Chris Waddle: This is where the competition really starts
The former England international and World Cup semi-finalist talks Italia '90, rooming with Gazza and gives his advice to the current squad.
We can all feel it. It’s only natural.
England have qualified for the knockout stages of another major tournament and, like it or not, the country is getting giddy again.
They are one of only two teams to make it through without conceding a goal and, despite scoring just two goals in the group stage – fewer than any other side to qualify – have looked comfortable.
“Let’s be honest,” says Chris Waddle, “the competition really starts in the round of 16.
“The groups are the worst part. There are a lot of nerves and everyone’s frightened to make a mistake. You’re afraid to lose the first game and you definitely can’t lose the second.
“The latter stages of a tournament are where it’s great.”
Waddle knows what he is talking about when it comes to representing England at major tournaments, appearing at two World Cups and a Euros on his way to earning 62 caps between 1985 and 1991.
“To play for your country in any sport, that’s your target,” he says.
“You can’t get any higher in your career as a footballer once you represent England. It’s the greatest achievement and honour.
“If you don’t get a thrill pulling on that white shirt and going down that tunnel, there’s something wrong and you shouldn’t be there.”
The peak of Waddle’s international career came at Italia ’90, when the winger started every game during England’s run to their first semi-final since 1966.
To put that in perspective, England have only won five knockout matches and reached two semi-finals in the 31 years since – Euro ’96 and the 2018 World Cup.
Confidence, Waddle explains, is key to success at any tournament.
“If you don’t go to a tournament thinking you can win it, then I don’t see the sense in going,” he says.
That wasn’t shaken after England endured a slow start in 1990.
Bobby Robson’s side drew their opening two games against Republic of Ireland and Netherlands before a 1-0 victory over Egypt in their final group game.
And, following victories over Belgium and Cameroon in the knockout stages, that feeling started to snowball.
“When we got through the group, we all believed we could win it.” he says.
“After David Platt’s goal in the last minute against Belgium in the first round, confidence was so high. Cameroon was a very hard game. Technically, they were better than us and we knew that. But we knew how to win.
“Then, even against West Germany, they had good players but so did we. You walked around the park and thought: ‘There’s nothing between us.’”
With pictures circulating on social media of the current crop of England players laughing together at training, playing darts with the media and messing around on inflatable killer whales in the swimming pool, team spirit appears to be high.
That, according to Waddle, is integral to maintaining confidence and trust in one another.
“Togetherness is massive,” he says.
“In 1990, we were away for seven weeks. It takes a lot of mental strength, we were under lock and key. You’ve got to have security everywhere you go. You’re on the bus to training, back on the bus to the hotel, in your room or the restaurant and that’s basically it.
“But the camaraderie was brilliant.”
His downtime wasn’t without incident, though.
“I got the short straw and was rooming with Gazza,” he says.
“I love Paul and we get on very well, but he is the clown. We always tried to tell him he can’t do this or that but he did it, it didn’t matter who told him.
“He was a bundle of energy. He’d be up at 6am or 7am, out the patio doors and doing 20 lengths of swimming, then training and table tennis in the afternoon and he would crash out at about 11pm.
“I always had to turn the lights and telly off. It just went on and on like that.”
Ultimately, England’s journey came to an end after a 1-1 draw with West Germany that was followed by a 4-3 defeat on penalties in which Waddle missed the decisive kick.
But he was only in that position after filling in for his room-mate, Gazza, who was distraught after picking up a booking that would have ruled him out of the final.
“We had the five takers and Gazza was one of them,” Waddle says.
“But after getting that yellow, he was in no fit state to take one, so I just put my hand up. I’d enjoyed the game and I was confident.”
Waddle stepped up last for England, coming directly after Stuart Pearce’s effort had been saved by West Germany goalkeeper Bodo Ilgner.
“At first, I was going to put it to the goalie’s left, but when Stuart [Pearce] missed, I thought that I had to make sure and go for power,” says Waddle.
“I thought in my head that there’s no way he’s going to save it. But because I caught it so clean, it just took off and flew.
“If I’d scuffed it a bit, it would have gone in.
“It’s a horrible way to go out because it’s not like the best team won in my eyes.”
His advice to the England players should they find themselves in a penalty shoot-out this time around?
“Don’t take one!”
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