The first-ever soccer game was played in England, making the country’s connection to the sport very special. The World Cup features all the best national teams worldwide, and the Three Lions have appeared in the tournament 16 times, tied for third-most by any European nation.
Not each appearance has been met with success. England only lifted the World Cup trophy once, while many years fell short of expectations.
World Cup Win in 1966
In 1966, the World Cup was hosted by England, and in its fifth-ever appearance, they won it all.
England started the group stages off shaky with a scoreless draw against Uruguay in the opening game. A pair of 2-0 wins over Mexico and France saw England top its group with five points, as Roger Hunt scored three of the four goals.
Argentina was the opponent in the next round. They also had five points in the group stage, with its draw against eventual finalists West Germany. Geoff Hurst’s goal in the 78th minute sealed a 1-0 win as England advanced to face Portugal in the semifinals. Two goals by Bobby Charlton were the difference in a 2-1 win against Portugal, sending England to its first and only World Cup final.
In the World Cup final, West Germany opened up the scoring in the 11th minute, but Hurst evened it in the 18th. England scored again with 12 minutes left before stoppage time, but a last-minute goal by West Germany sent the game into extra time.
Hurst finished with a hat trick, scoring twice in extra time, as the Three Lions won the World Cup 4-2 in England.
This is a difficult moment to top, especially with England yet to make another World Cup final, plus the significance of it happening on home soil.
World Cup Troubles
The closest England would get to the World Cup final was in 1990 and the last tournament in 2018. The struggle would often be due to immense pressure placed on the national team to perform due to having an incredibly talented core.
In 1990, the Three Lions barely made it out of their group, topping it with just one win and two draws. In the round of 16, they went into extra time with Belgium, scoring with just one minute remaining before the match went to a penalty shootout. A 3-2 win over Cameroon, which also went to extra time, featured a late-game penalty awarded to England and another in extra time for the win.
However, West Germany got its revenge in the semifinals, with England missing the last two penalties in a penalty shootout, sending them to the third-place game and not the World Cup final. The Three Lions lost to the host nation Italy, coming in fourth.
In 2018, England finished in a very similar fashion, winding up in fourth place after losing in extra time to Croatia in the semifinals. They lost to Belgium twice in that tournament, once in the group stage and once in the third-place match. The Three Lions beat Colombia on penalties and blanked Sweden 2-0 before facing Croatia.
Beyond that, the early 2010s should have been the years that England dominated the soccer world stage. The national team had a golden generation of talent featuring players like David Beckham, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard.
All these players found domestic and club success, but it never came together when they played for England. The team’s furthest advance in the four World Cups between 1998 and 2010 was the quarterfinals twice, with two losses in the round of 16.