Five unforgettable England qualifiers

England have been involved in some remarkable matches in pursuit of qualification for international tournaments. Gareth Southgate’s latest England side go into the next round of EURO 2024 qualifiers having won their opening four games, conceding just one goal in the process. But it has not always been so straightforward for the men in white. Here we take a closer look at five of the most unforgettable England qualifiers of the 21st Century.

Germany 1-5 England, 1st September 2001 – World Cup 2002 Qualifier

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A famous night in Munich. The last time England had beaten Germany away from home was in 1965. England went into this game in Munich as clear second favourites, against a Germany side who sat top of the group. Sven-Göran Eriksson’s side started in the worst possible way, falling behind after just six minutes. What happened after that was truly remarkable. England’s frontline was led by a 22-year-old Michael Owen, who at the time had the world at his feet. He drew England level and from there they never looked back.

On the stroke of half-time, Steven Gerrard rifled in a second for England to grab the lead and turn the game on its head. After the break, Owen went on to grab this second, and then his hat-trick and put the game beyond any doubt. England were out of sight, and in dreamland. Just to top it off, substitute Emile Heskey raced through and slotted in a fifth! England were 5-1 winners away from home in Germany! That was not even the highlight of that qualification campaign.

England 2-2 Greece, 6th October 2001 – World Cup 2002 Qualifier

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In the same qualification campaign as the famous 5-1 win over Germany, England found themselves in a spot of bother when it came down to the final group match against Greece at Old Trafford. England needed just a point to qualify but they went about it the hard way. Angelos Charisteas had given Greece the lead just after the half hour mark. England began to push for that all important equaliser and it took until the 68th minute for it to come, a header from substitute Terry Sheringham. As it stood England would qualify. But just a minute later England were behind again. Demis Nikolaidis put Greece 2-1 up and England had just 20 minutes to equalise.

David Beckham had been England’s best player on the pitch, and had single handedly taken the game to Greece. He had opportunities to score throughout the match including five free-kicks which were all below par. However, in injury time England were awarded a free-kick just outside the penalty area and Beckham was standing over it. This was England’s last chance to salvage a point, which would send them to the World Cup. A loss would have sent England to the play offs, where they would have faced Ukraine.

Beckham seized the opportunity and whipped the free-kick beyond the goalkeeper to send the crowd into bedlam. England had qualified and Beckham was the hero, just four years after his sending off in the 1998 World Cup.

England 2-3 Croatia, 21 November 2007 – European Championships 2008 Qualifier

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As the rain poured down on the Wembley pitch, England needed a win to book their place at the 2008 European Championship. Manager Steve McClaren, umbrella in hand opted not to start both David Beckham and Jermaine Defoe. Scott Carson was in goal ahead of regular starter Paul Robinson. The night got off to the worst possible start, with Carson fumbling a shot from Nico Kranjcar after just eight minutes. The wet surface may have been a factor but it was a less than ideal start for England.

Things only got worse, six minutes later it was 2-0 to Croatia. Ivica Olic compounding England’s misery and making this an uphill task. England’s place at the Euros was hanging in the balance, with Russia playing Andorra needing a win too.

England came out stronger in the second half and pulled a goal back through Frank Lampard from the penalty spot. Beckham came off the bench and set up Peter Crouch for a crucial equaliser. With the game tied at 2-2, England were in with a chance – until 13 minutes from time when their fate was all but sealed. Mladen Petric beat Carson from 25 yards and Croatia led again, and that is how it stayed. England failed to qualify, Russia took second place in the group and McClaren, dubbed the Wally with the Brolly, was sacked. One of the lowest nights for England’s in recent history.

Croatia 1-4 England, 10th September 2008 – World Cup 2010 Qualifier

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England were out for revenge, after the disaster in 2007. However, this night was about one man – Theo Walcott. At the age of just 19, Walcott made a name for himself with a stunning hat-trick. England manager Fabio Capello gave Walcott a start over David Beckham and the then Arsenal winger justified that selection in some style.

By the hour mark, England were 2-0 up, Croatia were down to ten men, and Walcott had a brace. Wayne Rooney added a third and it was turning into a special night in Zagreb. Mario Mandzukic pulled one back for the hosts but Walcott was not done. Assisted by Rooney, he completed his hat-trick and set England on course for a place in South Africa for the World Cup.

England 7-1 San Marino, 17th November 1993 – World Cup 1994 Qualifier

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The task was clear for England in their final qualifying game, they had to beat San Marino by seven clear goals to be in with a chance of qualification. They also needed an unlikely favour from Poland, who had to beat the Netherlands.

England v San Marino on paper looks like a walk in the park for any England team, but with an added pressure on the occasion, it appeared to get to Graham Taylor’s side. After just eight seconds on the clock, England were a goal down after a short back pass from Stuart Pearce resulted in Davide Gualtieri poking the ball past David Seaman. A shocking start, England now needed eight goals. They responded well and went into half-time 3-1 up, but they needed another five. Ultimately they left themselves with too much to do, and could only muster four more leaving them agonisingly one short. Meanwhile, the Netherlands had beaten Poland 3-1 to add insult to injury. Taylor resigned less than a week after the game, and England’s World Cup qualification campaign ended in failure.

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