England's 8 Most Heart-Breaking World Cup Moments

It still hurts.

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Low expectations. A young squad. Rooney fit for once.

Some fans are starting to get a tiny bit optimistic about England's chances in Brazil this summer.

To squash that sentiment before it gets out of hand, we recall the most tortuous moments from the national side's recent history. Because we're nice like that.

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It’s the quarter-final game best remembered for David Beckham’s petulant kick on Diego Simone and the subsequent red card that forced England into 45 minutes of spirited defending, but the real heart-breaking moment came with nine minutes to go.

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Level at 2-2, England won a rare corner that Sol Campbell, at his colossal best all night, leapt from nowhere to head home. The look of sheer, undiluted joy etched on his face as he sprinted off to celebrate would come to haunt a generation of fans as, seconds later, the goal was ruled out thanks to Shearer being a bit tasty with his elbows in the build up. The inevitable penalty shoot out defeat duly followed. (from 3.10).

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It had all been going so well. Sven Goran Eriksson’s England had emerged from the ‘Group of Death’ with a win over Argentina, strolled past Denmark 3-0 in the 2nd round and then, incredibly, gone 1-0 up against Brazil in the quarterfinals. For once, it looked like luck was on our side.

Of course, it wasn’t. On 45 minutes, Rivaldo scores a slick equalizer, raising the prospect of a dreaded penalty shoot out. If only. Five minutes later, the Jar Jar Binks of international football lines up a free kick from fully 42 yards wide out on the right. Was it a shot? Was it a cross? Was Seaman’s ponytail in his eyes? No matter, it was a goal, and in that absurd moment we all knew it wasn’t going to be our night after all.

In Germany they called it retribution for ’66. In England, we called it the most scandalous disallowed goal in World Cup – nay, human – history. In truth, Joachim Loew's gifted, fearless youngsters were already running circles around the creaking ‘Golden Generation’ by the time Lampard let fly with one of his trademark hit-n’-hopes from outside the area – the difference was, this one bounced over the line and was declared a goal by everyone in the world except referee Jorge Larrionda.

At the time Germany were rampant but still only 2-1 ahead. Would an equalizer have knocked the wind out of their sails, allowed us to regroup calmly at half time and tilt the second half in our favour? We’re saying 100% yes, just like it was 100% a goal. Instead, Germany put another two past us to seal a 100% humiliating 4-1 victory.


Sure, he was past his best. But after rediscovering a bit of form playing for Middlesbrough and looking assured in the qualifying rounds, it seemed certain Gazza would be on the plane to the finals for France ’98. After all, this was the man who’d scored ‘that goal’ against Scotland just two years earlier.

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But after a tabloid cruelly exposed him devouring kebabs at 2am with Chris Evans a week before the final squad was named, Glenn Hoddle brought down the final curtain on ‘Gazzamania’ and dropped him. A nation who’d fallen for the phenomenally gifted Geordie in the plastic tits eight years earlier let out a collective sigh of sadness. Deep down we knew it wouldn’t destroy England’s chances. But we all knew it would destroy Gazza.


If you asked most people to name the most heart-breaking moment of England’s semi-final defeat to Germany in 1990 – the closest we’d been to winning the World Cup since ‘66 – they’d say Gazza’s tears.

But for real football fans – who knew at the time Gascoigne’s red face would be irrelevant if we didn’t reach the final anyway – the killer moment came with the last kick of the first half of extra time. Chris Waddle bore down on the German goal and unleashed a ferocious swerving shot that left the keeper for dead but ricocheted cruelly off the post. Perhaps haunted, he fluffed his spot kick 15 minutes later along with Stuart Pearce, and England’s penalty shot out curse was born. (from 11.15)


England headed off to Mexico ’70 as reigning champions and made it through to the knock out stages, where a repeat of the ’66 final was waiting for them. Remember: this was before the days when defeat by the Germans felt as hopelessly inevitable as it does now.

England duly went 2-0 up, and it looked as though we’d be thrashing West Germany just like we had in the final four years earlier. Except there was a crucial difference. Gordon Banks was out with food poisoning, leaving second-choice Peter ‘the cat’ Bonetti between the sticks – an excellent keeper, but no GB (mind you, who was?). Germany levelled through Beckenbauer and Uwe Seeler before Gerd Müller – ‘Der Bomber’, they called him – scored a scrappy third, making Bonetti look hapless in the process. It was Germany’s first competitive winner over England, though not of course the last.


Yes, the ‘Hand of God’ was scandalous. Even when you watch it back now, the sheer audacity of the man leaping backwards, pointing his arm like an arrow and punching the ball into the net is enough to make your nostrils twitch with ancient outrage.

But it was Maradona’s second goal in Argentina’s 2-1 victory over us in the quarter final of ‘86, the one they later labeled ‘goal of the century’, the one where he dribbled around half the England team like they were training cones and dispatched a perfect shot with ease – that was the one that truly broke English hearts. Why? Because quite simply, we couldn’t imagine producing a player capable of anything like that (and with the exception of Gazza, have never came close since). ’66 never seemed so far away.


England’s quarter-final defeat to Portugal was painful, partly because of how familiar it all was: the underperforming captain rushed back from injury (Beckham), the superstar send off in a moment of rage (Rooney) and Ronaldo (Cristiano) everyone wanted to punch.

But the killer blow came in the form of something wholly unique and – if it were anything other than a penalty shoot out against England – barely credible. Frank Lampard stepped up to take our first penalty: Ricardo saved. Hargreaves scored our second, but then the Portuguese saved again from Gerrard, and again from Carragher, becoming the first man ever to save three penalties in a World Cup shoot out. The worst bit? Portugal missed two of their own, but it made no difference. Ricardo went on to be named in the tournament All-Star team. England, once again, went home.

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MORE FOOTBALL:

Roy Hodgson: What I've Learned 
Preston North End's Joe Garner Scores Goal Of The Season 
Sir Geoff Hurst: What I've Learned 
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