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04th Jul 2015

25 years since England’s Italia 90 exit and the pain is still strong

25 years of hurt...

Tom Victor

On July 4, 1990, England’s footballers had the entire country on the edge of their seats as they came as close as it was possible to come to a World Cup final.

As the women’s team mark the 25th anniversary of that tournament with a similarly heartbreaking World Cup exit, JOE takes a look at what made that penalty shoot-out defeat to West Germany so painful.

Fate had seemed to be on England’s side

Unlike some more recent tournaments, where England’s elimination often seemed like a case of when rather than if, there was widespread belief that the stars were aligning for Bobby Robson’s team.

The last-gasp win over Belgium. The topsy-turvy quarter-final against Cameroon. These are the sort of obstacles that champions overcome. At times it seemed like destiny that England would prevail.

England were prepared for a long fight

West Germany’s progress to the semi-finals was straightforward compared to England’s. They had cruised through the group stage as the tournament’s highest scorers, and seen off both of their knockout opponents in 90 minutes.

England, in contrast, knew what was required to get over the line once normal time was up. The Germans might have been less tired, but they also had less experience of the situation.

We didn’t know what to expect from watching England take penalties

It seems strange to say it now after so many defeats in similar circumstances, but back in 1990 there was some cautious optimism when the England players walked up to the penalty spot.

Gary Lineker had tucked away two penalties in the quarter-final victory, so why couldn’t the whole team pull through? Little did we know that it would mark the start of a penalty record which precedes England ahead of every major tournament these days.

The squad was likeable

This is not a reason why they should have prevailed, of course, but it does explain the pain felt around England following the defeat.

Unlike more recent tournament squads, where club allegiances see some fans fail to take to the entire squad, the 22 men in England shirts or tracksuits throughout the tournament had the entire country on side.

Maybe it was the exciting young talents like Paul Gascoigne. Maybe it was the presence of lower-league hero Steve Bull. Or perhaps it was just the sense – brought to us by the World in Motion video – that this was just a great bunch of lads.

Some 25 years on and with England coming off the back of a World Cup group stage exit in 2015, fans are starting to ask what it will take for the Three Lions to come as close again.

But for now, perhaps we’re best off looking back with pride and enjoying that tournament for what it was – a fantastic England display that ended with them just moments from glory.