Well, another England National Team World Cup campaign has come and gone. This one was particularly quick, as the team was mathematically eliminated just two games in by Luis Suárez and his ragtag band of Uruguayans (damn skippy!). A little while ago we looked at Germany, a team that always seems to meet or exceed expectations at the Cup. This time around, let’s look at how the other half lives: the history of England at the World Cup.
England claims to be the birthplace of soccer. There are some questions as to whether there were similar games in ancient times (including among the advanced civilizations of the Americas), but it’s pretty clear that soccer in its modern incarnation is an English (or British) creation. They codified the first rules of the sport, then spread it worldwide and then back again. This, of course, led the English to become insufferably smug about their brand of soccer (What? Really? The English? Smug? No Way!). Therefore, they were immeasurably pissed off when FIFA was formed (in Paris, no less) and the new organization decided that other countries should have a say in the sport as well. They took their ball and went home, refusing to participate in all three pre-WWII tournaments. In their eyes, they were so superior to the other teams that there was no point in proving their dominance no the field; indeed, the mere fact of being asked to do so was an insult.
Brazil 1950: Finally, the British nations decided it was no longer beneath them to participate in the World Cup. England qualified for the tournament (they were forced to qualify? The horror!). Their first game was a 2-0 win over Chile; not the thunderous beatdown one would expect from the Gods of Soccer, but OK. Then the wheels came off. Their next game was against a barely-held-together-with-duct-tape US squad, and it resulted in a 1-0 loss–the second biggest upset in fútbol history. With its back to the wall and needing a win to qualify for the next round, England lost again, 1-0 to Spain, and were sent back home to whine about the long travel, the weather, the food and anything else that drew attention away from their colossal failure. Le roi c’est mort!
Switzerland 1954: While the rest of the world still refused to admit its inferiority, England made a better show of it this time around, reaching the quarterfinals before losing 4-2 to Uruguay (if only the Germans would learn something from this…).
Sweden 1958: Drew all three games in the group stage and was eliminated.
Chile 1962: Reached the quarterfinals again, losing to Brazil 3-1.
England 1966: Now we’re cooking with gas! Serving as the host this time around, England took full advantage of FIFA’s home team perks, like shady referee designation in the quarters and phantom goals in the finals, to win its first only World Cup. Cheerio!
Mexico 1970: Due to the, em… peculiar nature of the previous World Cup, the English were the biggest villains in this tournament. Viciously booed and hated everywhere they went, they made it to the quarterfinals, where they lost to 3-2 in overtime to West Germany, amid general rejoicing. Look, if people are openly rooting for the Germans, you have serious image problems. That didn’t even happen to Sly Stallone in Victory.
Germany 1974: Did not qualify.
Argentina 1978: Did not qualify.
Spain 1982: Won their initial group with three solid wins, and then forgot how to score. Two scoreless ties in the second round, against West Germany and host Spain, sent them home. On the bright side, there was very little booing, perhaps because they put the crowds to sleep with their play.
Mexico 1986: Lost to Argentina in the quarterfinals 2-1. Diego Armando Maradona scored both goals for Argentina: one became arguably the most recognizable World Cup moment in history, and the other one is the best goal I’ve ever seen.
Italy 1990: Made it all the way to the semifinals before losing to Germany after penalty kicks.
USA 1994: Did not qualify.
France 1998: Lost to Argentina in the second round, again via penalties.
South Korea/Japan 2002: Lost to Brazil in the quarters (2-1), marking the fourth time they were eliminated by the eventual champion, so they got that going for them, which is nice.
Germany 2006: Lost to Portugal in the quarters (penalties again!)
South Africa 2010: Reached the second round, where they lost to Germany 4-1 after a seemingly legal goal was disallowed by the referee. I guess Karma wasn’t quite done with them…
Brazil 2014: They teased the Suarez. They spoke ill of the Suarez. They suspended the Suarez. They all but bought their own ticket home.
So what did we learn about England today? They like losing to Argentina and Germany. They are no good at penalties. They are either massive underachievers, or have an inflated opinion of their own talents. And winning a World Cup isn’t that difficult when you get to make up the rules as you go along. Look, it’s easy to look around and think that just because you run one of the top three national leagues in the world, your national team should win things, but it’s not as easy as it looks, particularly when the players that make your league as great as it is are lined up across the field (and Steven Gerrard keeps feeding them assists).
Featured image courtesy of: (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)
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