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Four occasions when England broke our hearts

Gareth Southgate was cautiously optimistic as he discussed England’s future ahead of their UEFA Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands.

The England head coach stated that they were ‘delighted to be in Portugal’, ‘looking forward to more brilliant nights’ and that he believes he has players who are ‘hungry and capable of going on to win things’.

It would be music to the ears of supporters of most countries. Not us however, as we’ve been here before.

A positive manager? Check. A talented squad of players who have achieved fantastic things at club level? Check. An increasingly hopeful fan-base, belting out ‘It’s Coming Home’ at every opportunity? Check. Yes, this has all the hallmarks of a classic England collapse.

Since 1966, England’s history is littered with gradual rises followed by dramatic, painful falls. Every time we dare to dream, our hopes are eventually crushed in the most brutal possible manner. Need a refresher? Here are four examples of England breaking our hearts.


1996 – England vs. Germany (Euro 1996)

Team: Seaman (GK), Southgate, Adams, Pearce, Anderton, McManaman, Platt, Ince, Gascoigne, Shearer, Sheringham

It seems fitting that the beginning of the ‘It’s coming home. Oh wait, we’re out’ cycle began with a missed penalty from the current England manager, Gareth Southgate.

The country was in the grip of Euro 96 fever with Three Lions topping the charts, the tournament taking place on home soil and England reaching the semi-finals following a string of impressive performances, including a 4-1 demolition of the hugely talented Netherlands.

Lying in wait were Germany and, when Alan Shearer scored in the third minute, Wembley Stadium erupted. It seemed as though England were finally destined for glory again but, unfortunately, fate had other plans.

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Stefan Kuntz levelled for the Germans in the 16th minute and, with no more goals, the match eventually went to penalties.

With the first ten penalties all successful, it went to sudden death. Gareth Southgate stepped up but his tame effort was easily blocked by German stopper Andreas Köpke.

The country knew what was coming and, sure enough, Andreas Möller stepped up to put Germany into the final. Heartbreak.


2007 – England vs. Croatia (Euro 2008 Qualifier)

Team: Carson (GK), Richards, Campbell, Lescott, Bridge, Wright-Phillips, Gerrard, Barry, Lampard, Joe Cole, Crouch

A match that will forever be remembered for the cutting newspaper description of England manager Steve McClaren as the ‘wally with a brolly’.

McClaren’s team selection came under scrutiny when he opted to drop Paul Robinson in favour of Scott Carson in addition to leaving out David Beckham. Scott Carson produced a howler as England fell two goals behind and it was David Beckham, eventually subbed on, who set up the equaliser.

However, a late screamer from Mladen Petric was enough to give Croatia the win and ensure that England would fail to qualify for Euro 2008.

The prevailing image of the night was McClaren standing beneath his umbrella which may have kept him dry but couldn’t shelter him from a well-deserved sacking the following day.


2010 – Germany vs. England (World Cup 2010)

Team: James (GK), Johnson, Terry, Upson, Cole, Gerrard, Lampard, Barry, Milner, Rooney, Defoe

McClaren was replaced with serial winner Fabio Capello but it couldn’t prevent more heartache in the 2010 World Cup, as England were humiliated in the last 16 by arch-rivals Germany in Bloemfontein.

Goals by Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski gave the Germans a two goal lead before a Matthew Upson header threw England a lifeline.

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However, controversy followed when Frank Lampard beat the keeper with a lofted shot that deflected downwards from the crossbar before bouncing back into play. The referee chose not to award a goal despite replays showing that the ball was clearly over the line.

A disgruntled Mark Lawrenson muttered in commentary “What about goal-line technology? Thanks very much Sepp Blatter”. However, his grumbles turned to groans when Germany turned the screw, going on to win 4-1.

They would ultimately lose in the semi-finals to eventual champions Spain but, for England, it was another early flight home.


2016 England – Iceland (Euro 2016)

England team: Hart, Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose, Alli, Dier, Rooney, Sturridge, Kane, Sterling

Arguably the worst capitulation came in Nice in the 2016 European Championships, when England were eliminated at the last 16 stage once again. However, rather than the formidable Germans, this time their opposition were minnows Iceland.

Despite taking an early lead through a Wayne Rooney penalty, Iceland rapidly turned the match around and, in the 18th minute, went ahead when the blundering Joe Hart let the ball slip through his grip.

Rarely has a reaction to an England performance been so furious and it seemed as though everybody was queuing up to stick the boot in. However, while Steve McClaren received the brunt of the national vitriol in 2007, this time it was the players who were targeted, with many accused of showing no passion or heart.

In fact, there was a belated feeling of sorrow for Roy Hodgson, with the veteran manager looking lost on the sidelines and promptly resigning after the match.

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