Traditionally, England have made hard work of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup but that was not the case in their most recent attempt. A 4-1 victory over Croatia in Zagreb set the side on their way to comfortable qualification for South Africa, winning nine of their ten fixtures. They left it far later in qualifying for Korea/Japan 2002, needing a 5-1 triumph over Germany in Munich and a last-minute David Beckham free-kick against Greece to reach the finals. England have failed to qualify on three occasions – 1974, 1978 and 1994 – with the former being famous in England for the failure to overcome Poland at Wembley.
FIFA World Cup finals history
England have appeared at 13 editions of the FIFA World Cup, including seven of the last eight. They were below-par at South Africa in 2010, narrowly qualifying from their group with a victory in the final match against Slovenia, before being outclassed 4-1 by Joachim Low’s Germany at the Round of 16 stage. The Three Lions have been FIFA World Cup winners once, in 1966 when they were hosts, but have since suffered a succession of early exits. Sir Bobby Robson came closest to matching the achievements of Sir Alf Ramsey’s ‘Wingless Wonders’, guiding England to the semi-finals at Italy 1990 only to be knocked out on penalties by Germany.
The current crop
England have been focusing on youth. Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has been fast-tracked into the team, Manchester City’s Joe Hart has been promoted to No1 goalkeeper and Liverpool’s record signing Andy Carroll appears to be first-choice partner for Wayne Rooney. The likes of Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand offer experience to give the starting XI a nice blend.
The key players
Rooney remains England’s greatest talent and has learnt to control his temperament. A key figure for Manchester United, the forward has the ability to lead his country to success if he can produce on the biggest stage. In midfield, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have yet to gel together effectively for the national team but provide energy and creativity for the forwards.
Coach: Roy Hodgson
Best performance in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup England 1966 (Winners)
Former stars: Sir Bobby Charlton, Peter Shilton, Gary Lineker