Every four years, one or two major nations usually fail to qualify for the Euros. In England’s case, the Three Lions have been unsuccessful in five European Championship qualification campaigns, dating all the way back to the 1964 tournament. One particular failure stands out above the rest, though, and it’s one that fans have never, ever forgotten.
England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 after a heartbreaking 3-2 loss against Croatia at Wembley Stadium on November 21, 2007. The result left Steve McClaren’s men in third place in Group E qualification behind first-placed Croatia and second-placed Russia.
The failure was made even more shocking due to England’s star-studded squad at the time. Many players from the Golden Generation era featured in qualifying, including John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.
England 2-3 Croatia – what happened?
Steve McClaren made two bold decisions before the game, with Scott Carson and Shaun Wright-Phillips selected ahead of Paul Robinson and David Beckham. Just eight minutes in, it was clear for all to see that the former Middlesbrough boss got one of those huge calls horribly wrong.
Croatia’s Niko Kranjcar, a Portsmouth player at the time, cut inside from the left and drilled a dipping right-footed effort at goal from 30 yards out. The ball bounced awkwardly in front of the 22-year-old Carson, who could only spill it into the net. Ivica Olic made it 2-0 six minutes later, prompting McClaren to bring on Beckham and Jermain Defoe at half-time.
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The changes appeared to have worked when Frank Lampard scored a penalty and Peter Crouch found an equaliser. However, a 77th-minute goal from Mladen Petric ultimately decided the game. The result will forever be remembered as one of the worst in English football history.
Steve McClaren out, Fabio Capello in
Unsurprisingly, Steve McClaren lost his job as England manager after failing to qualify for Euro 2008. His decision to start the inexperienced Scott Carson for the all-important Croatia match defined his time in charge of the Three Lions.
McClaren’s dismissal led to intense speculation about who could replace him. Martin O’Neill emerged as the early favourite for the job, while Jose Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari were also heavily linked. In the end, the role went to Fabio Capello, the strict, no-nonsense disciplinarian who had proven himself to be a serial winner at club level in Italy and Spain.
Capello fared better than McClaren, leading England to the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Despite a strong qualifying campaign, the Three Lions produced below-par performances at the World Cup en route to losing 4-1 to Germany in the last 16. As for the Euros, Capello quit before the tournament began after the FA stripped John Terry of the captaincy without his consent.
England’s other European Championship failures
Countries competed in a series of two-legged knockout matches ahead of the 1964 Euros, with only four teams advancing to the tournament itself. England lost 6-3 on aggregate against France in the preliminary round at the last-32 stage, ending their qualification dreams. Walter Winterbottom managed the first leg (1-1 draw), while Alf Ramsey was in charge for the second leg (5-2 defeat).
The Three Lions also failed to qualify for the European Championship in 1972 and 1976. Ramsey oversaw the 1972 qualification campaign, which ended in a 3-1 aggregate defeat against West Germany in the final qualifier before the four-team tournament. Four years later, Czechoslovakia pipped Don Revie’s England to top spot in the newly introduced group stage qualification format.
England’s only other unsuccessful European Championship qualification campaign came in 1984. Led by Bobby Robson, the Three Lions finished behind Denmark in a five-team group in qualifying.