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Whenever there’s a World Cup or Euro tournament, England is counted among the favourites. After all, these chaps invented the game, have the world’s best football league, a squad filled with big name players, and, unlike the Dutch or Portuguese, they’ve actually won a World Cup before. So why not again?
A good question. With a simple answer. Because the facts reveal that, leaving aside games played on Wembley (in 1966 and 1996), England has never beaten a major country in a KO game in either a Euro tournament or World Cup.
Check this historical overview for England’s shocking history of failure away from Wembley. Every KO match is listed here:
Finally the World Cup, the world’s most prestigious football tournament, was coming to Wembley, the world’s most prestigious football stadium. The 1966 tournament turned out to be more eventful than the previous World Cup, featuring many storylines:
-The fall of Brazil
-The excellent displays by Eusebio’s Portugal
-The amazing performances of the enigmatic North Koreans
-The start of two major footballing rivalries: England vs Argentina and England vs Germany
-The emergence of Beckenbauer
-The writing of football history through a final packed with drama and controversial events
Johan Cruyff presented his new book yesterday, titled Fútbol, mi filosofía, in which he details his views on the sport that allowed him to become a global icon. The book also contains his own favourite XI of All Time.
Somewhat surprisingly, he left himself out of the team – as well as any active players such as Lionel Messi. Most of the names are to be expected – Maradona, Pele, Di Stefano, etcetera – but we also have a few less conventional picks.
Manchester United’s attempt to do well in both Europe and England has taken its toll on the squad’s fitness levels. Much of United’s defense is out injured, and the same is true for prolific striker Denis Law.
As a result, United has lost three of their last four games, and their lead at the top of the First Division has been reduced to a single point over Leeds United.
With United looking more vulnerable than ever, Liverpool travel to Old Trafford knowing they must win to revive their own title chances.
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Both the English and Portuguese had claimed their place in the semi-finals after memorable encounters. The Iberians had overcome North-Korea with what remains one of the classic comebacks in World Cup history. The English, on the other hand, had beat the Argentines under less glorious circumstances, with the Argentine captain being sent off for, apparently, no reason.
But only the present mattered now. Portugal had demonstrated impressive form through out the entire tournament, with Eusebio clearly being the World Cup’s eye-catching player thus far. England had not shown the same flair as the Portuguese, but looked defensively sound, and effective enough up front. And, what’s more, as the home team they knew the whole of Wembley would cheer them on.
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Manchester United was already a household name in Europe by 1968. But mostly so because of that tragic disaster in Munich, ten years earlier, that had robbed the club of many of its greatest talents.
Benfica’s reputation, by contrast, was based entirely on their continued success on the field. With the brilliant Eusebio leading the line, Benfica reached an incredible five European Cup finals between 1961 and 1968.
For Manchester United, this was their first European final. Indeed, no English team had ever won the European Cup. But even with Denis Law’s absence due to injury, Benfica had ample reason to be cautious. The majority of Benfica’s players had already been exposed to the talents of Bobby Charlton during the 1966 World Cup semi-final between Portugal and England, when Charlton scored two decsive goals.
Charlton, it was sure, would get heavily marked.
But few Portuguese had ever played against George Best.
Indeed, less than a year after this match, six of the players in the team United fielded against Aston Villa, would be dead. Some of them, like Duncan Edwards, were among the greatest talents in the world.
Aston Villa couldn’t claim players of such caliber, and indeed were not a team of great quality. In fact, the club had not won an FA Cup since 1920.
As such, its ranks are filled with phenomenal players from every era of the game. Some primarily known through tales and legends, others through weekly appearances in full HD on our television sets. But there’s no question that England’s glory days as the Land of Football lasted, at best, until the 60′s. Consequently, England’s ideal XI ought to heavily feature players from that time frame, when England could field the world’s best players.
But there was more than just prestige on the line. Both teams had been successful in their opening group game. Whoever would win this epic battle, would end up winning the group.
Brazil had left a mixed impression in their first match against the Czechs. A brilliant forward line that could conjure up goals from nowhere, sure, with Pele, Rivelino and Jairzinho especially impressive. But also an extremely dodgy defense. Centre backs Brito and Piazza, and goalkeeper Felix were simply terrible. Nobody doubted that England would get plenty of chances.
So the big question was: can England, led by their great captain Bobby Moore, curtail the combined efforts of Pelé, Tostao, Rivelino and Jairzinho?
England had arrived in the 1966 World Cup final on the back of a few controversial classic matches. The quarter-final against Argentina had been won after the Argentine captain had been inexplicably sent off. The semi-final against Eusebio’s Portugal is still remembered in Lissabon for a streak of dubious decisions by the referee. But regardless of the road that had taken them there, what mattered was that the English were in the final, for the first and last time in World Cup history. Playing on Wembley, with their wingless 4-4-2 diamond formation, featuring Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton, only one outcome was acceptable to the English. The same one as 21 years earlier: Victory.
They faced a solid German side, however. Captained by the experienced forward Uwe Seeler, the Germans had knocked out Spain, Uruguay and the Soviet-Union with a more traditional 4-2-4, where the young Franz Beckenbauer (20) and Wolfgang Overath (22) were tasked to run the midfield. While undoubtedly talented, perhaps their days of glory would come into the future.