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  • Author Huw Davies
  • Published October 10, 2013

England’s five worst qualifying matches

England face Montenegro on Friday with anything less than a win potentially making qualification decidedly tricky for Hodgson’s boys.


England face Montenegro on Friday with anything less than a win potentially making qualification decidedly tricky for Hodgson’s boys. But relax: it’ll probably go better than these famous calamities.

1. Poland 2 England 0 (June 6, 1973: World Cup 1974 qualifying)
England’s campaign-ending draw with Poland at Wembley later that year is remembered as a cataclysmic failure, but they were only stopped that day by luck and Jan Tomaszewski, a keeper in devilish form. And they wouldn’t have needed to win had it not been for dropped points under Alf Ramsey in his first World Cup qualifying campaign (England were hosts in 1966 and holders in 1970). The nadir was losing in Poland in June thanks to two errors by Bobby Moore and a red card – only the second in England’s history – for Alan Ball. Maybe they were put off by England’s yellow shirts.


2. Czechoslovakia 2 England 1 (October 30, 1975: Euro 76 qualifying)
Don Revie and Steve McClaren are the only England managers not to lead the team in a major tournament. While he didn’t have a brolly, Revie’s failure to take England to Euro 76 was pretty wally-like. It didn’t get much worse than losing to Czechoslovakia in a rearranged match after abandonment 17 minutes into the previous day’s play due to heavy fog. At the second attempt, the Czechs won and later qualified ahead of the Three Lions. Oops.


3. England 0 Greece 0 (March 30, 1983: Euro 84 qualifying)
Bobby Robson’s team had won 3-0 in Greece (before thrashing Luxembourg 9-0 in a match featuring perhaps the worst hat-trick in history from Luther Blissett) but couldn’t break them at Wembley. The Greeks parked the bus some 20 years before winning Euro 2004 using the same tactic, and boos rang out as Trevor Francis & Co. laboured in front of goal. England’s home defeat to Michael Laudrup’s Denmark would be the final nail in their qualification coffin, but this was the varnishing of the wood.


4. Norway 2 England 0 (June 2, 1993: World Cup 1994 qualifying)
It’s easy to exaggerate England’s incompetence under Graham Taylor in this qualifying campaign, but they were arguably unlucky: a weak squad in a strong group was partially undone by Ronald Koeman’s famous foul on David Platt. This, however, was dire. Taylor’s risky 3-4-1-2 formation was undone, England fans sung “We’re so bad it’s unbelievable” and a Channel 4 documentary’s cameras caught an increasingly frustrated, increasingly sweary manager demanding long balls to Les Ferdinand, screaming “Hit Les!” like a deranged boxing fan.

5. England 2 Croatia 3 (November 21, 2007: Euro 2008 qualifying)
Scott Carson became a byword for international managers not throwing inexperienced goalkeepers into big games. The 22-year-old stopper fumbled one long-range shot into the net and failed to push another wide as England were denied the draw they needed to qualify for Euro 2008. Perhaps it was just desserts for Steve McClaren’s men after 0-0 draws with Israel and Macedonia (the latter at Old Trafford) but it was harsh on young Carson, who eventually resorted to growing a beard to avoid recognition.


Huw Davies is staff writer on FourFourTwo magazine


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