8 September, 2021 - 16:53

England’s Most Painful and Embarrassing Defeats

What are England’s most painful and embarrassing defeats of recent times? Well, there are plenty to choose from. No doubt, there have been periods of English footballing excellence, but it just never seems to last. Although always seemingly knocking on the door, and actually boosting at the time of this writing a World Cup semi-final, a Nation’s League semi-final, and a Euros final in their last three tournaments, they just cannot quite seem to get over the line like Brazil, Spain, Germany, France, and Argentina all have.

The upside of all of this of course is that following England, especially when they seem to be on a run, is rarely a boring endeavour. And when it comes to tournament football, it is very often a gut-wrenchingly anxious time. This usually makes the victories all the more sweeter – and the defeats all the more painful. Placing a football bet on England is rarely a dispiriting business, and the recent impressive Euros performance should serve as a reminder that England are always a team with the potential for glory – however often it might elude them at the last moment.

So, what painful or embarrassing defeats are we talking about here? There are two potential ways to compile such a list. We could potentially list the most embarrassing defeats, the painful upsets that have seen England lose to far inferior teams. Alternatively, England’s “worst” defeats could perhaps be seen as those which have robbed them with glory in sight or have seen the team crash out of tournaments after a promising run – even if they played well. For a team like England, who are technically a team that could win the World Cup but haven’t done so for 55 years, there is no shortage of these types of defeats.
For our list, we will be compiling a list with only pain and heartbreak as criteria.

Euro 2008: England 2 – 3 Croatia

There will certainly be some near-misses included on this list, but this match against Croatia in the qualifying stages of Euro 2008 is not one of them. Damned by a combination of bad luck and not a little incompetence, this was a particularly painful England loss because it robbed England of the single point they would have needed to qualify.

Yet however close to qualifying England came, there were many mistakes made too. Manager Steve McClaren not only decided to drop Paul Robinson and David Beckham but putting inexperienced keeper Scott Carson in goal led to an early howler, robbing the team of any momentum as they lurched towards a 2-0 defeat. Misery all round.

World Cup 2010: Germany 4 – 1 England

With McLaren sacked just after the 2008 Euros and new manager Fabio Capello instated in his stead, England did noticeably improve as they moved hopefully towards the World Cup in 2010 (well, at least they qualified this time).

Ultimately, it was to be the second round and crashing out at the hands of old rivals Germany. What made this defeat so painful was a combination of factors: there was the sense that England had improved, but not by that much. They may have qualified, but they struggled against the weak teams in their group (Algeria, the United States, and Slovenia) to do so and this underscored just how far they still had to go. Add to that an unfairly disallowed goal from Lampard that crossed the line by a yard and the superiority of the Germans on the day, and you have a recipe for bitterness and woe.

World Cup 1990: England 1 – 1 West Germany (3 – 4 on penalties)

On the eve of German reunification, West Germany marked their last ever tournament by narrowly beating England in the semi-finals on penalties; a result which is all the more painful for the sense that it was undeserved. Over the course of a game in which England were probably the better side, the Three Lions headed towards their semi-final exit by way of a galling free-kick deflection off Paul Parker, a booking for Gazza, and a narrow loss on penalties. The dream was once again shattered.

Euro 1996: England 1 – 1 Germany (5 – 6 on penalties)

Losing to the Germans on penalties had by 1996 become a recurring nightmare for England, inspiring much bitterness simply for the sense of injustice that always accompanies such a result. In the interim since their last loss to the Germans, England had gone through a particularly dismal patch, putting in a miserable performance at Euro ’92 and failing to even qualify for the World Cup in 1994. After such extended misery, there was real hope for a new dawn at Euro ’96, but it was not to be.

This game in the semi-final was a particular stinger precisely because of this hope, which had been fuelled by a marvellous performance against Holland, who conceded four brilliant England goals. And yet it was to be later-manager Gareth Southgate whose missed penalty sent England crashing out, all that promise wasted.

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Author: Jim Powell

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