WORLD CUP: Team profile – england (group b)
The first nation of football and the global distributor of the game, England are long on passion but short on actual prizes with their 1966 FIFA World Cup success on home soil still their only major tournament triumph.
Summer 2006 will mark the passing of four decades since Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy but England will travel to Germany among the favourites despite a qualifying campaign that, while largely comfortable, did provide a bump or two towards the end. After opening with a 2-2 draw in Austria, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side won six games in succession before suffering an embarrassing 1-0 loss to Northern Ireland on 7 September 2005.
Add a 4-1 friendly defeat in Denmark a month earlier and England’s credentials were suddenly open to question yet Eriksson’s team responded with home victories over Austria and Poland that secured them first place in Group 6 with a record of eight victories and just one defeat in ten matches.
England have made eleven previous FIFA World Cup finals appearances, starting with their debut at Brazil 1950. Since the glory of 1966, however, the furthest they have travelled in the competition was to the semi-finals in 1990, where they lost on penalties to West Germany.
Four years ago in Korea/Japan, they were losing quarter-finalists for the fifth time, going down 2-1 to Brazil having taken the lead through a Michael Owen goal.
Two years later they fell at the same hurdle at the UEFA European Championship in Portugal, beaten on penalties by the hosts, but found some consolation in the explosive form of the then 18-year-old Wayne Rooney. Now 20, this prodigiously gifted forward is already established as the player the national team look to for inspiration.
Rooney is not the only world-class talent in a side that also boasts striker Owen and the midfield trio of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. In defence too England are strong with John Terry emerging as a genuine contender for a central role alongside Rio Ferdinand or Sol Campbell.
Swedish coach Eriksson has been in charge since 2000 and has not enjoyed a finer hour than England’s 5-1 win in Germany in a FIFA World Cup qualifier in September 2001.
The question is whether he can rekindle that magic when they return there next summer.
WC participations: 11 (1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1998, 2002)
WC honours: World champions (1966)
Continental Titles: None
Slogan: One Nation, One Trophy, Eleven Lions