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May 24, 2006

The time is now

History

Despite being credited with the invention of the modern game England snubbed football's biggest tournament in the early years - largely down to the arrogance of the Football Association.

Following the creation of the FA back in 1863 they rejected an invitation to head FIFA during its formative years and refused to participate in the inaugural World Cup of 1930, the following tournament in 1934 and didn't join in the carnival until 1950.

This was in part because England, who had already won the Olympic title twice, were largely seen as the best team around and usually beat the winners of the World Cup to 'prove' the claim.

However, by the time they joined the 1950 World Cup in Brazil their self imposed exile had stifled development. After beating Chile 2-0 Walter Winterbottom's side suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to the USA in a humiliating match in Belo Horizonte and drew 0-0 with Spain to crash out of the tournament.

At Switzerland 1954 England fared a little better, reaching the quarter-finals, before being knocked out 4-2 by holders Uruguay. Four years later an England squad tragically depleted by the Munich air crash were drawn in a nightmare group with world football powerhouses Brazil, Austria and the Soviet Union - to whom England eventually went out in a league phase play-off.

Chile 1962 was a turning point for England. The team reached the quarter-finals by beating Argentina and were ousted by eventual champions Brazil, but more importantly Winterbottom was replaced by former England defender Alf Ramsey - a man who would usher in a new era for English football.

Ramsey suffered an inauspicious start and after failing to qualify for the 1964 European Championships saved his neck by proclaiming that England would win the next world Cup. Luckily, as hosts, England didn't need to qualify and Ramsey delivered on his promise. England beat West Germany 4-2 at Wembley, largely thanks to a Geoff Hurst hat-trick, to land their one and only World Cup.

West Germany gained revenge at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico when an England team, ranked among the favourites, was beaten 3-2 by an extra-time goal from the tournament's top goalscorer Gird Muller. Not only did the English have to relinquish their title as World Champions but spent 12 years in the wilderness after failing to qualify for the 1974, and 1978 finals.

Ron Greenwood took the team to Espana 1982 and after a great start, as group winners, the England team faced yet another group phase against West Germany and hosts Spain. After a 0-0 draw with the Germans England needed to beat the Spaniards 2-0. Injured star duo Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking came on late in the game but failed to grab the needed brace and England headed home.

But there were no wilderness years this time around and new boss Bobby Robson ensured England qualified for the next two World Cup finals. At Mexico 1986 he reshaped the midfield to reach the quarter-finals - only to be beaten by Diego Maradona's Argentina and the infamous 'Hand of God' goal. But at Italia '90 Robson went one better.

Robson managed to harness Paul Gascoigne's mercurial talent to help drive England into the semi-finals of Italia 90, where they once again faced Germany. On route England became the first team in World Cup history to play three consecutive matches through extra-time. They won two in added time but penalties against the Germans proved too much and England crashed out.

Graham Taylor's England team failed to qualify for the 1994 tournament in the USA and it fell to Glenn Hoddle to take the Three Lions to France 1998 and marked his tenure with the startling omission of Gazza. Hoddle's England cruised past Tunisia 2-0 in their opening match, an 18-year-old Michael Owen scored against Romania as England lost 2-1 and a 21-year-old David Beckham scored his first international goal in a 2-0 win over Colombia to take second place in the group.

That outcome left England facing a tough match in the next round against Argentina, in St Etienne. England eventually lost 4-3, again on penalties, but the match saw Owen score the wonder goal that launched his career and Beckham received the red card that proved the catalyst for his.

When Sven Goran Eriksson was installed as England manager in 2001 Beckham became his captain and led the team on a roller-coaster ride to qualification for World Cup Korea/Japan 2002. However, disaster struck when he broke his metatarsal weeks before the Finals.

The skipper recovered enough to lead out the team for a 1-1 draw with the Swedes in the England's opening match he never recovered his best form in the Far East. His penalty gave England a 1-0 win, and some semblance of revenge, over Argentina and then Eriksson's team drew 0-0 with Nigeria to set up a quarter-final with Brazil, after dispatching Denmark 3-0, but Eriksson's team ran out of steam and lost 2-1.

The Three Lions go into the 2006 World Cup as one of the favourites.

The gaffer

Despite an undistinguished time as a player Sven-Goran Eriksson has forged himself a managerial career that has seen him take control of some of biggest teams in European football and embark on the international game.

Born in Torsby, Sweden, Eriksson was forced to quit playing at the age of 27 and subsequently became a coach in the Swedish Third Division with Degerfors and guided the club to the top flight within three years.

In 1979 he was appointed coach at IFK Gothenburg and delivered the Swedish Cup in his first year in charge. He went on to win another domestic cup, the league title and the 1982 UEFA Cup before being head-hunted by Portuguese runners-up Benfica.

The forward thinking Scandinavian led the club to the league title - losing only one game - the domestic cup and narrowly missed out on another UEFA Cup success in his first season at the helm.

He retained the Portuguese championship the following campaign before being lured to Roma in 1984, where he landed the Coppa Italia in his second season.

Eriksson moved to Florence to take control of Fiorentina in 1987 and endured his first trophyless stint at a club.

He returned to Benfica in 1989 and guided them to a European Cup final before lifting the Portuguese title once again in 1991.

Eriksson returned to Italy to win the 1994 Italian Cup with Sampdoria before moving to Lazio in 1997, where he won four trophies and the Scudetto, before becoming the first foreign manager to lead England.

The Swede rescued England's faltering qualification campaign for World Cup 2002, the pinnacle of which was the 5-1 victory over old rivals Germany in Munich. In Korea/Japan England reached the quarter-finals.

Eriksson maintained his unbeaten record in qualifying to reach Euro 2004, eventually losing on penalties to hosts Portugal in the last sixteen.

England easily qualified for Germany 2006, but en-route Eriksson was caught out by a 'fake-sheikh' sting by the News of the World that resulted in the Swede deciding to quit England after the World Cup.

The decision to leave England seemed to alter the Swede's natural conservatism and unburdened with facing any repercussions of his actions he named the boldest squad of his five-and-a-half-year tenure for the 2006 World Cup.

Eriksson's new found maverick attitude may suit England well at the Finals.

One to watch

Frank Lampard emerged as an England regular after becoming the attacking hub of Chelsea and at the World Cup he should be at the peak of his powers.

Once a much-maligned figure whose place in the England squad was questioned by some, he is now a certainty in the starting XI and a central part of Sven Goran Eriksson's side.

His performances in propelling Chelsea to two Premiership titles and the Carling Cup, plus his goals in helping England qualify for Germany 2006 World Cup; saw him short listed for the World Player of the Year Award along with Barcelona duo Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o.

His eye for goal, attacking influence and deadball ability make him one of the world's best midfielders. Few would have thought he would progress to be more crucial (arguably) to the national side than Liverpool's Steven Gerrard.

Lampard rose through the ranks at West Ham United and by the 1997/98 season was a first team regular despite still being a teenager. His performances gained the attention of the England coaching staff, and he made his full debut against Belgium in October 1999, and went on to captain the Under-21 side in the European Championships.

When Lampard left West Ham to join Chelsea for £11million many laughed at the enormity of the transfer fee but three trophies later the prolific goalscoring midfielder is key to Chelsea's multi-million pound midfield.

He really came of age under Blues manager's Claudio Ranieri and Jose Mourinho, and after being overlooked for Euro 2000 and World Cup 2002 he made a big impression at Euro 2004 - scoring three goals in four games as England reached the quarter-finals.

The midfielder added to his international tally during World Cup qualifying, when he scored the only goal of the game against Austria and then a late winner against Poland to take England to Germany as group winners.


  • If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.