*Draws include knockout matches decided on penalty kicks
England's first qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup doubled as the 1950 British Home Championship. The series kicked off for England on 15 October 1949 at Ninian Park, Cardiff, against Wales. Stan Mortensen gave England the lead after twenty two minutes, and just seven minutes later, Jackie Milburn doubled the lead. This was the first goal of Milburn's hat trick, which left England 4–0 up with 20 minutes to play. Mal Griffiths scored a consolation goal for Wales ten minutes from time, but England held on for a comfortable victory.
A month later, England welcomed Ireland to Maine Road, and it began well for the home side as Jack Rowley scored inside six minutes. England were already 6–0 up, thanks to Jack Froggatt, two for Stan Pearson, Stan Mortensen and a second from Rowley, by the time Ireland struck back through Samuel Smyth after 55 minutes. Rowley added a third and a fourth to his tally in the three minutes following Smyth's goal, however, leaving the score at 8–1 at the hour mark. The frantic scoring rate calmed down after that, with only one apeice before the final whistle, with Stan Pearson completing his brace for England's ninth, and Bobby Brennan scoring for Ireland.
It was not until May 1950 that England travelled to Hampden Park to face Scotland, who were also undefeated after their games against Ireland and Wales. With the top two from the group qualifying, both teams were guaranteed progression to the finals, and the game was solely for the honour of winning the British Home Championship, and the seeding advantage to be enjoyed upon reaching Brazil. A solitary goal from Roy Bentley gave England the victory, the title and the top spot in the group.
England were seeded in pot one for the finals, which meant they were the favourites to progress from Group 2, which also contained Spain, Chile and the United States. England's campaign kicked off against Chile in Rio de Janeiro, and, as was expected, England cruised to a 2–0 victory, courtesy of goals from Stan Mortensen and Wilf Mannion.
Their troubles began four days later when they faced the Americans in Belo Horizonte in what has become one of the most famous matches of all time. Joe Gaetjens scored the only goal of the match to give the United States an unlikely victory, which has gone down as one of the World Cup's greatest upsets. The English newspapers were so confident of an English victory that when the result was telegrammed back, they assumed a misprint and printed the score as 10–1 in England's favour.
This left England in a sticky situation prior to their final match, against Spain in Rio. They needed to win, and for Chile to beat the United States to stand any chance of going through, and even then they would need the goal averages to fall in their favour. As it turned out, no such calculations were necessary, as Spain's Zarra scored the only goal of the game, eliminating England from the competition. The team returned to England with their tails between their legs.
As with their first World Cup, England's qualifying for the 1954 edition also constituted the 1954 British Home Championship. They played Wales at Ninian Park as their first match once again, and the 4–1 result was the same. However, unlike four years earlier, it was the home side that went into the lead, after twenty two minutes through Ivor Allchurch. Despite being 1–0 down at half time, England scored four within eight minutes of the restart; two each for Dennis Wilshaw and Nat Lofthouse.
Goodison Park was the venue for England's home clash against Ireland, who were newly renamed Northern Ireland in FIFA's eyes. Harold Hassall got England off to a good start with a goal after just ten minutes. Eddie McMorran put the Irish back on terms just before the hour mark, but Hassall completed his brace six minutes later. Lofthouse completed a comfortable 3–1 win for England.
With the top two in the group qualifying for the finals, the final game between England and Scotland, at Hampden Park, settled nothing except the placings within the group, despite Scotland having dropped a point with a 3–3 draw at home to Wales. Allan Brown put the home side ahead after just seven minutes, but it was all square again thanks to Ivor Broadis just four minutes later. Johnny Nicholls gave England the lead for the first time just after half time, and they began to extend a lead after Ronnie Allen's 68th-minute goal. Jimmy Mullen made the game all but certain seven minutes from time, and although Willie Ormond scored a consolation for Scotland with just 1 minute to play, England topped the competition for the second time in a row.
England were drawn in Group 4 for the finals, with hosts Switzerland, Italy and Belgium. In an odd twist, unique to the 1954 cup, England, as one of the two seeded teams, would not have to play Italy, the other, in the group.
Equally, Switzerland and Belgium did not have to play each other. England's first game in Switzerland was against Belgium in Basel, and they suffered a shock as Léopold Anoul put the Belgians into the lead after just five minutes. Ivor Broadis put the favourites back on terms just over twenty minutes later, and although Nat Lofthouse gave England the lead 10 minutes later, it was proving to be tougher than they had expected against the Belgians.
Broadis scored his second just after the hour, but Henri Coppens hit back four minutes later to keep Belgium in the game at only 3–2 down. Anoul completed his brace another four minutes after that to level the scores again. In another oddity peculiar to this World Cup, games which were drawn in the groups would go into extra time, and as such the teams played on with the score at 3–3.
Just one minute into the added period, Lofthouse added a fourth for England and they seemed to have won it, but Jimmy Dickinson scored an own goal three minutes later to put the score back at 4–4. It stayed this way until the extra period was up, and as penalty shootouts were yet to be invented and replays were not used in the group, the match was put down as a draw.
England's second and final group game was against the hosts in Bern. This proved to be an easier game for the Three Lions, and they scored one goal in each half (from Jimmy Mullen and Dennis Wilshaw respectively) to give them a comfortable win of 2–0. As Switzerland (against England), Italy (against Switzerland) and Belgium (against Italy) had all lost one game, England progressed as group winners, along with Switzerland, who won a play off against Italy.
England faced the winners of group three and defending champions Uruguay in the quarter-finals. Carlos Borges gave the South Americans the lead inside 5 minutes, but Lofthouse put England back on terms ten minutes later. England were clearly struggling, but held on until just before half time, when Obdulio Varela gave the lead back Uruguay.
Juan Alberto Schiaffino doubled the lead just after the break, but Tom Finney kept England's foot in the door with his sixty seventh-minute goal. However, it was all over after Javier Ambrois restored the two goal lead with twelve minutes to play. The score remained at 4–2, and England were out.
For the first time, England had to play against countries other than the Home Nations to reach the Finals in Sweden. They were drawn against the Republic of Ireland and Denmark. In the qualifying round, England won three out of the four games and drew the other. Four months before the World Cup, Roger Byrne, Duncan Edwards, David Pegg and Tommy Taylor all lost their lives in the Munich air disaster while playing for Manchester United. At the finals, which is the only tournament to have seen all Home Nations take part, the Home Nations were all drawn in different groups.
England were drawn against the Soviet Union (2–2), Brazil (0–0) and Austria (2–2), who finished third in the 1954 World Cup. At the end of the group stage, Soviet Union and England each had three points, and had scored four goals and conceded four goals. This meant there was a play-off to decide the second-placed team in the group, the winner to qualify. England lost the play off 1–0 and were thus knocked out. The only consolation for England was that they were the only team to play the eventual winners Brazil and not lose.
The third World Cup which took place in South America, saw England qualify by successfully qualifying from the group, which contained Portugal and Luxembourg, with three wins and a draw. England were drawn in a group with Hungary (1–2), Argentina (3–1) and Bulgaria (0–0). England finished in second place behind Hungary and played holders Brazil in the quarter finals. England lost 3–1, this defeat being Walter Winterbottom's last game in charge. Winterbottom had led England to four World Cup Finals. From May 1963, Alf Ramsey was the manager of England.
In the 1966 World Cup Finals, England used their home advantage and, under Ramsey, won their first, and only, World Cup title. England played all their games at Wembley Stadium in London, which became the last time that the hosts were granted this privilege. After drawing 0–0 in the opening game against former champions Uruguay]], which started a run of four games all ending goalless. England then beat both France and Mexico 2–0 and qualified for the quarter finals.
The quarter finals saw England play Argentina, which ended in a 1–0 win to England. This match saw the start of the rivalry between England and Argentina, when Argentinian Antonio Rattín was dismissed by German referee Rudolf Kreitlein in a very fierce game. A 2–1 win against Portugal in the semi-final then followed. Portugal were the first team to score against England in the tournament. The final saw England play West Germany, with the result finishing in a 4–2 win for England.
1970 saw the first World Cup finals take place in Central America and England qualified automatically for the tournament by winning the 1966 FIFA World Cup. England were drawn in a group with Romania (1–0), former world champions Brazil (0–1) and Czechoslovakia (1–0). The quarter final saw a repeat of the 1966 Final, with England playing West Germany. England led 2–0 with goals by Alan Mullery and Martin Peters, but in the 70th minute, Franz Beckenbauer pulled one goal back for West Germany.
After Beckenbauer's goal, Ramsey substituted Bobby Charlton, who overtook Billy Wright as England's most capped player ever, with caps totalling 106. Uwe Seeler equalised for the Germans in the eighty first minute, thereby taking the game into extra time. During extra time, Gerd Müller scored the winning goal for West Germany which saw the German side qualify with a win of 3–2. This turned out to be Charlton's last game for England. As for Alf Ramsey, he still continued to be England's manager.
For the first time, England did not qualify for a World Cup. In a group with Olympic Winners Poland and Wales, England could not overtake Poland. After only drawing at home to Wales 1–1 and losing the first leg 2–0 to Poland, meant that England had to beat Poland at home, whilst Poland only needed to draw. Poland managed to withstand England's attacks in the first half, who had Martin Peters playing for them. Poland took the lead in the 57th minute with a goal from Jan Domarski.
England equalised six minutes later, with a penalty converted by Allan Clarke. England were unable to score any more goals with goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski keeping England at bay. Brian Clough had previously called Tomaszewski a "clown". The commentator of the game then said "it's all over". Poland took this good form to the finals and ended in third place. After failing to qualify, Alf Ramsey resigned from his post and after a time, where Ramsey and his predecessor had lasted a total of 29 years, no manager was able to last in the job for longer than eight years. This ended when Bobby Robson became England manager.
England also did not qualify for the fourth World Cup which took place in South America. This time, England were denied by Italy, who had scored three more goals than England after both teams finished on the same points. Goals scored dictated who qualified after the head-to-head record between the two sides finished the same, following a 2–0 home win for each team.
The other teams in the group were Finland and Luxembourg, who were the whipping boys of the group, but the size of the wins against them proved to be decisive. Nevertheless, Ron Greenwood was given a second chance in charge of England, after taking the role in 1977.
1982 saw the first time where the European Qualifying Rounds were divided into groups of five teams, where the top two teams qualify for the World Cup. Greenwood used his second chance and took England to Spain by finishing second behind Hungary and above Romania, Switzerland and Norway. There, England reached the next round by beating France (3–1), Czechoslovakia (2–0) and World Cup newcomers Kuwait (1–0).
The next round saw a second group stage consisting of three teams, a first time event at the World Cup. England drew with West Germany 0–0 and after the Germans beat Spain 2–1, England then had to beat Spain with a two-goal difference to progress to the next round. England, however, only managed a 0–0 draw against the Spanish. England remained unbeaten at the end of the tournament. After the World Cup, Ron Greenwood's time as England manager ended, and he was replaced by Bobby Robson.
1986 saw the second World Cup to take place in Mexico. England qualified for Mexico 1986 by winning four games and drawing four times against Northern Ireland, who qualified in second place, Romania, Finland and Turkey. In Mexico, England lost their opening game to Portugal 1–0 and could only manage a goalless draw against Morocco. The final group game, however, saw England beat Poland 3–0, which is one of the three highest scores for England at the World Cup, with Gary Lineker scoring a hat-trick.
This result took England to second place and finished behind Morocco. England then also beat Paraguay 3–0 in the Round of 16. In the quarter-finals, England renewed their rivalry with Argentina in a game that has become notorious for the so-called goal, known as the Hand of God. England lost 2–1. Nevertheless, Lineker finished with the Golden Boot by scoring six goals and thereby becoming England's first Golden Boot winner.
By winning three and drawing three, England qualified for Italia '90, the second World Cup to be held in Italy, scoring ten goals and conceding none. They finished second to Sweden. England profited from Romania’s 3–1 win over Denmark, who, had they won, would have qualified as the third-best second-placed team. Germany and England were able to qualify for Italia '90 as the best second-placed teams in the groups with four teams.
Because a few years previously saw English hooligans at European Competition matches, England were forced to play their group games on Sardinia and Sicily. In England's group was the European champions Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland and Egypt. After opening the tournament with a 1–1 draw against Ireland and a 0–0 draw against the Dutch, England then beat Egypt 1–0. This was Egypt's first appearance since the 1934 World Cup.
In the next round, England had to play Belgium. The game went to extra time, and in the hundredth and nineteenth minute, David Platt scored the winning goal. England also had to play extra time against Cameroon in the quarter-finals. Cameroon were the first African team to have reached the quarter finals. Lineker won and scored a penalty in the eighty-third minute to ensure the game went to extra time. He also scored a second penalty, to see England reach the semi-finals.
In the semi-finals, England met West Germany. There was no separating the two teams after 90 minutes, which made England the first team to have played extra time in three successive World Cup games. There was also no separating the two teams after extra time, thereby taking the game to penalties.
Although goalkeeper Peter Shilton guessed right on every occasion, he was unable to save a single penalty. Meanwhile, two of the England team missed their penalties, England being thereby knocked out of the competition. The third-place playoff between England and Italy saw England lose their only game of the tournament. Even though this was England's best finish since the 1966 World Cup, Bobby Robson's time as England manager had come to an end.
For the 1994 World Cup in the United States, under the leadership of new manager Graham Taylor, England surprisingly did not qualify for the tournament. In a group with six teams, England surprisingly lost out to Norway and the Netherlands, finishing third above Poland, Turkey and San Marino.
In the game against San Marino, Davide Gualtieri scored against England after nine seconds, taking the lead for the outsiders. England went on to win 7–1, but because of the game between the Dutch and the Poles, with the Netherlands winning 3–1, England's win was immaterial. Taylor's tenure in charge ended and he was replaced by Terry Venables, who was dismissed after England lost the semi-final of Euro 1996, hosted in England.
After missing out on the World Cup in 1994, England, under Glenn Hoddle, qualified for the World Cup in France. England qualified alongside Italy and finished above Poland, Georgia and Moldova. England's only blemish was a 1–0 home defeat by Italy. In France, England beat Tunisia 2–0, lost 2–1 to Romania and beat Colombia 2–0 in the decisive match, where England finished second and managed to reach the second round. England then met arch-rivals Argentina for a third time. England again lost on penalties.
In a fiery game containing six yellow cards, David Beckham was sent off in the 47th minute. Both teams scored between the red card and the end of the game. The game then went to extra time, with both teams scoring in the first half of extra time. There were no goals in the second half of extra time, which meant that penalties were to decide the team that qualified to the next round. While David Seaman did save one penalty, Argentine goalkeeper Carlos Roa managed to save two, thereby knocking England out of the World Cup.
2002 saw the first World Cup to take place in Asia. England, under its first ever foreign manager in Sven-Göran Eriksson, were able to qualify for the tournament. He took over partway through qualification, after England had lost to Germany, in the last ever game in the original Wembley Stadium, which closed down after the match. By beating Germany 5–1 in Munich, England's qualifying campaign was revitalised, and they qualified automatically, by drawing 2–2 with Greece.
Germany, who could only draw 0–0 with Finland, had to play a play off game against Ukraine. In Japan, England had to play against Eriksson's homeland, Sweden, and both settled out for a 1–1 draw. Then, in the following games against Argentina and Nigeria, England won 1–0 against Argentina and drew with Nigeria. With these results, England were able to qualify for the second round, where they played Denmark.
England beat Denmark 3–0, and met then four-time World Cup winners Brazil in the quarter-finals. After a mistake by David Seaman, England lost 2–1, and Brazil won their fourth World Cup match against England, and went on to win the tournament.
The second World Cup to take place in Germany saw England qualify. By winning eight times, among which was a 2–1 win against Poland, the team that knocked England out the last time the World Cup took place in Germany, drawing once and losing once, England qualified alongside Poland, who automatically qualified as the second placed team. Austria, Northern Ireland, Wales and Azerbaijan were the whipping boys of the group.
In Germany, however, England were less than convincing. A 1–0 win against Paraguay was won because of an own goal. The game against new boys Trinidad and Tobago saw England have to wait until the 83rd minute for England to take the lead, with Peter Crouch opened the scoring and the second goal of the game coming in added time.
The last group game saw England play against Sweden, with both teams again settling for a draw (2–2) to see them qualify for the next round. A free kick from David Beckham saw England win 1–0 against Ecuador and reach the quarter-finals, where they met Portugal. England once again were knocked out on penalties and Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo became the first goalkeeper to save three penalties in a penalty shoot-out. The game had finished 0–0 before the penalty shoot-out. This game also saw Eriksson's final match as England manager.
Qualification for the first African World Cup went successfully for new England manager Fabio Capello, after previous manager Steve McClaren was unable to secure qualification to the Euro 2008. By winning nine times and only losing to Ukraine, England qualified ahead of Croatia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Andorra. After drawing 1–1 against the United States and 0–0 against Algeria, England qualified for the next round by beating Slovenia 1–0.
The second round saw England play against Germany. Germany took the lead after 20 minutes after goalkeeper Manuel Neuer booted the ball down the pitch to Miroslav Klose, who opened the scoring. The score became 2–0 to Germany after 32 minutes. Shortly after, England defender Matthew Upson scored a header. A few minutes later, Frank Lampard had a shot at goal which was disallowed after crossing the line. The media reported it was a "Revenge for Wembley" and "Wembley Reloaded". As England tried to equalise, Germany used this to their advantage and scored two more goals. This became Germany's biggest win against England in an World Cup.
Under Roy Hodgson, who replaced Fabio Capello before Euro 2012 after a disagreement between Capello and The FA, England qualified for the second World Cup to be held in Brazil. Ukraine were again one of the opponents in the qualifying rounds. The other opponents included Montenegro, Poland, Moldova and San Marino. After winning six games and drawing four, England qualified unbeaten.
The draw for the finals saw England have to play against Italy and Uruguay, both former world champions, which meant that it was the first ever time three World Champions were drawn in the same group. The last team Costa Rica were seen as the whipping boys of the group. England lost to Italy and Uruguay, and were thus knocked out after two games. The final game against Costa Rica ended 0–0, and had only a statistical value.
- Peter Shilton – seventeen games at three tournaments
- Ashley Cole, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Terry Butcher – fourteen games at three tournaments (Charlton played in four)
6. David Beckham – thirteen games at three tournaments
7. Steven Gerrard, Gary Lineker and Michael Owen
10. Chris Waddle – eleven games at two tournaments
11. Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Ray Wilson and Billy Wright
- Gary Lineker – ten goals
- Geoff Hurst – five goals
- Bobby Charlton and Michael Owen – four goals
England first used a "legionary" of players who were playing abroad in 1962.