While the years of hurt are still being extended — 56 (and counting) in total since they won the 1966 World Cup at the old Wembley Stadium — the England national team have managed to enjoy a period of success over the last six years in the grander scheme of things.
Since the embarrassing round of 16 defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016, Gareth Southgate has transformed the Three Lions into a force to be reckoned with — reaching the last four of the 2018 World Cup in Russia before going one step further on home soil last year, losing the Euro 2020 final to Italy at Wembley.
Hope and optimism for the Qatar World Cup has perhaps been lowered as England failed to win any of their six UEFA Nations League encounters earlier this year — suffering relegation from the top tier to League B as a result of their shortcomings. But the Three Lions are still one of the favourites in the World Cup betting to lift the cup in the Middle East, and can use their recent experiences in major competitions to rediscover their form.
That said, let’s take a look back at their journey to the semi-finals four years ago.
England were paired with then World No.1 Belgium in Group G, but with Tunisia and Panama making up the rest of the group, the Three Lions’ place in the round of 16 seemed all but confirmed before a ball was even kicked.
They stumbled out of the blocks somewhat, however. Harry Kane opened the scoring in the 11th minute against Tunisia, and many thought that would open the flood gates. But the Eagles of Carthage pegged them back through a Ferjani Sassi penalty. Tunisia looked on course for a massive point, only for Kane to score the winner in the 91st minute.
It was more plain sailing on matchday two, flying out to a 1-0 lead thanks to a John Stones strike in the eighth minute. Kane then notched two penalties, wedged either side of a Jesse Lingard goal and a second for Stones. 6-0 up at half-time, England arguably took their foot off the gas and Panama grabbed a consolation through Felipe Baloy in the 78th minute.
The final group game against Belgium was the perfect opportunity for both England and Belgium to rotate their line-ups as they had both confirmed their place in the round of 16, but it was a rather dull affair as Adnan Januzaj’s 51st minute strike was the only goal.
Round of 16
Finishing second to Belgium in the group could have been England’s plan all along, as it meant an easier path through the knockouts, but they had to battle hard to get past Colombia. Another Kane penalty gave the Three Lions the lead in the 57th minute, but Yuri Mina scored a last-gasp equaliser in the 93rd.
The South Americans were in the driving seat in the preceding penalty shootout, as they converted their first three while Jordan Henderson missed for England. But Matheus Uribe and Carlos Bacca went on to miss, allowing Kieran Trippier and Eric Dier to win it.
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England’s last eight tie against Sweden wasn’t as nervy. Headers from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli in the 30th and 59th minutes respectively secured the Three Lions’ progression to the final four in what was ultimately a run-of-the-mill victory.
It took all of five minutes in England’s semi-final against Croatia for the fans to start dreaming of football coming home again — Trippier curling home a beautiful free kick from 25 yards to give Southgate’s men the lead.
The dream would later become a nightmare, however, as Ivan Perisic brought the Three Lions back down to earth in the 68th minute before Mario Mandzukic fired in the winner in the 109th.
England went on to lose the third place play-off to Belgium, Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard getting on the scoresheet.