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FIFA World Cup: Joy and despair – a look at England’s short semi-final history

A look back on how England fared in their previous World Cup last-four ties

10 July 2018

England are preparing for what will be just their third ever World Cup Semi-Final, when they step out against Croatia on Wednesday night. We've looked back at the two previous outings, in 1966 and 1990.


The route to the semi-final hadn’t been easy by any means, but the last-four tie against Portugal would be England’s toughest test of the World Cup to date. The South Europeans had already knocked out a Brazil side who had won the 1958 and 1962 tournaments, and would go on to lift the trophy again in 1970.

Facing the threat of the tournament’s top goalscorer and one of the world’s finest players in Eusebio, the host nation’s defence would have to be at their very best – and they were.

Wembley’s 90,000 crowd witnessed the Portuguese launch a flurry of attacks, only to be nullified by a stubborn back line. At the other end, spaces would inevitably appear, and there was no one better to exploit them than Bobby Charlton.

Not many have, or ever will, strike a ball as well as the Manchester United man, and he fired home from 18 yards to give England the lead on the half-hour, and he smashed in the second from just inside the box to double the lead with 11 minutes remaining.

Eusebio scored his eighth of the World Cup with a penalty a few moments later — the first goal England had conceded all tournament — to set up a nervy finish, but Alf Ramsey’s men held on to book a Final date with West Germany. And I think we know how that went…


Twenty-four years after that victory over Portugal, which led to the famous 4-2 win and a first and only World Cup triumph, England were back in the last four of a World Cup.

A hard-fought 3-2 quarter-final win over Cameroon set up the clash with old rivals Germany, and they took the lead with an hour played when Andreas Brehme’s thumping free-kick took a deflection to beat Peter Shilton.

England had the prolific Gary Lineker though, and the 1986 Golden Boot winner’s equaliser with 10 minutes to go forced extra time inside the Stadio Delle Alpi. Bobby Robson’s men came agonisingly close to winning it in the additional period, in which Paul Gascoigne received a yellow card which would have ruled him out of the final – an iconic moment which will forever be remembered.

So on to the dreaded penalties, where misses from Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle consigned England to an agonising defeat. Germany went on to lift the World Cup, while England were defeated by hosts Italy in the Third-Place Play-Off.

To this day, that game is still talked about as the ultimate of near misses. Maybe, just maybe, the 2018 World Cup Semi-Final with Croatia will finally put those memories to bed…

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