England’s Greatest FIFA World Cup XI
England?s Greatest XI at FIFA World Cup
Often credited as the inventors of the sport of football, one of the eight winners of the FIFA World Cup, and home to one of the most lucrative leagues in competitive sport, England has been central to the success and popularity of the sport of football. However, after winning the 1966 FIFA World Cup, the English teams have always flattered to deceive in the biggest competition in world football.
But the country has produced many fine players, who have excelled in the pinnacle event of the sport. Here we present an all-time XI of English players based on the performances in the FIFA World Cup over the years. Unsurprisingly, many from the team of the 1966 campaign feature in the list.
Please note that performances from only World Cups have been considered and those in the Euro tournaments, international friendlies and club football are not factored.
Goalkeeper: Gordon Banks
Unarguably England’s best-ever goalkeeper, Banks will be best remembered for his role in the triumphant campaign of 1966 World Cup which culminated in a 4-2 win over West Germany in the final at Wembley. He followed up that performance with another excellent show in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, where he spectacularly kept out a header from Pele in the match against Brazil at Guadalajara, which was later popularly known as the “Save of the Century”.
Defence: Ashley Cole – Terry Butcher – Bobby Moore – George Cohen
Member of the victorious team of 1966 World Cup, George Cohen’s performances were a major reason for the success of the revolutionary strategies of manager Alf Ramsey. The team played without any conventional wide players in the midfield, with the midfielders looking to occupy the central positions or attack ahead. This is where Cohen’s skills as an attacking full back proved their worth. He linked up brilliantly with Bobby Charlton and his overlapping runs along with excellent near-post passes created important goals, including the winner against Portugal in the semifinal.
Cited by Pele as the greatest defender he played against, and regarded by many as the best English defender and captain ever, Bobby Moore led his side to glory in the 1966 World Cup. A young 21-year-old Moore was a regular presence in the 1962 World Cup in Chile in which England reached the quarter finals before losing to Brazil. After first captaining the national team at the age of 22 (becoming the youngest player to do so), Moore achieved his greatest triumph on home soil during the 1966 World Cup. One of the iconic images of the day when his side beat West Germany in the final was Moore wiping his hands clean from sweat and mud with the velvet tablecloth before collecting the Jules Rimet trophy from Queen Elizabeth II.
Nicknamed as the “hardman” after playing a crucial World Cup qualifier against Sweden despite a deep cut in his forehead which needed impromptu stiches and bandages, and finishing the game with his white England shirt coloured red with his blood, Terry Butcher will be the perfect defensive partner to Moore with his giant build and fearless defending.
The youngest member of the back 4 in the 1982 World Cup, Butcher was the first choice centre back for England for the entire decade. He played the 1986 World Cup, including the game in which Diego Maradona passed 5 English players before scoring the "Goal of the Century”. He was also ever-present in the defence in the team’s run to the semi-finals in the 1990 World Cup.
A key member of the England teams of 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups and often putting in faultless performances in the left-back role, Ashley Cole has often been referred to as the English player who was the best in the world in his position. After impressing with the Under-21s, Cole was fast tracked into the senior team by Sven-Goran Eriksson in March 2001 and participated in his first World Cup a year later as he sealed the left-back spot in the side for more than a decade.
Midfield: Bobby Charlton – David Platt – Paul Gascoigne
Considered by many as one of the greatest midfielders of all-time, Bobby Charlton was a key member of the English team that won the 1966 World Cup. He was a member of the squad for 4 World Cups from 1958 to 1970. A core member to Alf Ramsey’s team tactics, Charlton scored many crucial goals in the 1966 World Cup hosted by England. Ramsey built his team around Charlton as he transformed the player from a traditional inside-forward into an attacking goal-scoring midfielder.
David Platt captured everyone’s attention in the 1990 World Cup in Italy, one year after making his England debut, with excellent passing skills and high work rates, along with scoring some important goals. The highlight of his campaign was the 120th minute winner which he scored off a spectacular volley to defeat Belgium in the Round of 16. In the semi-final against West Germany, Platt had a headed goal in extra-time disallowed, even though replays showed that he was onside. The game was ultimately drawn and the result was decided by a penalty shootout. Though England lost the shootout, Platt scored off his penalty. England finished the tournament with 2-1 defeat at the hands of Italy in the third place play-off, but Platt finished on a personal high as he scored from a powerful header.
Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne is one of the few English players since the team of 1966 who replicated their club form in the international arena. Gascoigne was integral to the team’s run to the semi-finals in the 1990 World Cup and played all the games. He provided an assist for the winner scored by Mark Wright against Egypt in the group stage, and his free kick was volleyed into the winner goal by David Platt in the Round of 16 against Belgium. It was his through-ball in the quarterfinal against Cameroon from which Gary Linekar won (and later scored) a penalty, which was the winning goal. Gascoigne became a popular figure among the English after he cried for getting a yellow card in the semifinal against West Germany, which would have potentially ruled him out from the final (if England would have qualified).
Forwards: Geoff Hurst – Gary Lineker – Michael Owen
The only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup Final, Geoff Hurst was the hero of England’s 1966 World Cup triumph, as he struck two goals in the extra-time to ensure victory for his team. Hurst was also the team’s leading scorer in the World Cup with 4 goals.
Making his debut for the national side only a few months before the World Cup, it was his impressive performances that saw him get selected into Alf Ramsey’s squad. It wasn’t smooth sailing for Hurst as the strike partnership of Roger Hunt and Jimmy Greaves was preferred over him in the initial games. It was a leg injury to Greaves that led to a call up for Hurst in the quarter final against Argentina in a game which Hurst went on to score the only goal of the game. Though he couldn’t score in the semi-final against Portugal, his hard work wasn’t overlooked by Ramsey, who opted to start Hurst ahead of a fit-again Greaves in the final.
After West Germany had taken an early lead in the final, a powerful header from Hurst equalized for England. The match finished 2-2 at the end of 90 minutes. Hurst wrote his name in the golden boots of English football as he scored two goals to seal a historic 4-2 win which gave England their first (and so far only) World Cup trophy.
With 10 goals in the World Cups, Gary Lineker is the leading scorer for England in the competition. He won the Golden Boot in the 1986 World Cup with 6 goals, and is till date the only Englishman to have won the award. This included a hat-trick against Poland which was the second-quickest ever in the history of the competition. He also scored in the quarter-final defeat to Argentina which is more remembered for the goals by Diego Maradona.
Lineker went on to score 4 goals in the 1990 World Cup to lead England’s charge into the semifinals. He scored the equaliser in the semi-final against West Germany, but England went on to lose the match after a penalty shootout. Linkear famously quoted after the match “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win”.
The “Boy Wonder” Michael Owen debuted for English national team at the age of 18 years and 59 days in February 1998. He was later selected in the World Cup 1998 squad by manager Glenn Hoddle and became England’s youngest ever player to play in World Cup when he came on as a substitute against Tunisia. After impressing against Romania and Columbia, Owen was selected for the Round of 16 match against Argentina. The game saw a sensational goal from Owen in which he beat defenders Roberto Ayala and Jose Chamot before beating the goalkeeper with a strike from just outside the penalty box. Though England were eliminated from the World Cup in that match after a penalty shootout, Owen had managed to cement his place in the England World Cup folklore and his goal is still counted among the best goals ever in World Cup history.
Owen couldn’t replicate his 1998 form in the 2002 World Cup, but was still vital to the team’s progress to the quarterfinals with some important goals and he won the penalty which won the important group game against Argentina. His third World Cup appearance in 2006 lasted only 51 seconds as a knee ligament injury ruled him out from further participation in the event. Owen later admitted that he shouldn’t rushed back from injuries to participate in the 2006 World Cup.
But for the English fans, Michael Owen is synonymous with his wonder goal against Argentina in 1998 and while it’s a shame that he couldn’t make the impact that he promised, Owen will still be counted among the best strikers to play for England in the World Cup.
Substitutes: Peter Shilton, Rio Ferdinand, Stuart Pearce, David Beckham, Roger Hunt
You can read the greatest XI of other teams here: FIFA World Cup Greatest XIs