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Tears, a Fifa ‘plot’ and a costly kick in the balls: England’s semi-final history | England

1966 World Cup

England 2-1 Portugal

Not every semi-final has immortalised England teams or certain England players for the wrong reasons. The first, 55 years ago, gave no indication of the traumas to follow. It was the night Bobby Charlton produced what he described as “possibly my best performance in an England shirt” with two goals to down the attacking might of Portugal and the World Cup’s leading scorer, Eusébio. Bobby’s belting finishes, referenced in a certain song still doing the rounds, strengthened his case for the Ballon d’Or won that year. The great Eusébio got one back from a penalty after Jack Charlton deliberately handled José Torres’s goalbound effort. It was the first goal conceded at the World Cup by Gordon Banks, who made a crucial save to deny Eusébio a late equaliser, and there was no red card back then for the elder Charlton brother. Portugal had two other penalty appeals for handball dismissed by the French referee and were regarded by many as fall guys in the Fifa/English FA “plot” to have England crowned world champions. The semi-final was scheduled to be played at Goodison Park, where Portugal had come from 3-0 down to beat North Korea three days earlier, but was switched to Wembley by Fifa’s English president, Sir Stanley Rous, for “commercial reasons”. Portugal had to leave their training camp and travel to London by train the night before the game while England stayed put.

Portugal’s Eusébio being consoled as he leaves the field after defat by England in 1966.
Portugal’s Eusébio is consoled as he leaves the field after defeat by England in 1966. Photograph: PA Wire/PA

1968 European Championship

England 0-1 Yugoslavia

Then, as now, England reached a second successive semi-final at a major tournament – the European Nations Cup, as it was known. It came after the team had topped their Home Nations group with a 1-1 draw against Scotland in front of 130,000 fans at Hampden Park. Spain were defeated in the quarter-finals before the reigning world championsEngland travelled to Florence with seven of the side that started against West Germany in 1966. It would have been nine but Geoff Hurst and Nobby Stiles were injured in a friendly against the beaten World Cup finalists four days earlier. A bad-tempered, violent game was settled four minutes from time by Yugoslavia’s Dragan Dzajic when he brilliantly controlled a deep cross from the left behind Bobby Moore before finding the roof of Banks’s net. A minute later Alan Mullery became the first England player to be sent off in the country’s 424-game history for retaliating to Dobrivoje Trivic’s foul from behind by kicking his assailant in the knackers. “I apologised to the players,” Mullery later recalled. “But Alf [Ramsey] was very, very good to me. He came in, looked at me with a stern face and said: ‘I’m glad somebody retaliated against those bastards.’ He was very angry about it. When I got back, the Football Association fined me £50 and Alf paid the fine, which was absolutely unbelievable. Fifty quid was a lot of money in 1968.”

1990 World Cup

England 1-1 West Germany; West Germany win 4-3 on penalties

The game that encapsulates torment and regret for a generation of England fans and also helped change the way football was perceived in the country. Gazza’s tears, Gary Lineker instructing the bench to “have a word with him”, Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle failing to convert in the penalty shootout and Peter Shilton getting nowhere near a West German spot-kick – the memories are vivid and etched into English football folklore. What is often overlooked is how well Bobby Robson’s team played that night in Turin and how close they came to reaching the final against Argentina in normal and extra time. Behind to Andreas Brehme’s ludicrously deflected free-kick, England equalised 10 minutes from time courtesy of Gary Lineker’s 10th goal at a World Cup finals. England, denied a clear penalty earlier in the second half when Klaus Augenthaler felled Waddle, hit the post in extra time through the Marseille winger and saw David Platt’s header ruled out for a close offside decision. Guido Buchwald also struck the woodwork for West Germany before they secured their place in a third consecutive World Cup final via an agonising shootout. “We were a whisker away son, a whisker away …” as Robson later told Lineker.

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England’s Paul Gascoigne cries as he is escorted off the field by the captain, Terry Butcher, after England lost a penalty shootout in 1990.
Paul Gascoigne cries as he is escorted off the field by the England captain, Terry Butcher, after England’s penalty-shootout defeat in 1990. Photograph: Roberto Pfeil/AP

1996 European Championship

England 1-1 Germany 1; Germany win 6-5 on penalties

Another case of what might have been but for the ordeal of a shootout against Germany. It fell, of course, to Gareth Southgate to miss the only one of 12 otherwise immaculate spot-kicks as Berti Vogts’ team advanced to another victorious final and the host nation’s party came to an abrupt halt. Alan Shearer and Stefan Kuntz traded early goals at Wembley before the drama intensified in an extra-time period that would have been settled by a Golden Goal. Darren Anderton struck a post 80 seconds into extra time, Kuntz had a goal disallowed for a foul on Southgate and a lunging Paul Gascoigne somehow failed to connect with Shearer’s volley across the face of an open goal. Terry Venables, in his last game as England manager, did not make any substitutions in the 120 minutes and Southgate, the youngest and least-capped member of the team, took responsibility for the first sudden-death penalty ahead of Anderton, Paul Ince, Steve McManaman and the captain, Tony Adams. Pearce did find some personal redemption with his successful spot-kick. Asked whether victory over Germany in the last 16 of Euro 2020 atoned for that miss, Southgate called it perfectly once more. “For the teammates that played with me, I can’t change that,” he said. “That is always going to hurt. But what is lovely is that we’ve given people another day to remember.”

Gareth Southgate looks dejected after failing to score in the semi-final shootout at Euro 96.
Gareth Southgate looks dejected after failing to score in the semi-final shootout at Euro 96. Photograph: PA

2018 World Cup

England 1-2 Croatia

The fourth defeat in five semi-finals at a major tournament for England and one that, fresh in the mind for many of those players who will face Denmark on Wednesday, could offer invaluable experience in how to finally get over the line. “Could we have been a little more brave or composed?” pondered Harry Maguire when he reflected on defeat in Moscow this week. “Could we have taken the ball when we were leading the game, rather than sit back and soak up the pressure?” Yes, yes and yes is the answer. Ahead through Kieran Trippier’s exquisite early free-kick, Southgate’s team had the edge and chances to have extended their lead before Croatia wrested back control and punished poor England defending through Ivan Perisic’s improvised volley and Mario Mandzukic’s clinical finish in extra time. England played the last 15 minutes with 10 men when a tearful Trippier suffered an injury after Southgate had used all his substitutes. For all the optimism that England’s World Cup campaign generated, it was an opportunity missed. Three years older and wiser, Southgate’s squad have earned themselves another at the only venue to have staged an England semi-final victory.

Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic scores past Englands goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in their 2018 semi-final.
Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic scores past England’s goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, in their 2018 semi-final. Photograph: Stanislav Krasilnikov/Tass

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