as England hosted the Euros for the first and to date only time. With expectations, for once, reasonably low England excelled. A shaky start against Switzerland at Wembley resulted in a 1-1 draw. But a Paul Gascoigne inspired 2-0 win over Scotland and a superb 4-1 thrashing of Holland put England past the group stage of the championships for the first time since its introduction in 1984. The next round resulted in a rare penalty shootout win for England over Spain after a 0-0 draw in which the away side dominated. The semi-final was a scintillating 1-1 draw with Germany, with Gascoigne going close late on with England famously bowing out after Gareth Southgate missed in the shootout.
At Euro 2000, England went into the tournament as fifth favourites at odds as short as 10/1. These expectations seemed perfectly valid as Scholes and McManaman put England 2-0 up after 16 minutes in their opener. But Portugal hit back to win 3-2 in the second half. A rare victory over Germany, courtesy of an Alan Shearer goal, put England back in contention to reach the quarter finals. However a late penalty, conceded by Phil Neville, gave Romania a 3-2 victory and sent England crashing out, again against the high expectations of the public.
England’s ‘Golden Generation’
In 2004, England’s ‘Golden Generation’ travelled to Portugal with hopes sky high. Amongst the favourites for the tournament England lost out 2-1 to France before dispatching Croatia 3-0 and Switzerland 4-2, with Wayne Rooney announcing himself as a real talent for England. A quarter final humdinger against Portugal raised hopes especially when Michael Owen’s early goal took England into the last 10 minutes ahead. But Portugal hit back and in extra time England required a 115th minute Frank Lampard goal to force penalties. The inevitable defeat was the only way in which the team lived up to national expectations, once again failing to win a knockout Euros game.
In 2008, Steve McClaren’s side embarrassingly failed to qualify for the championships, with a 3-2 loss to Croatia at Wembley sealing their fate.
Four years later and expectations had been lowered after the appointment of Roy Hodgson only a month before the tournament, with Chris Waddle saying that ‘England will do well to get out of the group’. They managed that successfully as a solid group phase saw England through as group winners, where they were unfortunate to come up against a very good Italy side. As anticipated, Italy dominated and England did well to take them to penalties, where Ashleys Cole and Young both missed to allow Italy through.
The Iceland debacle
And so; to 2016. After some average group stage performances and odd selection choices from manager Roy Hodgson, England went through to play Iceland. A game England were expected to win started well enough, but quickly deteriorated as Iceland’s clever tactics allied to England’s shameful ineptitude allowed the rank outsiders to win 2-1. 27/06/2016 is not a date that any England fan will want to remember, but nor is it one they will be allowed to forget.
By Dan Smith