Are England's 'years of hurt' about to come to an end?
Can England go all the way at Qatar 2022?
Developments in recent years suggest that they will be one of the main contenders
England's lone FIFA World Cup win was achieved 54 years ago today
Winning the FIFA World Cup™ is the dream of many players and many a team, but in the competition’s 90-year history, only eight countries have achieved that feat to date. It took Spain – indisputably a great footballing nation – until 2010 before they got to lift the trophy for the first time.
Taking England as an example, we will see why it so hard to win the World Cup title, and why the Three Lions can look forward to Qatar 2022 with more than a degree of optimism.
The birthplace of modern football has only tasted World Cup glory on one occasion, in 1966 – a year etched deep into the psyches of all English football fans. But everything is in place for a repeat performance in two years’ time:
Highly professional and attractive domestic competition
Modern, affluent nation
Oldest national association along with Scotland
Large population to recruit players from
Well-established footballing tradition
Back down to earth
In England, it seemed to go without saying at the beginning of the 20th century that they had the best football team in the world. The country elected not to take part in any of the first three World Cups and even withdrew from FIFA. After a 3-2 victory in 1934 over that year’s World Cup winners Italy, they declared themselves "unofficial world champions".
Their first appearance on the biggest of stages came in Brazil in 1950, and they certainly came down to earth with a bump, slipping to two defeats including the infamous 1-0 loss to USA that saw them return home after the first round. The fact that England were a long way away from mixing it with the world’s best was illustrated in 1953 and 1954, when they went down 6-3 and 7-1 against 1950 runners-up Hungary.
Reforms result in a trophy
What then followed can serve as a recipe for many big footballing nations who are still searching for that elusive first, or next, FIFA World Cup success. You fall back from the leading pack, so you revamp your own ideas and bring them up to date, putting you back within touching distance of the top teams once again. After falling in the quarter-finals 1962 against eventual winners Brazil, England went all the way on home soil four years later to finally slake their World Cup thirst.
Of course, there is an old saying that while it is tough to get to the top, it is even tougher staying or getting back there. England’s fortunes spiralled downwards, to such an extent that they even failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cups in 1974 and 1978.
New beginnings – but always coming up short in terms of skill or luck
The next promising new beginning came in the 1980s and almost led to another title 24 years on, in Italy in 1990. Here the Three Lions got to learn another lesson that plenty of the bigger footballing nations have had to take on board over the years – however good you might be, you also need that little bit of luck and often a little bit of magic in terms of the players in your squad to go all the way.
On 4 July 1990 it was Germany who barred England’s route to the final via a penalty shoot-out, with disappointed striker Gary Lineker still convinced to this day that "we were the better team in that match and could have gone on to win the Final against that Argentina side". Other big countries on the footballing stage like Netherlands and Belgium have ended up so near, and yet so far from a World Cup title in the past, proving that there really is little to choose between the teams at the very top.
Rinse and repeat
Things have now come full circle for England. They have brought their own concepts up to date, creating an excellent new infrastructure at St. George's Park and given their rather old-school theories on how to work with young players a real shake-up. This has seen an exciting crop of youngsters emerge at the highest level after winning both the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups in 2017.
When England made it to the semi-finals in Russia 2018, fans were yet again allowed to dream that the FIFA World Cup title would be heading back across the English Channel for the second time, only for Croatia to dash their hopes.
Those disappointed supporters should take a look in the history books. A young and talented outfit that almost makes it to the final often ends up going all the way next time around. In 2010, it was Spain who won their first title at the expense of Joachim Low’s up-and-coming team. Germany went on to lift the trophy four years later, but it took a header from Mats Hummels in the quarter-finals to put an end to a spirited French squad’s hopes. And we all know who then went on to win the ultimate prize in 2018…
"Next year is our year" was the mantra for many a Liverpool fan for three decades. With the Reds finally winning England’s top-flight championship once again, perhaps it is time for the Three Lions to adapt that motto: "Next tournament is our tournament"…