With English clubs banned from Europe, thanks to the domestic game's hooligan element, Bobby Robson's squad for Italia 90 contained only five players with any experience of the continent's top competitions.
Four of them played for Glasgow Rangers in Scotland and the fifth, Chris Waddle, had briefly become the world's most expensive player when he made a £4.5million move to French club Marseille.
The qualifying campaign - grouped with Sweden, Albania and Poland - had not been easy, with England eventually sneaking through on goal difference behind Sweden as one of the best runners-up.
Golden Boot winner Gary Lineker was back for another World Cup as one of England's most influential players, while Aston Villa's goalscoring midfielder David Platt and Spurs' mercurial Paul Gascoigne were at their first.
Gascoigne proved to be the driving force behind England's attack, lighting up the tournament. It was no coincidence that both his and Platt's performances at Italia '90 would see them playing in Serie A soon afterwards.
In England's opening group game, against the Republic of Ireland, it took Lineker just eight minutes to get on the scoresheet - but then Steve McMahon gifted Kevin Sheedy with an equaliser to make the final score 1-1.
Robson was lambasted for 'negative tactics' in the press and England's next game, a 0-0 draw with Holland in the Stadio Sant'Elia, did nothing to dissuade the critics. But with every other Group F team only managing to draw, England could still finish top with victory over Egypt.
That would not be easy - the Egyptians had already held Ireland to a goalless draw and managed a 1-1 draw with Holland.
It would take something different to win the match, so Robson switched to a sweeper system. That meant a place for Derby County's Mark Wright, and the defender headed home his first and only goal for England to give them a 1-0 win.
Second round opposition was provided by Group E runners-up Belgium in Bologna and, after 90 tense minutes, the game was all square at 0-0 and went into extra-time. With a penalty shoot-out looming, England won a free-kick on the left with only one minute remaining.
Gascoigne floated the ball in and Platt latched on to it to volley home and put England into the last eight in the most dramatic fashion.
And Platt continued to dazzle in the quarter-final against Cameroon, who had proven that their opening day 1-0 victory against world champions Argentina was no fluke.
The Villa forward headed home the game's opening goal after 25 minutes, but Cameroon's introduction of veteran - and seemingly ageless - forward Roger Milla changed the picture dramatically.
Milla orchestrated a stunning fightback, and a 63rd minute Emmanuel Jerome Kunde penalty, followed by Eugene Ekeke Ebelle's deft finish, put them into a 2-1 lead.
Gascoigne, though, continued to drive England forward and, when Lineker was felled in the penalty area, the striker's cool spot-kick levelled matters and sent an enthralling match into extra-time.
Lineker's unflappability from the spot sent England into the last four when another foul, after 105 minutes, brought another penalty - and set up a semi-final showdown with Germany.
Robson's side produced an amazing performance, but Germany took the lead when full-back Paul Parker charged out to close down an Andreas Brehme free-kick - only to deflect the ball agonisingly over the stranded Peter Shilton.
Parker, determined to make amends, relentlessly charged down the flanks and provided the cross for Lineker to clinically finish past goalkeeper Bodo Illgner with ten minutes to go.
England battled on and became the first side in World Cup history to play three consecutive matches through extra-time. Emotions ran high in added time, as Waddle struck the woodwork for England and Guido Buchwald did the same for Germany.
Gascoigne then received his second booking of the tournament for an alleged late tackle on defender Tomas Berthold. He famously burst into to tears as he realised he would miss the World Cup final should England make it.
In the event, Germany's unerring accuracy from the spot proved the final difference between the two sides as Stuart Pearce and Waddle failed to convert their kicks for England.
Germany eventually won the final 1-0...with a penalty.