That’s the good news! England usually need a result from their last game and they generally get it. This time it’s a dead rubber against Belgium but as we’ll see England are currently enjoying a rare luxury.
The Last Time this happened…England 2-2 Sweden (2006)
The last time England found themselves with a dead rubber it was against an almost qualified Sweden team in 2006. Sven made a couple of changes giving Wayne Rooney his first World Cup start after that infamous metatarsal injury but it was his strike partner Michael Owen who grabbed the headlines when he tore his ACL after 4 minutes- he would never play a tournament game for England again. But England got themselves going through the sheer brilliance of Joe Cole who volleyed one of his country’s greatest ever goals. Sweden equalised early in an entertaining second half however it appeared England had won it when man of the match Cole set up Steven Gerrard for a bullet header 5 minutes from time. But England again found new and interesting ways not beat Sweden with a long throw bouncing through to Henrik Larsson to push home: 2-2 and both sides were into the last 16.
And those do or die encounters we survived..
England 3-0 Poland (1986)
England have rarely found themselves in as dark a hole as they were in after 2 games of Mexico ’86. Bobby Robson’s men needed to win their final group match against Poland having failed to score in their first two games and lost captain Bryan Robson to a tournament ending injury and vice captain Ray Wilkins to a bizarre sending off. Robson rejigged his midfield with Peter Reid replacing Captain Marvel and wingers Trevor Steven & Steve Hodge providing more natural balance to the midfield. Upfront Robson ditched target man Mark Hateley for Newcastle’s deep-lying forward Peter Beardsley. The new look side took just 9 minutes to find lift-off with Everton trio Lineker Steven and Gary Stevens combining to set up Mr Walkers Crisps for the opener. Within 5 minutes Hodge broke down the left and crossed for Lineker to make it 2. The game was over before halftime with the Polish ‘keeper dropping Steven’s corner at Lineker’s feet for the hat trick. Bobby Robson was saved and England were belatedly motoring in Mexico.
England 1-0 Egypt (1990)
After the progressive sweeper system worked so well against Holland, Bobby Robson reverted back to 4-4-2 for the group decider against Egypt. The main reason was the loss (again) of Bryan Robson to injury and Bobby’s desire to get the more direct Steve Bull into the team. Remarkably group F was a 4 way dead-heat after 2 games with all the games ending in draws and everybody having scored and conceded a goal each. The first half was dire with Egypt shading it. But early in the second half England made the breakthrough with Gazza’s perfectly weighted free kick finding the head of Mark Wright who looped the ball over the advancing ‘keeper for a 1-0 win. Job done but discussions on England’s system would run all the way to the last 16 clash with Belgium.
England 2-0 Colombia (1998)
After their shock 2-1 loss to Romania England manager Glenn Hoddle bowed to public pressure and started young stars David Beckham & Michael Owen with qualification on the line against Colombia. Paul Scholes went close with an early drive but England didn’t need to wait long for the opener with Darren Anderson blasting home from the right of the box to give England the lead. Nine minutes later came the moment of the game when England won a central free kick 30 yards from goal, Beckham ran up and bent the ball into the bottom left corner for 2-0 and for a few days Beckham was a national hero, until that kick…
England 0-0 Nigeria (2002)
Having secured their revenge win over Argentina, England found themselves needing only a point against already eliminated Nigeria to secure passage to the second round in Japan. In the searing afternoon sun England were forced to play a slower game with holding midfielder Nicky Butt an excellent controlling influence in midfield. Michael Owen came closest with a surging run and shot that fell the wrong side of the right post but England were rarely troubled and secured a second round date with Denmark.
And one we didn’t…
Soviet Union 1-0 England (1958)
England’s 1958 World Cup was severely dented by the Munich Air Disaster with 3 automatic picks (Duncan Edwards, Roger Byrne & Tommy Taylor) lost to the tragedy. England drew all 3 group games and ended in a dead-heat with the Soviet Union with a playoff required for the final quarter-final spot. The earlier game had seen England recover from a 2 goal deficit with goals from Derek Kevan and Tom Finney reaching a 2-2 draw. In the playoff Anatoli Ilyin as in the earlier game opened the scoring but this time there was no way back and England crashed 1-0. With the nation still in shock from Munich the World Cup failure was put into suitable perspective.
And what a difference 4 years makes…Costa Rica 0-0 England (2014)
Blimey this was depressing, with qualification out of the window and only pride to play for surely England would send their fans home with something to shout about, ho hmm. This none event against already qualified Costa Rica brought England’s worst World Cup campaign to a sorry end with 1 point and just 2 goals from 3 games- but never mind Roy Hodgson would definitely restore our pride at the Euros, right?