With the England football team embarking on a new era under Italian coach Fabio Capello, I am minded to post an article written prior to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Ever the one for superstitions I was prepared to look for any omen I could that would see the English triumph in Berlin. Alas, it wasn’t to be but the piece demonstrates very clearly that such a fine less exists between success and failure…
Six Appeal for England?
1966 and all that. It’s an expression that can only mean one thing – England’s greatest triumph on a football field.
Whenever a major tournament comes round, fans in this country think that maybe, just maybe, that this will be the time that the team will recapture past glories. We try to compare archive results with recent events as a means of convincing ourselves that our dreams can become a reality.
Ten years on from that World Cup victory, England had slumped so low as to not qualify for their third successive international tournament. The 1976 European Championship finals held in Yugoslavia were won by Czechoslovakia, who beat West Germany, in a penalty shoot-out thanks to an audacious chip by Antonin Panenka.
Not many people will remember that in the qualifying stages England beat Czechoslovakia 3-0 at Wembley and by the time the return match came round, England had won all three of their matches, scoring nine goals and conceding none. The game in Bratislavia was the turning point however, as the Czech’s took both points with a 2-1 win after a second half winner by Gallis. If England had held out for a draw they would’ve topped the group and progressed.
In the 1986 Mexico World Cup, England were far from convincing as they lost 0-1 to Portugal which they followed with an embarrassing goalless draw with Morocco. In the final group game the team made amends as Lineker scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 victory against Poland. This set up a second round clash with Paraguay who were also soundly beaten thanks to a brace from Lineker and another from Beardsley.
Meanwhile, 1978 champions Argentina, started much better as they fought to regain their crown lost in Spain four years earlier. In the group stage they only dropped a single point, drawing 1-1 with then current holders Italy. The Argentinian’s last 16 match was against their bitter rivals, and twice World Cup winners, Uruguay who they beat 1-0 with a goal from Pasculli in what was the World Cup’s 400th match.
England’s Mexico 86 quarter-final with Argentina is the stuff of legend. The first half finished goalless but it didn’t take long to burst into life after the break. On 51 minutes Steve Hodge mishit a clearance which then looped high into the England penalty area. It looked to be Shilton’s ball but Maradona had stolen in and leading with his arm, punched the ball past the stranded keeper. Ali Bennaceur, the Tunisian referee, gave the goal in what turned out to be his first and last match as a World Cup official. Maradona would later say that the goal had been scored by the hand of God’ which did little to endear him to English supporters.
Just three minutes later Maradona scored again with one of the greatest goals in history. He picked up the ball in his own half, turned on a sixpence before speeding away from both Reid and Beardsley. Hoddle and Fenwick were also left in his wake as he strolled past Butcher and round Shilton before slotting home. Despite what had happened earlier, everyone had to accept the goal as an act of pure footballing genius.
With 10 minutes remaining England brought on John Barnes who had an instant impact. He crossed for Lineker to head home from two yards to make it 2-1 but a similar move in the dying seconds could not be converted thanks to desperate diving header by an Argentine defender.
After defeating Belgium in the semi-finals, Argentina went on to claim their second world title with a 3-2 victory against West Germany. While the best team undoubtedly won the competition, one cannot help but wonder what might have been had Lineker managed to connect with that second Barnes cross.
Euro96 was staged in England as the World Cup had been 30 years earlier. Again, after a slow start where England had drawn 1-1 with Switzerland, the team gained momentum with sensational victories over Scotland (2-0) and Holland (4-1). A nervy win on penalties following a goalless draw against Spain put England in only their second semi-final since 1968.
Their opponents, Germany, had finished the first round stage topping their group without conceding a goal. Croatia were dispatched 2-1 in the last eight thanks to goals from Klinnsman and Sammer to set up an epic encounter.
The match on June 26 1996 got off to a dramatic start with Shearer scoring inside three minutes with his fifth goal of the tournament. It took Germany less than quarter of an hour to draw level after Kuntz turned in a cross from the left. The rest of the 90 minutes was tense without either team taking the upper hand and it seemed inevitable that the game would go into an extra half hour.
What was different about this competition was the new ruling on sudden-death extra-time with the next goal – the golden goal – deciding the match. Both sides took up the challenge as supporter’s nerve ends were put through the mincer. Germany had a goal disallowed while Anderton hit a post and Gasgoigne came within a whisker of scoring with the goal gaping.
As in Turin in 1990, the match went to penalties. The first 10 penalties were safely put away before Gareth Southgate stepped up. He missed and Andreas Moller scored to put the Germans through again.
It was a body blow. Surely England would’ve triumphed against a Czech Republic side ravaged by injury and suspension. As it turned out Germany won 2-1 with a Bierhoff golden goal in extra-time.
It appears that if England get beat you should put your house on the victor winning the tournament overall. However, the more amazing statistic is that Germany have appeared in all four finals ending with a six and as hosts in 2006, who’d back against them making it five.
If you look back, England, Argentina, the Czechs and the Germans seem to be doing a fine job of defeating each other so we we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised if the same happens again in Germany. I for one cannot wait to find out if history will repeat itself.
NOTES PRE-WORLD CUP 2006
The only real blot on the stats detailed above was Czechoslovakia’s failure to qualify for the the Mexico tournament in 1986. They finished fourth in their qualifying pool but a link with the other countries in the six mix’ still remained: It was West Germany who topped their group.
Czechoslovakia also failed to qualify for the final tournament in 66 having missed out by a solitary goal against Portugal who eventually finished third who were subsequently beaten by England 2-1 in the semi-finals.
To sum up it’s not just England who can look to the number six as an omen. They may have won one tournament and lost the others to the eventual winners but so have Argentina, West Germany and the Czech Republic.
Argentina, who won in 86, lost to England in ’66. Germany won in 96 but lost in the final in 66, 76 and 86 to the English, the Czechs and the Argentinians respectively. In 1976 Czechoslovakia were victorious against Germany but ultimately lost out to them in 86 and 96.
NOTES POST-WORLD CUP 2006
The omens wrong at an early stage, the Czech Republic had capitulated in the group stages and found themselves on an early flight home.
Argentina, meanwhile, were knocked-out having been beaten on penalties, by who else but Germany, in the last eight.
The English were also defeated in the quarter-finals by Portugal who, as we know, also featured in matches against England in 1966 and 1986.
The Germans came close as usual and were within a whisker of making it five success finals ending with a six. They lost in the semi-final to Italy after two goals in the last two minutes of extra-time while Portugal lost their semi-final with France 0-1.
So in the end history did not repeat itself but the German’s went mighty close. It was Italy that triumphed in Berlin on July 9 in a final most remembered for French captain Zinedine Zidane’s savage head butt of Marco Materazzi.
But then, that’s another story…