From thumping Holland at Wembley to seeing off Spain in Seville, we look back at the five best England performances of the past quarter-century.
Netherlands 1 – 4 England (Wembley Stadium, London, 18 June 1996)
Two games into Euro 96, the prospect of football coming home seemed a long way off.
A workmanlike 1-1 draw against Switzerland and a famous but fortuitous 2-0 win over Scotland put England in a good position going into the final group game, though Terry Venables’ side still hadn’t really hit their stride.
A meeting with a Holland side featuring Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf and Ronald de Boer had the potential to be disastrous for the tournament’s hosts.
Instead, what followed was perhaps England’s best display since 1966, surpassed only by Jonathan Pearce’s truly unbelievable commentary performance on Capital Gold.
Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham bagged two goals each, with three of those coming in an breathless 11-minute spell in the second half.
England also managed to concede a late Patrick Kluivert goal that knocked Scotland out of the tournament, which David Seaman (probably) didn’t let in on purpose, although he did call it “the cherry on top”.
Germany 1 – 5 England (Olympiastadion, Munich, 1 September 2001)
Every England fan remembers where they were when this happened.
Having been knocked out by Germany in the semi-finals of Italia 90 and Euro 96 – both times, of course, on penalties – the Three Lions took a measure of revenge in this World Cup qualifier in Munich.
It seemed like more of the same when Carsten Jancker put the hosts ahead after six minutes, but England’s soon-to-be-dubbed ‘Golden Generation’ – featuring David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and many more – fought back and romped to a remarkable win.
Michael Owen bagged a hat-trick. Gerrard fired in from 25 yards. Even Heskey scored.
The victory brought England back into touching distance of Germany at the top of their qualifying group, leading to that David Beckham free-kick against Greece that sent England to the tournament.
It also spawned Bell and Spurling’s Sven, Sven, Sven, the most popular song about an England manager until Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again was repurposed for Gareth Southgate.
Argentina 0 – 1 England (Sapporo Dome, Sapporo, 7 June 2002)
David Beckham’s redemption was the highlight of this gritty victory over an old foe in Japan.
Four years after the petulant kick at Diego Simeone that made Beckham public enemy no. 1, England’s captain lashed home the decisive penalty to beat Argentina in a group match at World Cup 2002.
This wasn’t an exciting offensive display like the one against Germany a year earlier, but it was arguably just as impressive.
Argentina were the favourites heading into the tournament, but England’s defence – plus unlikely heroes such as Nicky Butt and Trevor Sinclair – nullified an attack that featured Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo.
Sven’s men were simply the better team, and fully deserving of all three points.
England went on to reach the quarter-finals, where they suffered a defeat to Brazil that we won’t discuss any further, while Argentina failed to make it out of the group stage. Lovely.
Germany 2 – 3 England (Olympiastadion, Berlin, 26 March 2016)
The dismal defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016 will always be the lasting memory of Roy Hodgson’s England reign.
It’s worth remembering just how good Hodgson’s side looked, however, in this friendly that took place three months before the tournament began.
After somehow going 2-0 down despite a promising start, the Three Lions battled back to victory in Berlin thanks in large part to a devastating cameo off the bench from Jamie Vardy.
Harry Kane, Ross Barkley and a 19-year-old Dele Alli were also excellent, proving that this England side had the raw talent to develop into a force at Euro 2016 and beyond.
Had they not bottled it in spectacular fashion at the tournament, this team could have gone far.
Spain 2 – 3 England (Benito Villamarin, Seville, 15 October 2018)
If the win over Germany in 2016 showed the early shoots of a free-flowing, attacking team, this was England in full bloom.
A front three of Kane, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford rolled up to Real Betis’ stadium and took Spain apart, firing Gareth Southgate’s side 3-0 up inside 40 minutes.
Sterling ended a three-year international scoring drought with two cracking finishes on the break, while Rashford atoned for a wasteful display against Croatia three days prior by netting his sixth goal for England.
Despite his side’s run to the semi-finals at the World Cup, Southgate insisted before this game that England could only count themselves among the world’s top sides once they started beating them.
They did just that against Spain, stylishly seeing off a side who hadn’t lost a competitive home game in 15 years.
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