England had delivered a thoroughly disappointing European Championships in ’88, losing all three of their matches, and there was a lot of pressure on manager Bobby Robson at the start of the qualifiers in Group 2 of the UEFA zone. Being first seed in a group of four possibly flattered them slightly on current form, but still they were favourites. They would first and foremost have to fend off Sweden and Poland, but also knew Albania had to be taken seriously, especially away from home, as going to Tirana is never easy for any team.
Manager Robson had succeeded Ron Greenwood after the ’82 World Cup in Spain. He had failed to take England to the European Championships in France in ’84, but guided them both to Mexico ’86 and West Germany ’88. He had suffered quarter final pain at the hand of ‘God’ in Mexico, while the English had been exposed by their group stage rivals in Germany, even losing to one of the home nations as the Republic of Ireland had won their opening group encounter from a Ray Houghton header. The pressure was on the distinguished 55 year old by the start of the qualification campaign.
England had seen a few players quit the international scene after the European Championships: Arsenal’s left back Kenny Sansom, Man United’s right back Viv Anderson, and midfield maestro Glenn Hoddle, now of Monaco in France. Ageing midfielder Peter Reid, Everton, had also announced his retirement from international football. They were all fine, capable players, but one did feel that England could well live without them. There were indeed rising stars in English football, and perhaps none more so than midfielder Paul Gascoigne from Newcastle, who was 21 as the qualification tournament was about to start. There seemed to be a lot of attacking talent available to Mr Robson: wingers John Barnes and Chris Waddle were players of excellent calibre, and in Barcelona striker Gary Lineker they had one of the finest forwards in the business. Peter Beardsley of Liverpool also had to be considered, and there was the emerging David Platt of Aston Villa, who perhaps was still not seriously seen as a candidate for a national team squad though.
England would prepare for their first qualification tie, at home to Sweden, with one single game: They would be taking on Sweden’s neighbours and arch rivals Denmark at Wembley. This would happen three months after the dismal European Championships exit, and five weeks before it all began in earnest.
14.09.1988 England 1-0 Denmark
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton (Woods h-t) – Stevens, Adams (Walker 65), Butcher, Pearce – Rocastle, Robson (c), Webb, Hodge – Beardsley (Gascoigne 85), Harford (Cottee 70)
Neil Webb’s first half goal proved decisive, and the win will have been important for the English after the dismal showing in West Germany over the summer. Bobby Robson had given debuts to Arsenal’s fine right sided midfielder David Rocastle, Nottingham Forest’s young centre back Des Walker, and indeed Newcastle’s very talented midfielder Paul Gascoigne. Bobby Robson had called up a large squad for this friendly, which included David Seaman, Mel Sterland, Tony Dorigo, Gary Pallister, Michael Thomas, Paul Davis, John Barnes and Gary Lineker.
19.10.1988 England 0-0 Sweden
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton – Stevens, Adams (Walker 65), Butcher, Pearce – Waddle, Webb, Robson (c), Barnes (Cottee 80) – Beardsley, Lineker
A disappointing opening to the English qualifying campaign, but they met a strong Swedish team which was supremely lead by captain Hysén, whose individual performance was as good as any previously seen at Wembley. Bobby Robson had been under a lot of pressure to start well following the dismal European Championships in the summer, and a draw will have given the English tabloids cause for more verbal attacks against the national team manager. Waddle a light point in his rather free role to the right of Lineker in attack.
16.11.1988 Saudi Arabia 1-1 England
Line-up (4-4-2): Seaman – Sterland, Adams, Pallister, Pearce – Rocastle, Robson (c), Thomas (Gascoigne 80), Waddle (Marwood 80) – Beardsley (Smith 68), Lineker
08.02.1989 Greece 1-2 England
Goals: Oikonomopoulos (own goal), Robson
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton – Stevens, Walker, Butcher, Pearce – Rocastle, Robson (c), Webb, Barnes – Smith (Beardsley 78), Lineker
Having condeded a penalty in the first minute, with Butcher the culprit in fouling Samaras for Saravakos to strike home, England redeemed themselves, and drew level just a few minutes later from Barnes’ delicious free-kick from 20 yards which went in via the ‘keeper. England the better side for most of the game, but a hardy Greece outfit made it difficult for the visitors to break through. Robson won it for them with a 79 minute volley following an intelligent cushioned header back by Lineker. Chris Waddle missed out through injury. Alan Smith came into the starting eleven for Beardsley, who would come on as a substitute moments before 2-1. Pearce booked for a poorly timed tackle on Tsiantakis. Unused subs were Seaman, Parker, Pallister, Cottee, Gascoigne, and Hodge.
08.03.1989 Albania 0-2 England
Goals: Barnes, Robson
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton – Stevens, Walker, Butcher, Pearce – Rocastle, Robson (c), Webb, Barnes – Waddle (Beardsley 79), Lineker (Smith 79)
An aggressive English side early gained the upper hand and put pressure on the home side, realizing that handing the initiative to Albania would not be a good idea. The bumpy pitch was never to the visitors’ advantage, but they coped well and found the necessary goals to claim their first win of the qualifiers. Captain Robson had a particularly solid match in the centre of the pitch.
26.04.1989 England 5-0 Albania
Goals: Lineker, Beardsley 2, Waddle, Gascoigne
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton – Stevens (Parker 76), Walker, Butcher, Pearce – Rocastle (Gascoigne 66), Robson (c), Webb, Waddle – Beardsley, Lineker
Well aware of the fact that they were expected to win, and to win comfortably, England went about their task in the right manner: They never showed too much urgency, realizing that the quality within their team would most likely provide them with the result they wanted. After two first half goals, they banged in another three after the break to leave them in expected pole position. Rising star Gascoigne made a fine qualifying debut with a goal and an assist from his second half cameo appearance.
Rous Cup (friendly)
23.05.1989 England 0-0 Chile
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton – Parker, Walker, Butcher, Pearce – Webb, Robson (c), Gascoigne, Waddle – Clough, Fashanu (Cottee 71)
A London Tube strike was a major factor in just over 15,000 people turning up for what was ultimately a disappointing showing for the English, where their absent Liverpool/Arsenal contingent (the two topflight teams would decide the English first division title on May 26) and ace goalscorer Gary Lineker meant that Robson fielded a somewhat weakened side. Parker received sound critics from his performance at right-back, whilst Webb had been placed in a wide midfield capacity in order to accomodate for Gascoigne next to captain Robson in the engine room. Both strikers were debutants, and would come in for some level of criticism post-match. Waddle and Clough both had headers well saved by the Chile ‘keeper, but England generally failed in creativity.
Rous Cup (friendly)
27.05.1989 Scotland 0-2 England
Goal: Waddle, Bull
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton – Stevens, Walker, Butcher, Pearce – Steven, Robson (c), Webb, Waddle – Fashanu (Bull 32), Cottee (Gascoigne 76)
It was a fourth successive clean sheet in a game where England were the stronger team in the first half, and they had moved in front following a bullet-like header by Waddle from Stevens’ cross. Making his first ever start for his country, Fashanu was forced off with a troublesome knee after half an hour, and his successor was third tier debutant Bull, who made a big impact with some bustling work as a target man up top, capping his performance with a deserved goal. Butcher with an excellent centre-half job against his Rangers chum McCoist.
03.06.1989 England 3-0 Poland
Goals: Lineker, Barnes, Webb
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton – Stevens, Walker, Butcher, Pearce – Waddle (Rocastle 77), Robson (c), Webb, Barnes – Beardsley (Smith 77), Lineker
Lineker returns to form as England hammer Poland, and through this result most likely end the visitors’ hope of qualifying for the World Cup. England’s chances are still good, despite having to visit both Sweden and Poland still. The English have yet to concede after four qualifiers, and can take particular heart from their first half performance, where they caused the Eastern European visitors no end of problems. However, they scored twice in a less dominant second half. Lineker had a hand in all three goals, Barnes in two, whereas Waddle created a lot from his right hand side.
07.06.1989 Denmark 1-1 England
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton (Seaman 65) – Parker, Walker, Butcher, Pearce – Rocastle, Robson (c), Webb (McMahon h-t), Barnes (Waddle h-t) – Beardsley (Bull 61), Lineker
06.09.1989 Sweden 0-0 England
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton – Stevens, Walker, Butcher (c), Pearce – Waddle, McMahon, Webb (Gascoigne 73), Barnes (Rocastle 77) – Beardsley, Lineker
A point almost sees England through to the World Cup, and hadn’t it been for a couple of fine saves from the home ‘keeper after Lineker opportunities in both halves, it could have been even better for Mr Robson and his team. They controlled most of the match through a greater deal of possession compared to what the hosts could muster, but were also thankful to veteran goalkeeper Shilton for making fine stops from Engqvist and Magnusson.
11.10.1989 Poland 0-0 England
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton – Stevens, Walker, Butcher, Pearce – Rocastle, Robson (c), McMahon, Waddle – Beardsley, Lineker
A surprisingly lack-lustre English first half performance in which they were completely dominated by the hosts, and they had Shilton to thank for keeping the home side out. Improved after the break, at least in closing down the space for the Polish, and could eventually celebrate qualification for the World Cup. It is difficult to argue too much against a qualification goal difference of 10-0, but in Chorzów England at times lead a charmed life.
Having failed to deal with the fantastic Glenn Hysén in their opening tie at home to Sweden, England would go on and win their next three matches without conceding. They had looked sound, even if the opposition had perhaps not been of the highest calibre. Individually, the English could make use of an attacking foursome which resounded well: Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, Gary Lineker and John Barnes. The quartet would not always gel, but defensively England had been impenetrable, and the addition of the blisteringly quick Des Walker as Terry Butcher’s central defensive partner had added a dimension to their play.
Ultimately, England would finish their group second, relying on teams in other groups to secure their passage through to Italia ’90. They would make it there at the expense of Group 1 Denmark, as nine accumulated points had been a big enough tally to see them through. They had edged Sweden over their two meetings, yet had just two points to show for, and their most difficult performance had come in Chorzów, where only an inspired performance from 39 year old goalkeeper Peter Shilton had kept the hosts at bay.
No less than six players had started all six of their qualifiers, something which was unique not just for the group, but throughout the UEFA zone of the qualification. A further four men had started five games, so manager Bobby Robson had been somewhat fortunate to have almost all of his prefered individuals available to him throughout the qualification. Just 18 players in total had been in action across the six matches, which was also unique. Among these, three players had just entered the pitch once.
Chris Waddle and ace midfielder Bryan Robson had been their most consistent performers in a very consistent team, whilst Peter Beardsley and Liverpool team mate John Barnes had perhaps been the two more disappointing individuals during the qualification.
Final position: 2 (out of 4 – qualified as one of the two best second teams from the three groups of four)
Total record: 6 3 3 0 10-0 9
Home record: 3 2 1 0 8-0 5
Away record: 3 1 2 0 2-0 4
Number of players used: 18
Number of players including unused substitutes: 24
Ever-presents (540 mins): 3 (Shilton, Butcher, Pearce)
Leading goalscorer: Barnes, Beardsley and Lineker (all with 2)
Yellow/red cards: 4/0
– game by game
|Player||Swe (h)||Alb (a)||Alb (h)||Pol (h)||Swe (a)||Pol (a)||Apps||Mins|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
15.11.1989 England 0-0 Italy
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton (Beasant h-t) – Stevens, Walker, Butcher, Pearce (Winterburn 67) – Waddle, McMahon (Hodge 67), Robson (c) (Phelan h-t), Barnes – Beardsley (Platt 78), Lineker
Strong, committed display by the English who are unfortunate not to win. Italy did have a good goal disallowed for offside during the first half, but England were applying almost all the pressure, and they themselves could possibly have been counted unlucky for not having lead through Lineker early in the second half, with Butcher adjudged to have fouled Zenga. Four debutants came on in the second half.
13.12.1989 England 2-1 Yugoslavia
Goals: Robson 2
Line-up (4-4-2): Shilton (Beasant h-t) – Parker, Walker, Butcher, Pearce (Dorigo h-t) – Rocastle (Hodge 67), Thomas (Platt 67), Robson (c) (McMahon 77), Waddle – Bull, Lineker
Robson took his international goal tally to 26 after twin strike, and England probably shaded the tie against an outfit which sought reassurance rather than the spectacular. Dull in portions, adventurous in spells. The English yet again solid defensively, and the full-back alternatives prove to be sound.
28.03.1990 England 1-0 Brazil
Line-up: Shilton (Woods 11) – Stevens, Walker, Butcher (c), Pearce – Waddle, McMahon, Platt, Barnes – Beardsley (Gascoigne 78), Lineker
25.04.1990 England 4-2 Czechoslovakia
Goals: Bull 2, Pearce, Gascoigne
Line-up: Shilton (Seaman h-t) – Dixon, Walker (Wright h-t), Butcher, Pearce (Dorigo h-t) – Steven, Robson (c) (McMahon 75), Gascoigne, Hodge – Bull, Lineker
15.05.1990 England 1-0 Denmark
Line-up: Shilton (Woods h-t) – Stevens, Walker, Butcher (c), Pearce (Dorigo h-t) – Hodge, McMahon (Platt 78), Gascoigne, Barnes – Waddle (Rocastle 70), Lineker (Bull 70)
22.05.1990 England 1-2 Uruguay
Line-up: Shilton – Parker, Walker, Butcher, Pearce – Hodge (Beardsley 77), Robson (c), Gascoigne, Barnes – Waddle, Lineker (Bull 77)
02.06.1990 Tunisia 1-1 England
Line-up: Shilton – Stevens, Walker, Butcher (Wright 61), Pearce – Hodge (Beardsley 61), Robson (c), Gascoigne, Barnes – Waddle (Platt 78), Lineker (Bull 78)