Robert Green’s mistake for England against USA continues a long run of World Cup villains for the national side. In every tournament since 1966 there has been someone who has has seemingly conspired to derail England’s chances in the game’s greatest contest.
To be clear not every culprit listed below applied the mortal blow but each in their own way has contributed to make life for the rest of England team extremely difficult whether in qualifying or in the final tournament itself.
First in the dock is probably the most famous England villian of them all – Peter Bonnetti. Through a combination of bad play and misfortune he carried the can for a defeat of a side that was considered better than the team that lifted the Jules Rimet trophy four years earlier.
Peter Bonnetti (Mexico 1970) – England 2 West Germany 3
The Chelsea goalkeeper received an unexpected late call-up for this quarter-final clash in Mexico in a repeat of the 1966 final. Gordon Banks, who was widely recognised as the best keeper in the World at that time, had been laid-low by a stomach bug. Despite a fitness test on the day of the game, manager Alf Ramsay, decided he could not risk playing Banks and Bonnetti started in his place.
Initially England did well storming to a two-goal lead through Peters and Mullery but Beckenbaurer pulled one back with a shot that slipped under the body of a slow to react Bonnetti.
After Bobby Charlton was taken off to conserve his energy for the next game, England fell apart conceding a goal in the last 10 minutes when a seemingly harmless looping header left the Chelsea stopper stranded.
In extra-time it was all West Germany and they won the match thanks to a smashed winner from Gerd Muller to put them through to the semi-finals.
Norman Hunter and Peter Shilton (Wembley 1973) – England 1 Poland 1
England’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in 1974 was a seismic shock for English football. In what was the final match of qualifying, England had to win to go through while Poland only needed a draw.
Early in the second half there was a moment where the ball was loose out by the touchline. Barry Davies, the commentator, said, “…Hunter has got to make that!” but the England defender did not and the Poles broke away. The ball was crossed to Jan Domarski who was storming towards the penalty area and his first time shot went under the England keeper Shilton’s body to put Poland one up.
England later equalised through an Alan Clarke penalty but the Polish goalkeeper, Tomaszewski, played a blinder and the score remained 1-1 at the finish. One goal scored or one goal not conceded would’ve sent England to Germany but it wasn’t to be.
While the 70s were barren period for the national team it does not tell the whole story and this episode merely emphasises what a fine line there is between success and failure. The Poles eventually finished third with Lato the tournament top scorer.
Don Revie (1977) – defected to UAE job during qualifying campaign
After effectively losing out by one goal to eventual 1976 European Championship winners Czechoslovakia in qualifying, England again found themselves in a tough qualifying group for the 1978 World Cup.
England were on the backfoot from the start however after losing away to Italy 2-0 and were then always on catch up. Manager Don Revie was being given a torrid time in the press and despite beating Luxembourg 5-0 at Wembley, he defected to become manager of the United Arab Emirates national team. His salary was a huge sum at the time amounting to £340,000 over four years. The problem was that Revie had sold his story to the Daily Mail which announced the news before the FA had received his official resignation letter.
The qualifying campaign continued but the final nail in the coffin was an unconvincing 2-0 victory against Luxembourg under new manager Ron Greenwood. It ultimately meant that in England’s last match they needed to beat Italy by at least three goals (they managed two) or hope Luxembourg could hold the Italians to an unlikely draw. It was too big an ask and England went out on goal difference. Italy meanwhile went to Argentina where they eventually finished fourth.
Kevin Keegan (Spain 1982) – Spain 0 England 0
Despite a glittering club career during the 70s where Keegan won league, cup and European honours plus two European footballer of year awards, the diminuitive striker never had the opportunity to show his skills on the greatest stage. Not until 1982 that is.
The World Cup in Spain was the first England had qualified for since 1962 having been hosts in 1966 and as holders in 1970. Unfortunately Keegan went to the tournament injured and it was touch and go whether he was going to be able to play at all.
England started brilliantly by winning all three group games but in the second round they found themselves in a tough pool with the hosts Spain and West Germany with whom they drew with 0-0.
The other results meant that for England to make the semi-finals they had to beat Spain by two goals but with 18 minutes remaining it was still goaless. In a last desperate throw of the dice Keegan was brought on and within a few minutes was presented with a simple header that he put agonisingly wide of the post.
If he had scored the momentum would’ve been with England and they may have got another against a dispirited Spanish side but it would be unfair to be too critical. A player of his quality should have more than 18 minutes and missed header to show for a World Cup career.
Ray Wilkins (Mexico 1986) – England 0 Morrocco 0
This was one of those we got away with. Wilkins getting sent off for throwing a ball towards the referee was not at all helpful to England’s cause. It was a tad harsh but why take that chance with a whistle happy official looking to make a name for himself. The result left England with one point from two games meaning that England had to win against Poland to go through. Fortunately Lineker remembered his shooting boots this time and scored a hatrick to put England through behind the Africans.
That game was also known for Bryan Robson dislocating his shoulder for probably the third time that week such was his fragile state back then. At least with him we had a substitute to bring on, in this case Steve Hodge. This was the man who ‘passed’ to Maradona for the Hand of God goal in the quarter-finals so maybe he should have kept his tracksuit on.
Chris Waddle (Italy 1990) – West Germany 1 England 1 (4-3 on penalties)
In a tournament where we started slowly (as usual) and got progressively, England had their best performance in a match they lost. Uninspiring draws with the Republic of Ireland and the Dutch was followed by lucky 1-0 wins against Egypt and Belgium. Cameroon in the quarter-finals should’ve been a formality but it took two Gary Lineker penalties and extra-time to get England to the semi-finals.
We all know about the game. Brehme’s lucky deflected free kick against Paul Parker, Lineker’s equaliser and of course Gazza’s tears but 1990’s villain came in the penalty shoot-out.
Now, I can’t bring myself to put Stuart Pearce here just because he missed England’s first penalty that day. He more than made up for his England errors – including that awful back pass against San Marino – by fighting back against Basil Boli who had nutted him in Euro92 and by scoring a crucial pen against Spain in Euro96.
Chris Waddle meanwhile, had the body language of a man who knew he was going to miss that night in Turin. By not even forcing a save from German stopper, Bodo Illgner, Shilton wasn’t even given the opportunity to save that final kick. Not that he would’ve done.
Had England got there they would’ve faced a decimated Argentinan side without five players through injury and suspension. Surely they would have been able to finish victorious even with the skill of Gasgoigne.
Des Walker and Graham Taylor (1993) – Key games against Norway and Holland
I actually think Graham Taylor was a bit unlucky not to qualify for USA94 but this would ultimately be covering over the cracks of what was a pretty poor side. From the start we must forget what was the ultimate decider, the away game against Holland in Rotterdam where England were robbed by Ronald Koeman and the referee – the damage had already been done long before then.
Rekdahl scored a fantastic if fortunate leveller for Norway at Wembley early in the campaign while Bergkamp did something similar for Holland a few months later. In that game Walker had been hopelessly exposed for pace giving away a penalty against Dutch striker Marc Overmars with just four minutes remaining. This allowed Holland to equalise after England had previously been 2-0 up.
Walker was also largely at fault for the first goal in Norway when he began to argue with the referee after committing a foul near the corner flag. He was subsequently caught out with a quick free kick which was crossed for Øyvind Leonhardsen to score in what ended as a 2-0 defeat.
In the last round of matches England had to beat San Marino by seven goals and hope that Poland could beat Holland in Posznan. Neither happened with England only winning 7-1 and the Poles losing 3-1 at home. The Dutch went to the US where they lost out to eventual winners Brazil in the quarter-finals.
David Beckham (France 1998) – England 2 Argentina 2 (3-4 on penalties)
The 1998 World Cup last 16 clash between Argentina and England in Saint-Étienne has gone down in football folklore. We can talk all day about 18 year old Michael Owen’s mazy run and fine finish as well his dubious dive for a penalty. We can also mention the theatrical dive by Simeone which led to the game’s opening goal from the penalty spot and the Zanetti’s wonderfully worked free kick to make it 2-2 but the key incident happened on the halfway line shortly after half-time.
Shortly after the start of second half David Beckham was bundled over by Diego Simeone. As the Argentian got his feet and while Beckham still lay on the floor, the Englishman flicked out a leg and Simeone went to ground. It was an over the top reaction from both men but referee Kim Milton Nielsen had no choice – Beckham had to go.
Despite their numerical advantage Argentina could not force a winner and for a brief moment it looked like England had snatched victory following a headed goal from Sol Campbell but it was disallowed due a foul by Shearer.
The game went to penalties – England missed two to Argentina’s one and England were out. Beckham was villified but he got his revenge four years later by scoring the winner in a rematch in South Korea.
David Seaman and Sven Goran Erikkson (South Korea / Japan 2002) – England 1 Brazil 2
During the 2002 World Cup England had stumbled its way through the group stage in what was considered the infamous group of death. Their oponents were Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria and while never looking convincing, the backs to wall victory against the Argentinians gave them the breathing space they required to go through.
In the second round a convincing 3-0 victory over Denmark had the shock of an Emile Heskey goal and a frightening celebration from Rio Ferdinand. This set up a match with the favourites, Brazil and England went one-up through Owen but their South Americans equalised on the stroke of half-time through Rivaldo. This could easily have been avoided as Beckham had the chance to clear on the touchline but jumped out of the tackle leaving the Brazilians free to break.
After half-time a free-kick by Ronaldinho was what sealed David Seaman’s position on this list. From what seemed like a harmless and wasted cross, the ball sailed over the goalkeeper’s head and into the back of the net. It was one of those million to one chances and it’s not clear to this day if Ronaldinho meant it but it found a gap and gave Brazil the lead in the game.
The Swede’s induction in the Hall of Shame comes from the total absense of ideas and a Plan B in that quarter-final when desperately needing to score. Shortly after Ronaldinho’s goal he had been sent off which meant England played the last 35 minutes against 10 men. The frustrating thing from an England fan’s standpoint was that there was not another serious threat on goal and team exited the tournament with little more than a whimper.
Had England capitalised on their advantage they would have faced Turkey in the semi-finals and by winning that a game, set up a final against Germany who England had beaten 5-1 Munich just months earlier. Such a wasted opportunity.
Wayne Rooney (Germany 2006) – England 0 Portugal 0 (1-3 on penalties)
England were far from convincing in 2006 with lacklustre victories against Paraguay, Trinidad & T0bago and Ecuador with their only blip a careless 2-2 draw against Sweden in a game where they actually played well. It was a match which was effectively Michael Owen’s swansong as he was injured with no-one near him in the opening minute. He was never the same player again.
In the quarter-final against Portugal it was repeat of the meeting at the European Championships two years earlier and England were out for revenge. It was an enthralling game which ignited on the hour mark following a scrappy tackle between Ricardo Carvalho and Wayne Rooney. In fighting to get the ball Rooney stamped on the fallen player between the legs – it’s not pretty viewing.
For a moment it looked as if Rooney would get away with it but his club colleague Ronaldo stormed over to the referee to protest and England player responded by pushing the Portugese. His fate was sealed and again Horacio Elizondo had little choice but to send Rooney off.
The real villain in 2006 was Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal after ‘that wink’ but we can’t forget that the catalyst was the Rooney sending off. England played very well with 10 men and were unlucky not to win but being without their talismatic striker was what ultimately cost them.
So to 2010 and it’s Rob Green that is getting the bashing from the press. Will he be given the chance to redeem himself against the Algerians and even if he does will he be made a scapegoat should England not qualify from their group. We’ll have to wait and see.