England are riding high on a wave of optimism fuelled by the appointment of Sven-Göran Eriksson as coach. After disappointments at the 1998 FIFA World Cup and EURO 2000™, the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign finished with wild celebrations - particularly after an incredible victory in Germany.
Beckham sent off
Having secured their place in Korea/Japan, England will be looking to do much better than in France in 1998. England, led by Glenn Hoddle, started well with a 2-0 win over Tunisia, but followed that with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Romania. Colombia were then beaten 2-0 in the final group game to earn a second-round tie against Argentina. The match will be remembered for Michael Owen’s superb solo strike and David Beckham's subsequent sending-off for a retaliatory kick in the direction of Diego Simeone. Despite Owen’s wonder goal, ten-man England lost on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
Another red card
The qualification programme for the EURO 2000™ finals began in September 1998. England were drawn in Group Five with Sweden, Poland, Bulgaria and Luxembourg. The campaign started with a 2-1 defeat in Sweden, a match where Paul Ince was sent off. More despair followed with a 0-0 home draw against Bulgaria and a hard-fought away win over Luxembourg (3-0).
Then, in what was to prove his last game in charge, Hoddle led England to a 2-0 friendly win over the Czech Republic 2-0 in November 1998. The coach was dismissed after comments he had made some months earlier about disabled people and reincarnation were published in an English newspaper in January 1999. The Football Association's technical director, Howard Wilkinson, took over for a February home friendly against France, in which England went down 2-0.
Keegan in charge
By the time the next qualifier came around in February 1999, former Newcastle United FC manager Kevin Keegan was in charge. Things started well with a 3-1 home win over Poland that featured a Paul Scholes hat-trick. Then, after a 1-1 friendly draw in Hungary, England hosted Sweden in June for a 0-0 draw. The English had to play most of the second half with only ten men after Scholes earned a red card. A 1-1 draw in Bulgaria then left them three points behind second-placed Poland with two matches to play.
Thanks to Sweden
Luxembourg were beaten 6-0 at Wembley with Shearer getting a hat-trick - a win that set up a crucial last match in Poland where a win would give England the runners-up spot. However they drew 0-0 meaning they only earned a play-off against Scotland thanks to Poland’s subsequent defeat in Sweden. Against the Scots, England won the first match 2-0, thank to a first-half double from Scholes, but were given a scare in losing the second leg at Wembley, 1-0.
The finals were a major disappointment, despite promising friendly results beforehand including draws with Argentina (0-0) and Brazil (1-1). The opening match against Portugal saw them race into a two-goal lead only to lose 3-2. That was followed by a 1-0 win over Germany, Shearer's header proving the difference over their old foes but it was all thrown away in the final qualifying match against Romania. After going a goal down, England took a 2-1 lead but Romania battled back to parity before Ionel Ganea’s last-minute penalty sent the English home early.
So to the 2002 World Cup and another tough qualifying group that saw England take on Germany again, along with Finland, Greece and Albania. Following a creditable 1-1 friendly draw in France, the campaign began in October 2000. England lost 1-0 at home to the Germans in the last match to be played at Wembley stadium. Keegan quit immediately afterwards leaving Wilkinson again in temporary charge for the trip to Finland, which finished 0-0.
Beckham made captain
Under-21 coach Peter Taylor led a youthful England team for a November 2000 friendly in Italy that featured Beckham as captain for the first time. England lost 1-0 but played well. Eriksson was officially appointed in January and after a friendly win at home to Spain (3-0) took charge of his first competitive match against Finland in March 2001. Beckham's winning goal gave Eriksson a 2-1 home triumph and that was followed by a 3-1 success in Albania.
After a 4-0 friendly win at home to Mexico, Beckham was again the saviour in Greece, scoring in a 2-0 victory that set England up for a crunch game in Germany in September. A 2-0 home friendly defeat against the Netherlands ended Eriksson’s unbeaten run but with runners-up spot - and a play-off place - seemingly secure, England travelled to Munich for their next qualifier aware that victory could give them a chance of top spot. Despite going a goal down early on, the English fought back and Owen's hat-trick inspired a 5-1 demolition that made headlines around the world.
Top of the group on goal difference, England knew victory at home against Greece in the final match would see them through automatically. A draw would only be enough if Germany failed to beat Finland. As it was Germany's game finished 0-0, but at that point England were trailing 2-1 to the Greeks. However, up stepped Beckham on the stroke of full time to score a sensational free-kick that levelled the match and left England celebrating World Cup qualification as group winners.
England signed off 2001 with a diplomatic friendly draw (1-1) at home in November to Eriksson's native Sweden. Although it was by no means an emphatic end to the year, English football fans were more than satisfied.
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