“I got the call from Roy [Hodgson] and agree England team should be about the young players,” Cole wrote. “I think it best I retire from England team now. We have a great manager and team and I wish them only success. I will be supporting them like a true fan. Thanks to everyone for everything. It was a pleasure to get 107 caps.”
The former Arsenal defender played at three World Cups and is one of only a handful of players to win over a century of caps for England. FIFA.com looks back at some of his most memorable moments during a stellar international career.
Albania 1-3 England, 28 March 2001 (2002 FIFA World Cup qualifier)
Sven Goran-Eriksson started with 31-year-old Chris Powell at left-back in his first competitive international match as England manager, a 2-1 win over Finland, but decided to blood a full-back making waves at Highbury under Arsene Wenger in his second. Giving Ashley Cole his international debut in Albania was a gamble for the Swede, with the Arsenal youngster only 20 years old and with just ten top flight appearances to his name, but the following 13 years proved it was a worthy one. The youngster showed promise, linking up well with Steve McManaman on the left-wing in the opening half, before providing cover for the more forward-thinking Emile Heskey in the second period. Cole went on to feature in the four remaining qualifiers for Korea/Japan, establishing himself as first choice left-back for his country as England reached the finals.
England 1-1 Sweden, 2 June 2002 (2002 FIFA World Cup)
England’s World Cup opener in Saitama was Cole’s first game on the world stage at full international level, having represented England at the 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Nigeria. The left-back ventured forward and earned the game’s first corner. David Beckham whipped it in and Sol Campbell’s bullet header put the Three Lions ahead. A vicious long range shot from England’s No3 stung the palms of Sweden’s Magnus Hedman just before half-time, as the Arsenal defender showed more of his attacking promise. Just before the hour mark, Danny Mills failed to clear fully and, despite Cole closing him down, Niclas Alexandersson hit an equaliser past David Seaman. Cole played all but 15 minutes of England’s campaign as Eriksson’s side were knocked out in the quarter-finals by eventual winners Brazil.
Portugal 2-2 England (6-5 Portugal on penalties), 24 June 2004 (UEFA EURO 2004)
Ask many England fans to name Cole’s best performance in an England shirt and a significant number will recall his imperious performance against a young Cristiano Ronaldo in the UEFA EURO 2004 quarter-final. Moments after England took the lead through Michael Owen, Cole made a stunning block to deny Ronaldo, before combining with Sol Campbell to thwart the Manchester United teenager once more. After losing Wayne Rooney to injury in the first half, England defended their lead stoutly, with Cole outstanding, before Helder Postiga breached the resistance with seven minutes remaining. Cole made a superlative goalline clearance in extra time but could not prevent England going behind. Frank Lampard levelled but it was to be penalty heartbreak for England once more, despite Cole successfully converting England’s sixth spot kick of the shoot-out.
England 2-1 Brazil, 6 February 2013 (International friendly)
Everton’s Leighton Baines was beginning to establish himself as an able deputy to Cole at the beginning of England’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign as the Chelsea man missed the first three qualifiers. Cole made his 99th international appearance on his return to competitive action, a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw in Poland in October 2012. The stage was set for Cole to make his 100th England appearance against Brazil in a showpiece event that also saw Ronaldinho’s Brazilian century commemorated. Even though Cole was relatively subdued before being withdrawn at the interval, England manager Roy Hodgson was effusive in his praise of England’s seventh centurion.
“Reaching 100 matches is an incredible milestone and he deserves an enormous pat on the back," Hodgson said. "It goes to show how consistent he is as a performer. He has been a pleasure to work with and a really good professional. He is a very serious footballer and a very nice person to deal with.”
England 1-0 Denmark, 5 March 2014 (International friendly)
In Cole’s 107th and final appearance in an England shirt it was fitting that, after keeping the Danes at bay in the opening half and creating a chance for Raheem Sterling, he was withdrawn for 18-year-old Luke Shaw at the interval. The Southampton full-back, who was just five years of age when Cole made his debut against Albania, mixed attacking verve with composure in his forays forward, while performing his defensive duties ably in his first full international. Cole, who featured in less than half of Chelsea’s English Premier League matches in the 2013/14 campaign, watched on from the sidelines in the second half perhaps contemplating Hodgson’s forthcoming summer dilemma. The England coach, like Eriksson in 2002, has opted to give youth a chance in his squad selection for Brazil. The changing of the guard sees Shaw ushered into the 23 for the 2014 finals and Cole, regarded by many as the best left-back in the world throughout much of his career, will certainly be a tough act to follow for both Baines and the Southampton youngster in the coming years.