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May 2, 2006

1958 - Drawing the short straw

The 1958 World Cup in Sweden saw the tournament receive international TV coverage for the first time as Pele made his bow on the global stage.

England were drawn in a nightmare group with Brazil, the Soviet Union and Austria. Unlike in previous tournaments, all the group rivals played each other and - crucially, as it turned out - a tie for second and third place would result in a play-off.

England manager Walter Winterbottom took a depleted squad to his third World Cup finals after the Munich air crash had tragically robbed him of Manchester United's Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor and Roger Byrne.

United had played a big part in England's development. Following the Old Trafford club's 10-0 victory over Anderlecht, captain Jef Mermans was moved to say: 'Why don't they pick the whole side for England? The best teams from Hungary have never beaten us like this.'

With the England team's days as the dominant force well in the past Winterbottom adopted a more European style as England topped their qualification group with 5-2 and 4-1 wins over Denmark and a 5-1 home win and 1-1 draw with Ireland.

Their first World Cup game, against the Soviet Union, proved a battle and ended in a creditable 2-2 draw. Soviet captain Nikita Simonian put his side ahead, and Alexander Ivanov made it 2-0 after the break, but Derek Kevan began England's fightback and Tom Finney aka The Preston Plumber levelled from the penalty spot.

It was to be Finney's last contribution, as he was ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a knee injury, while Kevan ended the tournament as England's top marksman.

The next group game, against a Pele-less Brazil, ended in a 0-0 stalemate - the first goalless draw in World Cup history. It meant England needed to win their final group game against Austria to be sure of progressing.

The Austrians, who had failed to score in their previous two games, got off to a great start when Karl Koller struck early on. Fulham's Johnny Haynes replied before Alfred Korner restored the lead and Kevan struck to send Winterbottom's side into a play-off with the Soviet Union.

The game proved to be a hard-fought affair, decided by a 68th minute Anatoli Ilyin goal, and England crashed out. However, all was not lost. Two of the more studious squad members - Don Howe and Bobby Robson - were encouraged by Winterbottom to attend the FA's Lilleshall coaching school, and both later became England managers.

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