Spain 2-3 England: Is it England’s most important result for 30 years?
England stunned the football world last night with a blistering first-half display that condemned Spain to a first defeat in a competitive game on home soil in 15 years.
The landmark 3-2 win for Gareth Southgate’s side against one of the elite of international football has been hailed by many pundits as England’s most important result of the last few decades.
But is it? Here are our ‘Top 5’ in terms of significance – if not entertainment value…
5. England 2-3 Croatia, 2008
Including a gut-wrenching defeat in this list might seem unusual, but bear with us.
Sometimes a team needs shock therapy for things to change – and arguably this result was the catalyst the FA needed to push through the changes that have transformed English football at all levels over the last few years.
Much of England’s recent success has been built on creating a ‘band of brothers’ team mentality – something that was all too often missing 10 years ago when the media was regularly focused on competing egos within the team – Lampard, Gerrard, Terry, Beckham, Rooney etc.
English football has become far humbler under Gareth Southgate, and while the sum of the parts may not have the star power of that generation, the whole is a lot stronger – and that mentality is feeding through at each level thanks to the changes the FA made after England shockingly missed out on Euro 2008.
4. Colombia 1-1 England (3-4 penalties), 2018
It’s not a game any fan will want to live through again (bar the last spot kick), but England’s nervy penalty win over Colombia at World Cup 2018 will have a huge psychological impact for English teams in years to come. More enjoyable tournament games could easily have made our cut – such as Beckham’s penalty redemption against Argentina in 2002 – but few games come close to this one in terms of taking the burden off future England generations.
In the space of one Eric Dier penalty, England overcame their so-called ‘penalty curse’ and banished an unhelpful media narrative that has inhibited them at nearly every major tournament. If the class of 2018 can keep cool heads and be the heroes, so can future generations. Penalties, as they say, are a lottery – for both sides involved.
3. Germany 1-5 England, 2001
It’s still a night many an England fan will never forget, but in retrospect this result proved to be more of a one-off for the Golden Generation rather than a true turning point in English football.
In terms of the sheer enjoyment factor of beating a traditional rival in a competitive qualifying game, this will always be No. 1 for many England fans, but Sven Göran-Eriksson’s era as England manager arguably peaked here in his first year in the job. And let’s not forget the first half – which finished 1-1 – was largely forgettable fare.
2. Spain 2-3 England, 2018
There’s been very little to complain about for England fans since Gareth Southgate took the helm, but a tendency to show too much respect to high-profile opponents is one of them.
The fact that England seized the initiative and took the game to the Spaniards last night suggests this side finally recognises they can compete on an equal footing with more glamorous opponents.
It’s certainly yet another breakthrough moment for this determined young group of players, but as always with England, caution is advised as to whether it’s a one-off or a staging post for something even bigger.
1. England 4-1 Netherlands, 1996
England came so close to a defining moment in their history in reaching the World Cup 2018 semi-finals, before tired legs finally came back to haunt them against a dogged Croatia. Many fans will be hoping that was the start of things to come and not another false dawn.
A look back to Euro ’96 arguably offers the closest comparison to this current bright era for English football – and one result stands out as a moment where England started to genuinely believe.
The 4-1 demolition on home soil of a talented Dutch side in the group stages of Euro ’96 still remains the best England performance of recent decades. Everything seemed to click that day, and that tournament remains England’s greatest missed opportunity, given 2018’s charge came out of leftfield.
Of course, that tournament would end with penalty heartbreak – something this generation finally put right in Russia.
With Wembley hosting the latter stages of Euro 2020, could England be genuine contenders to lift their first piece of major silverware since 1966 in two years’ time?
Only time will tell…