England fans should be prepared for early exit
Cape Town: England fans getting ready for Sunday’s match with Germany love discussing their country’s unfortunate World Cup exits though the stark truth is the team’s knockout stage performances have always been second division.
Other than on home soil, when they went on to lift the trophy in 1966, England have never won a knockout match against any of the teams that have won the World Cup.
Excluding 1966, their entire register of knockout victims comprises Paraguay, Belgium, Cameroon, Denmark and Ecuador.
Their record in the European Championship is even more shocking as they have managed just one knockout success -- against Spain on penalties -- when they hosted Euro ‘96.
The country that invented football opted not to take part in the first three World Cup tournaments.
Perhaps the officials who ran the English game in the first half of the century were presciently protecting the country from embarrassment rather than considering themselves too superior to get involved with this new-fangled World Cup.
They eventually joined the party in 1950 and, with a squad containing some of the greatest players of their era - Stanley Mathews, Billy Wright, Stan Mortensen and Tom Finney -- set off with high hopes as one of the favourites.
If that sounds familiar, so was what happened next as the highly-rated players failed to live up to expectations, were shocked by the United States and eliminated in the group stage.
In 1954 and 1962 they made it to the quarter-finals, which was then the first knockout round of the 16-team event, losing to Uruguay and then Brazil.
In 1966 they finally won their first knockout matches, against Argentina and Portugal, before beating West Germany in the final at Wembley Stadium.
However, it was back to normal four years later with a quarter-final defeat by the Germans in Mexico.
In 1982, with the second-stage run as a three-team group phase, England still could not find a win, drawing with West Germany and Spain to be eliminated.
In 1986, helped by the introduction of a new "round of 16" they chalked up their first knockout win away from home when they beat Paraguay 3-0 but Argentina and Diego Maradona’s "Hand of God" goal sent them home at the quarter-final stage.
The 1990 tournament remains England’s away-from-home high water mark with two knockout wins, over Belgium and Cameroon, before a semi-final defeat on penalties to Germany.
There was then a second-round exit in 1998, against Argentina, while Brazil beat them in the quarter-finals in 2002 after they had managed a last 16 win over Denmark.
England got past Ecuador in the second round four years ago but the quarter-finals was again the end of the line thanks to a penalties defeat by Portugal.
Now, because of their failure to put a second goal past Slovenia, they face Germany in the second round instead of Ghana.
Should they somehow upset the odds and overcome their old foes they would probably face Argentina in the quarter-finals instead of Uruguay or South Korea.
Anyone for a bet?