5 minutes read

When history repeats itself again and again and again… England and the curse of the World Cup quarter-finals

England has to wait at least 4 more years for a second world title. In Qatar, the Three Lions were knocked out by France in the quarter-finals. Already a tradition: it is the seventh time England has exited the tournament at this stage, more than any other country in World Cup history.

The country that gave the world the meaning of football still fails to conquer it. England has failed again in their attempt to win the world title and is left with only their 1966 success on home soil. And that, surrounded by controversy. The referee in the match with Argentina, for example. Or Geoff Hurst’s famous goal in extra time in the final against West Germany, where apparently only the Soviet goalkeeper Tofiq Bahramov saw the ball go completely over the goal line. Otherwise, regardless of how valuable the team that the English took to the World Cup was, only disappointments. Some of them pretty cruel. The failure with France at Al Khor probably falls into this category.

Gareth Southgate’s national team didn’t play badly against the world champions, but were punished by their own errors and by the French’s incredible ability to make the most of any opportunity, no matter how small. The symbol of this cynicism is Olivier Giroud, the author of the 2-1 goal, through which he consolidated his status as the best scorer in the history of “Les Bleus”. Of course, Harry Kane’s error from 11 meters weighed much more heavily. The England captain had already leveled at 1, also from the penalty spot, and had the chance to restore parity and send the match into extra time. But it dashed England’s hopes and sealed another World Cup quarter-final exit. A familiar scenario for England.

Until 1950, England refused to participate in the World Cup. When it finally ended the self-embargo, it suffered one of the greatest embarrassments in its history. At the first post-war World Cup, held in Brazil, it was eliminated from the group stage, following a defeat to amateurs from the United States. It was 1-0 for the Americans, such a shock that an English newspaper considered the result a mistake and announced a 10-1 English victory. It was just the beginning of a long series of disappointments.

At the next edition, in 1954, in Switzerland, England finished first in a group with the host nation, Italy and Belgium, only to be eliminated in the quarter-finals by Uruguay, the holders of the trophy. It was 4-2 for the South Americans in Basel, in a game where the balance was short-lived: between the 16th and 39th minutes, the score was equal, 1-1. After another group stage exit in Sweden at the 1958 World Cup, England again tasted the bitter taste of failure in the quarters. At the World Cup hosted by Chile in 1962, the Three Lions national team reached the top eight teams in the world, only to be sent home by the future champions, Brazil, who prevailed 3-1, thanks to Garrincha’s double and the goal of Vava.

1966 was the year England took advantage of the host status and captured the trophy. Then, for almost a quarter of a century, only failures. In 1970, eliminated in the quarter-finals against West Germany. In 1974 and 1978, he did not even qualify for the finals. In 1982, elimination in the second phase of groups. And in 1986, already the traditional elimination in the quarter-finals. The famous 2-1 victory of Argentina, decided by Diego Maradona, with a “Hand of God” and a “Goal of the Century”. At the second Mexican World Cup, a pale consolation was the goal scorer title won by Gary Lineker, who scored 6 times, including against the Argentinian national team, the future world champions.

England dreamed beautifully again during the “Magic Nights” at the Coppa del Mondo. In 1990, a team led by the charismatic Paul Gascoigne managed to overcome the “psychological barrier” of the quarters and reached the semi-finals. Where they lost – another constant – to the team that would go on to win the title, West Germany, on penalties (and this would become a habit). In 1994, the English missed the World Cup again, and 4 years later they were sent home by Argentina in the round of 16 (after kicks from 11 meters).

In 2002 and 2006, the “curse” of the quarters returned. England was eliminated by Brazil and Portugal respectively. First, the future champion from South Korea and Japan. The second, following shots from 11 meters. Only the traditional rival, Germany, was missing from the picture. Who was responsible for sending the English home in 2010, but in the eighths. At the 2014 World Cup, England crashed out of the competition at the group stage, a feat not seen since 1958. Then in Russia, 4 years ago, Southgate’s side again crashed out in the semi-finals, where they lost in extra time against Croatia.

The run from 2018 and the Euro 2020 final, lost – of course! – in the penalty shoot-out, they gave England reason for optimism that history would be different in Qatar. There are cases where history repeats itself, but in the case of England’s participation in the World Cup, it seems to repeat itself endlessly. 1954, 1962, 1970, 1986, 2002, 2006, 2022…

Editor's pick