Hands of God, lobbing Seaman and penalties: Ranking all 10 England World Cup quarter-finals

Dave Tickner
Hand of God featuring Maradona

On Saturday England played their 10th World Cup quarter-final, with France joining teams like Uruguay, West Germany, Portugal and of course Argentina in the list of teams standing in the Three Lions’ way.

It’s always a fascinating point in a tournament for England, a country for whom success or otherwise at a major tournament seems to exist along an invisible line between the last eight and the last four. Reaching 10 quarter-finals and progressing from only three marks it as the standard tournament exit point. And England’s long and storied history of brave defeats at this tournament turning point has a new entry. Let’s rank the lot of them, shall we? Even chucking in the three rogue wins for the lols.

 

10) 2006 World Cup: England 0-0 Portugal (Portugal won 3-1 on pens)
For the third major tournament in a row, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England were defeated by Luiz Felipe Scolari. First was the 2002 World Cup with Brazil, then Euro 2004 with Portugal on penalties and then this absolute gut-punch.

Back in the days when Cristiano Ronaldo was busier antagonising and disrupting opponents rather than team-mates, The Winker played his part in Wayne Rooney’s sending-off and, although England scrapped and battled their way through a pretty grim encounter to reach penalties, the spot-kicks were a shambles. Portugal won comfortably despite missing two of their own penalties, with Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher all failing from the spot for England.

It was lost on nobody that England’s only successful penalty came from Owen Hargreaves, easily England’s most German player.

 

9) 1962 World Cup: Brazil 3-1 England
Finishing second to Hungary in the group stage left England with the small matter of Brazil in the last eight. Luckily for England, there was no Pele that day. Unluckily for England, there was Garrincha. Little Bird scored the opening goal, forced the second after a Gerry Hitchens equaliser when his free-kick was parried by Ron Springett for Vava to head home the rebound. Garrincha scored his second and Brazil’s third to seal the deal on the hour. England were brave and game but overpowered by superior etc. and so forth yada yada yada. You know the drill.

 

8) 2002 World Cup: England 1-2 Brazil
Michael Owen gave England a shock lead against the favourites and eventual champions, but in first-half injury time David Beckham pulled his metatarsal away from a 50-50 and Brazil broke away to equalise through Rivaldo.

Then Ronaldinho lobbed Seaman. Stop giggling. It was very upsetting.

 

7) 1954 World Cup: Uruguay 4-2 England
A brave performance from England who could head home with heads held proudly high despite finding themselves outmatched and overpowered by the sheer attacking prowess of the holders. Omens out the wazoo in this one.

Nat Lofthouse and Tom Finney scored for an England side driven on by their captain Billy Wright and with a 39-year-old Stanley Matthews – still the oldest outfield player at a World Cup for England – doing bits in a free role as a third prong in a legend-filled England frontline. But Uruguay’s was even better. Carlos Borges, Juan Schiaffino and Javier Ambrois all scored, as did midfielder Obdulio Varela, to send Walter Winterbottom’s side home and start a narrative of heroic failure that has been England’s tournament staple for most of the subsequent 68 years.

 

6) 1970 World Cup: West Germany 3-2 England (aet)
The big missed opportunity of all England’s assorted and varied quarter-final mishaps. They were the holders, they were still really bloody good and above all else they were 2-0 up with a quarter of the match remaining, for fu…

England’s day had got off to a terrible start with Montezuma’s Revenge (aka the wild shits) forcing Gordon Banks to sit the game out. Peter Bonetti, without a minute of action since the end of the club season, was in as emergency deputy.

Still, though, all was well after Alan Mullery and Martin Peters scored either side of half-time to put Sir Alf’s side in apparent control. But Franz Beckenbauer’s shot from distance squirmed under Bonetti to bring the Germans back into it. Bobby Charlton was then substituted – legend has it to rest him for a semi-final that would never come – while with 10 minutes to go the defence was stiffened with the introduction of Norman Hunter for Peters. But that left England without their two most assured and calm technicians in Charlton and Peters, and things started to look a bit desperate.

Sure enough, a Uwe Seeler header looped over a wrong-footed Bonetti to force extra-time. Geoff Hurst had a goal disallowed, but it all seemed to be heading one inexorable way and the great Gerd Muller smashed home the winner. The end of an era, and it would be 16 years before England reached the last eight again.

 

5) 2022 World Cup: England 1-2 France
Gah, what an absolute pisser. England were underdogs against France and duly lost narrowly, but it just didn’t quite feel like the usual “undone by first decent team” narrative, did it? England gave as good as they got across 90 minutes where plenty of things that could have gone either way went France’s. Harry Kane’s late penalty will haunt him forever, while even after that there was Marcus Rashford’s last-gasp free-kick that missed the top corner of a frozen Hugo Lloris’ goal by inches.

England had a plan to nullify Kylian Mbappe and it largely worked, but didn’t budget for Aurelien Tchouameni rasping one home from 25 yards. Olivier Giroud heading a winner after getting the better of Harry Maguire was perhaps more predictable, but between those two moments England were really bloody good.

Horrible sport is football.

 

4) 1990 World Cup: Cameroon 2-3 England (aet)
A game responsible for 71% of the goals scored in the 1990 quarter-finals. You don’t need luck when you’ve got 71% of a tournament’s quarter-final goals. England were lucky, though, in a game distinctly at odds with their previous progress through the famously goal-shy 1990 World Cup.

After topping a group in which only one of the six games produced a result – England’s 1-0 win over Egypt – Bobby Robson’s side then endured 119 fraught goalless minutes against Belgium before Paul Gascoigne and David Platt combined for one of England’s all-time great World Cup goals.

And so on to a quarter-final against surprise package Cameroon. Platt scored again to put England into a first-half lead but the game turned in four second-half minutes as Cameroon went 2-1 up and appeared set to become the first African side to reach the last four of a World Cup.

But a disjointed and nervous England were handed a lifeline seven minutes from time. Gary Lineker’s eighth World Cup goal drew them level from the penalty spot, and he scored the winner – again from 12 yards – in extra-time to set up a semi-final against you know who.

England goalscorers David Platt and Gary Lineker celebrate after the 1990 World Cup quarter-final win against Cameroon

3) 2018 World Cup: Sweden 0-2 England
What Gareth Southgate did so cleverly in 2018 that he has hubristically failed to repeat four-and-a-half-years on was have the team that should have been in the quarter-final against England knocked out in the group stage. Instead of defending champions Germany, it was Sweden who stood in England’s way. Much more sensible.

We’re loathe to question Southgate, because he’s shown time and again that he knows what he’s doing, but if it were us we would definitely have made sure France got knocked out like that as well. It could be Denmark or Tunisia or even Australia here instead of Kylian Mbappe and the lads. Silly Gareth.

Anyway, back in the more sensible times of 2018, England finally got themselves into the last four of the World Cup for the first time in 28 years and only the third time in their history with an air of calm unflustered inevitability that was at the time entirely discombobulating for England fans brought up on mess and drama and mainly despair.

Of course, such unfussy tournament wins are now very much de rigueur for Southgate’s side. But don’t worry: to replicate the 2018 feeling of surprise and confusion felt at England winning a knockout game in such straightforward manner, our 2022-adjusted eyes have simply to note that one of England’s goalscorers that day was Dele Alli.

 

2) 1986 World Cup: Argentina 2-1 England
Not just England’s most famous quarter-final, but perhaps the most famous quarter-final of them all. A genuinely sensational game featuring two of the most legendary World Cup goals of all time from Diego Maradona that were separated by less than four minutes but were worlds apart.

The second is a contender for the greatest World Cup goal ever scored (“And you have to say that’s magnificent”) and the first is undoubtedly the most infamous. It’s been 36 years and neither Peter Shilton nor yer da have yet got remotely over the Hand of God.

Of course, Shilton could have just jumped. Could have saved everyone all this trouble. Easy in hindsight, though, isn’t it? To suggest that a six-foot goalkeeper might have considered simply outjumping a five-foot-six little shithouse genius?

There was still time for Gary Lineker to head home a close-range consolation which didn’t do England any good but did nab him the Golden Boot, an achievement that Banter Law decrees must be brought up by Micah Richards or Alan Shearer before Lineker can manage it at every England game for the rest of time. This game’s ongoing function as a perpetual-motion piss-boiling machine means it comfortably sits above a couple of quarter-finals England actually won.

 

1) 1966 World Cup: England 1-0 Argentina
Victory at last in a World Cup quarter-final for England in a legendary game where a stupdendously skilful Argentina side decided to instead spend 90 minutes shithousing their way around Wembley kicking shins and waving their arms around indignantly. Their captain Antonio Rattin pushed the referee beyond breaking point inside the first 35 minutes and got himself sent off for assorted acts of dickery. He wasn’t finished, though, taking a further 10 minutes of ranting and recrimination to actually leave the field.

Geoff Hurst scored the only goal 13 minutes from time, but that really was a footnote to a game that was the first time Sir Alf Ramsey deployed his ‘Wingless Wonders’ formation and then caused a genuine diplomatic incident by describing the Argentinians as “animals” after the game. Now that’s a quarter-final.