As preparations continue for Euro 2016, Portugal’s visit to Wembley (Thursday 2 June) will inevitably revive memories of the Eusebio-inspired team that were beaten in the World Cup semi-final as England progressed to their greatest-ever triumph in 1966.
50 years on, the Three Lions squad will travel to France with the hope of earning similar legendary status as the Boys of ’66, although those compiling Bethut’s 2016 predictions for the Euro’s suggest that reaching the semi-finals would be a more realistic achievement for Roy Hodgson’s young and enthusiastic charges.
France, of course, played a part in England’s run to the final in 1966 as two goals from Roger Hunt clinched victory in the final group game.
After the controversial quarter-final win against Argentina, England hopes were high as Portugal had been given an almighty scare by North Korea.
The semi-final proved to be a classic with two goals from the superb Bobby Charlton giving Alf Ramsey’s men a clear advantage as the game moved towards its last ten minutes.
A penalty conceded by Jackie Charlton was then calmly converted by Eusebio but the Portuguese could not deny England their date with destiny against West Germany.
It is now 20 years since England last reached a major semi-final and that, again, was on English soil as Germany gained their revenge in Euro ’96.
With England beginning to believe that thirty years of hurt maybe coming to an end, Terry Venables’ team had been full of confidence as they faced another Wembley showdown.
Alan Shearer gave the host nation the perfect start with an opener after only three minutes but Stefan Kuntz levelled just after the quarter-hour.
Although Paul Gascoigne went agonisingly close, the old foes could not be divided after extra time so the dreaded penalties were required.
Gareth Southgate missed the first effort of the sudden death attempts before German captain Andreas Moller sealed England’s fate.
England’s other semi-final appearance in the European Championships dates back to 1968 when the finals tournament featured only four teams.
The Home International Championships in 1967 and 1968 had formed England’s qualifying group and the team progressed to a successful two-legged quarter-final against Spain.
So on to Italy for the final tournament where England, as reigning world champions, faced Yugoslavia in Florence.
Alf Ramsey’s team selection now appears to way ahead of its time as Roger Hunt was the lone striker ahead of a five-man midfield that included two ball-winners in Alan Mullery and Norman Hunter.
However, the cautious English approach was undone four minutes from time when Dragan Dzajic scored.
Frustrations boiled over after what turned out to be the game’s only goal, with Mullery earning the dubious distinction of becoming the first ever England player to be sent off in an international game.
Italy was the stage for England’s other semi-final experience.
After the dark days of the eighties, the World Cup in 1990 became the catalyst for a change of atmosphere surrounding English football and the performances of Bobby Robson’s gutsy heroes arguably began the resurrection of the national sport.
However, after goals from Gary Lineker for England and Germany’s Andreas Brehme left the score at 1-1 at the end of extra time, England were left to rue penalty fails from Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle which saw them knocked out once again.
After 1966, 1968, 1990 and 1996, could England earn a fifth last four attempt in 2016?