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F365’s top ten individual England tournament performances

We’ve had the top ten England performances in separate games at major finals. How about the best displays from individual players?   10. Bryan Robson (1982 World Cup) Not only did England go unbeaten at the 1982 World Cup, they never even trailed during any of their five matches. The solitary goal they conceded in Spain came after France had eventually recovered from what was then the quickest strike in tournament history. The clock showed just 27 seconds when Bryan Robson netted the country’s first World Cup goal in 12 years. Robson himself would cancel out Gerard Soler’s equaliser in a 3-1 win, the Manchester United midfielder emerging as the catalyst behind a stunning opening victory. England topped their group by labouring to a 2-0 win over Czechoslovakia and a 1-0 victory against Kuwait. It was in the latter game that The Guardian noted ‘Robson’s strength and authority were badly missed in midfield’, having sustained an injury in the first half of the second game. A difficult draw for the second group stage saw them pitted against the holders and the hosts; a pair of goalless draws against West Germany and Spain sealed a cruel exit. But for Robson, it was a fine showing. With Robson alongside Ray Wilkins, the England midfield has rarely been so balanced.   9. Sol Campbell (2002 World Cup) Nicky Butt might have been Pele’s choice as England’s “best player” ahead of their quarter-final meeting with Brazil in 2002, but even the midfielder himself deemed that assessment “crap”. It is not that Butt was poor as Steven Gerrard’s tournament stand-in – far from it – but the job was made easier by those behind him. The task of water carrier or defensive shield is not quite as complicated when teammates are willing to wear bulletproof vests and fetch their own drinks. In Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand, England had one of the best central defensive pairings in South Korea and Japan. Neither missed a single minute, keeping three clean sheets in five games. Campbell scored the only international goal of his career in a draw with Sweden, capping a performance The Times described as ‘unflappable’. A place as England’s only representative in the Team of the Tournament was just reward. The 43-year-old is now more obsessed with repeating the name of the Spanish capital, using his identity as a bemusing counter-argument and gradually diminishing his chances of finally entering football management. But it is worth remembering just how imperious he was in his playing prime.   8. Owen Hargreaves (2006 World Cup) Henry Winter captured the opinion of both the public and the press. He declared that Owen Hargreaves ‘can count himself lucky to be on board’, while the Daily Express suggested the Bayern Munich midfielder would be useful in Germany as a ‘tour guide’. The Sun, as The Sun often do, went one step further, and certainly one too far; they said he had ‘the public persona of a mass murderer’. The fixation with Hargreaves in 2006 bordered on the bizarre, but his was certainly an underwhelming selection. Injuries to Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen had rendered Peter Crouch the only fit, senior striker, with uncapped teenager Theo Walcott also part of the 23. “I thought perhaps we might see a forward in place of Hargreaves,” noted former England boss Graham Taylor. But the 25-year-old reciprocated the manager’s faith with an inspired tournament. He played just seven minutes of the opening two games, but started each of the last three. It was in the quarter-final against Portugal in particular that he set himself apart, The Times comparing him to Superman. ‘There were times on Saturday when he seemed to get on the end of his own passes,’ they added, with no hint of hyperbole. Hargreaves was the only one of four England players to score in the shoot-out defeat, further establishing his peerlessness. The critics were conspicuous by their silence when he was named England Player of the Year and England Player of the World Cup. A long and hard-fought battle had been won.   7. Wayne Rooney (2004 European Championships) ‘Is Rooney the new Pele?’ asked The Guardian, with the 18-year-old having scored his fourth goal of Euro 2004 in just three games. Sven-Goran Eriksson got that particular ball rolling by struggling to “remember anyone making such an impact on a tournament since Pele in the 1958 World Cup”, but everyone else was more than happy to run with it. After disappointment in the opening defeat to France, Rooney came to life in Portugal. Two goals against both Croatia and Switzerland announced him on the European – if not world – stage as a generational talent. The sky really was the limit. It did not take long for the crushing fall to follow the stratospheric rise. Just 27 minutes into the quarter-final, and with England already leading 1-0, Rooney broke a metatarsal in a challenge with Jorge Andrade. Darius Vassell was a like-for-like replacement in a positional sense and nothing more. “I believe if I’d stayed fit we would have won the tournament,” Rooney said 13 years later. He might actually have had a point.   6. Michael Owen (1998 World Cup) Of course, Rooney was only following in the footsteps of a future teammate. Liverpudlian? Check. A Premier League regular at the age of just 18? Absolutely. A tournament that would prove impossible to eclipse or even match in later years? Not for the first time, Michael Owen and his natural successor had completed the hat-trick. Owen arrived at France 98 having won the Premier League’s Golden Boot. Glenn Hoddle had seen fit to hand just five caps to the striker before the tournament, and his role as back-up to Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham was confirmed as he played just 23 minutes of the opening two games. A goal in the second – a defeat to Romania – was enough to persuade the manager to start him in a must-win game against Colombia. The South Americans, presumably after some admirable and largely unpunished sh*thousery, were duly dispatched, pitting England against Argentina. Owen wreaked havoc from the start. He won a penalty, scored one of the great World Cup goals and netted in the unsuccessful shootout. ‘Argentina were so terrified of Owen’s pace and directness that their brains stopped functioning properly,’ said Rob Smyth in his gripping account of the tournament. A star truly had been born.   5. Bobby Moore (1970 World Cup) The sobering truth is that many who have spent the summer...


Published By: Fottball 365 - Tuesday, 10 July

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