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Why Has England Not Won a Major Tournament Since 1966?

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Euro 2020 is now well underway, with action everywhere you look in the group stage matches. For fans, the tournament has been worth the extra wait, as a festival of football has descended right across the continent. 

Media outlets across Europe are talking about little else and we’re seeing the usual frenzy of promotions from brands that try to cash in on the competition. Supermarkets are decorated with bunting and are selling everything from car flags to football-themed inflatable chairs. 

Bookmakers are, of course, getting involved too. All of the biggest brands across the continent are offering special promotions and deals for fans that place wagers on Euro 2020. The excitement isn’t reserved only for Europeans though major US sportsbooks like Bet365 are also getting involved by offering free bets that can be used on the tournament. While there isn’t quite the same level of excitement here in India, Sony TEN will be providing coverage of all the games too so the nation’s football fans can follow every second the world’s second-biggest international tournament.

This year, England are one of the favourites to win. This is a rarity in international football as despite being the birthplace of the sport, the country has struggled at major tournaments. 

1966 — England’s Lonely Gold Star

England football shirts contain a crest of three lions and a single gold star. The star is to represent its 1966 FIFA World Cup victory, a feat that it hasn’t been able to replicate. 

That year’s competition was held in England, meaning the nation could make full use of their home-team advantage. 

The team topped its group, with five points from two wins and a draw. They then progressed to the quarter-finals where they beat Argentina 1-0 thanks to a goal from Geoff Hurst in the 78th minute. This then saw them take on Portugal in the semi-finals, winning 2-1.

The team then faced West Germany in the final, who took first blood with a 12th-minute goal. An 18th-minute goal by Hurst and a 78th-minute goal by Martin Peters put England in the lead, but West Germany responded with an 89th-minute goal that pushed the game into extra time. The home crowd dug deep and cheered England on to score two more goals in the 101st and 120th minutes, securing them their first and only World Cup. 

Close, But Not Close Enough

Since then, the closest England have got is the semi-finals, first in 1990 when they took on West Germany again, and the second in 2018 when they played Croatia. 

In 1972, 1976, 1984, and 2008, the team failed to even qualify for the UEFA European Championship. The best it’s ever managed was third place in 1968 and again in 1996 when the tournament was played at home. 

The pain experienced by England fans was immortalised in the lines “thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming” in the song Three Lions by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner, and The Lightning Seeds. 

But why has the country that’s home to the Premier League, the biggest domestic league on the planet, performed so poorly on an international level?

Penalty Shootouts

When England won the World Cup in 1966, a penalty shootout had never been used in a major tournament before. Instead, tied games were decided by replays and coin tosses. This was seen as unfair, so the shootout was introduced by the early 1970s. 

England have been notoriously bad at penalty shootouts, something that now creates a psychological problem as much as a sporting challenge for players. After losing to Germany in the 1996 European Championship, England lost five straight penalty shootouts. 

Refereeing Decisions

Being a football referee is hard. It’s even harder when hundreds of millions of people are watching you live on TV. 

In 1986, a decision to allow a handball goal by Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup saw England knocked out. This was one of the most famous incorrect decisions made against England, another was a disallowed goal in the 2004 Euros. 

The Premier League

The Premier League contains hundreds of incredibly talented players, but most of them (61.4%) are from other nations. This is great for the league, it means fans get to watch the most talented players in the world compete every week. 

For England, it means home players aren’t afforded as many opportunities to gain the experience needed to excel. In Germany, the Bundesliga has strict requirements on how many locally-trained players each team must have. This works well for them, having won four World Cups and three European Championships.

Balachandran B

Co-founder & Head of Operations @ SoccerSouls Sports Network. Nick Name: Jin. Favorite Sports team: Arsenal Follow me @Jin

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