Years of hurt: England's road from the 1966 final to the cusp of Euro 2020 glory

10 July 2021, 11:00

Is it coming home?
Is it coming home? Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

England will play in only their second major final in their history on Sunday.

The Euro 2020 decider against Italy is the first time they've got to the end of a competition since 1966.

Frank Skinner, David Baddiel and the Lightning Seeds famously summed up the intervening years – now standing at 55 – as a collection of "oh-so-nears" in the much-loved hit song Three Lions.

The gap between that song's release and now is almost the same amount of time that had elapsed between the 1966 World Cup triumph and the recording's first play.

Here's everything that happened since Sir Bobby Moore and co lifted England's first – and, at the time of writing, only – major title.

Read more: England beat Denmark 2-1 in thrilling match to reach Euro 2020 final

World Cup 1966

England host the tournament which sees them beat Germany 4-2 in extra time, a moment immortalised in photos, video and the iconic “they think it’s all over… it is now!” commentary as England scored their final goal.

Euro 1968

The world champions fall at the semi finals to Yugoslavia. Sunday's opponents Italy triumph in their first and only Euros win.

World Cup 1970

The triumph of ’66 is well and truly in the rear view mirror as England leave the Mexico-hosted tournament in the quarter finals, losing to West Germany.

English international football then enters a terrible decade as the side fails to qualify for the next two Euros and the next two World Cups.

It's been a long road since 1966
It's been a long road since 1966. Picture: Action Plus Sports Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Euro 1980

After 10 years without appearing at a major tournament, England return to the scene but fail to qualify from the group stage, as hosts Italy advance from the group to the final and Belgium finish second.

World Cup 1982

England travel to Spain and perform well in the group, coming top before failing to get out of the second group stage. West Germany qualify at their expense, and things get worse as the side fail to qualify for Euro 1984.

World Cup 1986

England get another chance in Mexico, a tournament best remembered for the way they exited.

Diego Maradona scores the infamous “Hand of God” goal past Peter Shilton before dribbling through England’s team and finishing in one of the greatest solo efforts in the history of the sport.

Lineker scores late but England leave at the quarter finals.

Euro 88

England fall at the group stage in the Euros again, this time finishing rock bottom without a single point, below the Republic of Ireland.

World Cup 1990

The closest England had got since 1966 until the 2018 tournament. England win a tight group at Italia 90 before beating Belgium and Cameroon.

Ultimately, they are undone on penalties by West Germany – but the near-miss and the tournament live long in the English memory.

Euro 92

The long-lasting impact of Italia 90 on England was not replicated by this Sweden-hosted tournament, in which the side again crash out of the group stage.

It is won by 2021’s semi final opponents Denmark.

England also fail to qualify for the US-hosted World Cup in 1994.

Gascoigne and Lineker came closest to a World Cup since 1966
Gascoigne and Lineker came closest to a World Cup since 1966. Picture: INTERFOTO / Alamy Stock Photo

Euro 1996

Football comes home – and success nearly follows. England host the tournament and beat their oldest rivals Scotland before crushing the Netherlands 4-1 in the group stage.

They then knock out Spain on penalties but lose to Germany – again – on penalties.

The player who misses, to send the Germans through, is one Gareth Southgate.

World Cup 1998

England lose to rivals Argentina in the round of 16 in France, going out on penalties after David Beckham is sent off.

Euro 2000

Another group stage exit as Portugal and Romania qualify for the knockout stage in the Belgium-Netherlands hosted tournament.

World Cup 2002

Beckham makes amends by scoring a penalty to beat Argentina but England’s advance in Japan-South Korea comes to an end when Brazil’s Rivaldo and Ronaldinho score to win 2-1 in the quarter finals.

Euro 2004

England are knocked out by tournament hosts Portugal on penalties in the knockout stage, who go on to lose the final to Greece in a major upset.

World Cup 2006

Yet another quarter final exit as England lose to Portugal on penalties. Hosts Germany are knocked out by Sunday’s opponents Italy, who secure their latest title.

Under manager Steve McClaren, England fail to qualify for Euro 2008.

World Cup 2010

England recover from a sluggish start in the group stage to qualify for the knock out stage, only to be thumped 4-1 by Germany as fans are furious that a Lampard goal, later shown to have crossed the goal line, is missed by the referee at 2-1.

Euro 2012

England get out of the group but fall to Italy in the next round, the quarter finals, losing on penalties.

World Cup 2014

A tournament to forget for England as they collapse at the group stage while Costa Rica and Uruguay advance. Italy also crash out, finishing third in the group in Brazil.

Euro 2016

One that will live longer in Welsh memories, England come second to their neighbours in the group stage but are dumped out by Iceland in France.

World Cup 2018

Things finally pick up for England as Gareth Southgate’s team win a rare penalty shootout against Colombia and advance to the semi finals, only for Croatia – who lose the final to France – to beat them in extra time.

The Russia tournament sees England finish fourth after Belgium win the third place play-off.

Euro 2020

The delayed tournament sees England, one of the tournament’s hosts, advance all the way to a final for the first time in 55 years.

After years of hurt… is football finally coming home?