NICE, France (Reuters) - If England win their Euro 2016 last-16 clash on Monday they can add the prized scalp of Iceland to those of Paraguay, Belgium, Cameroon, Denmark, Ecuador and Spain - the only teams they have beaten in a tournament knockout game since 1966.
Despite routinely qualifying well and usually progressing through the group stage of major tournaments, England’s record once things get serious is shocking in comparison with other big guns of the sport.
In the European Championship they have only won one knockout game, against Spain on penalties in 1996. Alongside that are defeats by Yugoslavia, Germany, Portugal and Italy - the last three of those on penalties.
They have managed a handful of group-stage wins in the World Cup, but as soon as they come up against top-notch opposition, they have invariably been found wanting.
Other than on home soil in 1966 when they beat Argentina and West Germany to win the tournament, and the ‘96 shoot-out win over Spain, they have lost every other knockout match against World Cup winners (or winners-in-waiting) in major championships.
Their last knockout win in any tournament was against Ecuador 10 years ago.
Such a feeble return would have been unimaginable to those who ran the English game in the dim and distant past.
Convinced of their own superiority they chose to not enter the first three World Cups and when they did finally join the party in 1950 they failed to get out of the group stage after a humiliating defeat by the United States.
In 1954 and 1962 England lost in the quarter-finals to Uruguay and Brazil respectively and only in 1966 did they punch their weight.
As world champions they were brought down to earth by Yugoslavia in the semi-finals of the then four-team European Championship in 1968 but it was probably the bitter 1970 World Cup quarter-final loss West Germany that set the tone for almost half a century of under-achievement.
A team many consider to be superior to the champions of four years earlier had led 2-0 but went down 3-2 in a defeat that prefaced a 10 year-absence from World Cup and European Championship final tournaments.
England failed to get out of the group stage of the eight-team 1980 Euros while the 1982 World Cup format involved a second-round group stage, where draws with Germany and Spain meant another early exit.
In 1986 they finally managed a first knockout stage win for 20 years, beating Paraguay 3-0, but went home after the quarters when they were on the wrong side of Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal and his brilliant solo effort for eventual winners Argentina.
Sandwiched between two more group-stage only Euros in 1988 and 1992, came Italia ‘90. England got past Belgium and Cameroon, both somewhat luckily, but Germany again proved a step too far in a penalty shoot-out, followed by a loss to Italy in the third-placed playoff.
England’s solitary Euros knockout success came at Wembley on penalties over an average Spain side in 1996, though joy was short-lived a Germany triumphed in the next shoot-out en route to winning the title.
Argentina knocked England out on penalties after a second-round World Cup classic in 1998, while Brazil in 2002 and Germany in 2010 continued the stranglehold with comfortable victories.
“Upstarts” Portugal got in on the act with penalty shoot-out wins in the 2004 Euros and 2006 World Cup while Italy beat England again on penalties in the 2012 Euros.
If England do get past Iceland on Monday they are likely to face France in the quarter-finals and probably one of Spain, Italy or Germany in the semis to reach the final for the first time.
Do not hold your breath.
Editing by Ed Osmond
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