The Five Greatest Quarter-final Wins In England’s History

It does not take long to decide which are the five greatest quarterfinal wins in the history of English football. That is because there are only five quarterfinal wins in the history of English football. Notwithstanding Gareth Southgate’s many and confusing tactical experiments during Euro 2024, that is a reminder of the general excellence of his management, because he has been responsible for two of those five quarterfinal wins, which is one more than any other England manager.

Here they are, in chronological order: the five greatest/only quarter-final wins in England’s history. And England fans will be hoping that their team can make it a happy half-dozen against Switzerland this weekend.

England’s Five Greatest Quarter-final Wins 

  1. 1966 World Cup: England 1, Argentina 0

The truth is that even the great Alf Ramsey only ever won one quarterfinal with England. In 1968, England did reach the semifinals of the European Championships, but to do so they won a two-legged, home and away quarterfinal (admittedly against defending champions Spain), not a one-off game at a World Cup or Euros with all the heightened intensity that a single knockout match brings.

Of course, Ramsey’s sole quarterfinal win with England at either the World Cup or Euros came during England’s only tournament win ever, at home in 1966. Geoff Hurst got a late winner to score his first goal at the tournament, before the immortal hat-trick that followed in the final.

Hurst was only in the team because star man Jimmy Greaves had been badly injured in the previous group match against France, but that was as nothing compared to the near-riot against Argentina, whose captain, Antonio Rattin, was sent off and whose ultra-physical play led Ramsey to call them “animals”.

  1. 1990 World Cup: England 3, Cameroon 2

It says everything about England’s long decline after the 1966 World Cup win that it was nearly a quarter of a century before they won another quarterfinal at a major tournament. That was in 1990, when Bobby Robson’s England, led by young midfield general Paul Gascoigne, faced Cameroon, the surprise team of Italia 90. They had defeated the defending champions Argentina in the tournament’s opening match.

At a time when defensive football was probably at its peak (for all the good things that it led to in English football, notably the creation of the Premier League, Italia 90 was not one of the great World Cups), this quarterfinal was the only one of the four to produce more than one goal. In fact, a fairly insane game produced a total of five goals, three of them penalties. England led early on, Cameroon recovered to lead 2-1 and England only finally won it in extra time, when Gary Lineker scored his second spot-kick of the game.

  1. Euro 96: England 0, Spain 0 (England won 4-2 on penalties)

The 90s, which in Britain at least were really the 60s for the masses, is very much in vogue now, but all England fans will hope for far better luck in the 2020s than they enjoyed thirty years ago. Ultimately, England lost two semi-finals to Germany in the 1990s, at the 1990 World Cup and Euro 96 (which England were hosting), on penalties. But at least they won two quarter-finals to get to those semis, making the 1990s the only decade so far in which England have achieved that feat.

Arguably, England should not have won their quarterfinal at Euro 96, because their opponents in that match, Spain, scored what proved on replays (not VAR) to be a perfectly good goal, which was wrongly ruled out for offside. Indeed, England was lucky to make it to penalties after a generally poor performance. Nevertheless, they won the penalty shootout, with Stuart Pearce, who had missed a penalty in the semifinal defeat at Italia 90, scoring what might be called the first ever redemption penalty.

  1. 2018 World Cup: England 2, Sweden 0

It was another two decades before England next achieved a quarterfinal win at a major tournament, the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Perhaps what was most remarkable about this last eight win was how utterly unremarkable it was. England scored after half an hour through Harry Maguire, doubled their lead just before the hour through Dele Alli and saw the match out comfortably to reach their first World Cup semi-final for nearly thirty years.

Many would argue that the unremarkable nature of that 2018 quarterfinal win was emblematic of Gareth Southgate’s entire tenure as England manager: safe, unremarkable football, even when he has had some remarkable players to select from.

In truth, what Southgate has done with England is what Germany (and before that West Germany) used to do at major tournaments, which was to play generally risk-free football, beating opponents they should beat to win their group and then benefiting from the slip-ups of others to enjoy an easier than expected knockout stage.

That may not be enough to win England a major tournament, but it is still far more successful than the football overseen by almost all of Southgate’s predecessors, Alf Ramsey excepted.

  1. Euro 2020/2021: England 4, Ukraine 0

England benefited from another supposedly easy draw at Euro 2020 when they beat Ukraine in the quarterfinal and Denmark in the semifinal to reach their first major final since 1966. Three years later, England fans will be hoping that Southgate’s Euro 2024 team can do exactly the same and at least make the final again.

In 2021, which was a tournament played throughout Europe to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European Football Championships, the quarterfinal in Rome was the only match England played away from Wembley. Arguably, it was their best performance of the tournament as they cruised past a modest Ukraine team that had done well to make the last eight. Harry Kane scored twice, while Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson added the other goals, as England achieved their biggest and easiest win in a major quarterfinal ever.

Can England Make It Six of the Best this Weekend?

Can England make it six of the best this weekend by defeating Switzerland to reach only the sixth major semifinal in their entire history? After the disappointing performances in the group stage and last 16 win against Slovakia, that seems unlikely. But tournament football is fast-forward football, where teams develop quickly and unexpectedly and the best teams – the winners – develop most quickly and most unexpectedly.

England has just three games to achieve footballing immortality. The suspicion remains that even if they reach the final, the “winner” of the other side of the draw – one from Germany, Spain, France or Portugal – will be too much for them to win it. But first things first.

If Southgate decides on a back three against Switzerland, with wing-backs, which will finally allow a left-footed player (almost certainly Bukayo Saka) to play on the left flank, England can regain some of the balance and structure that they have been missing so far. And then they can claim only the sixth quarter-final win in English football history.

Related articles



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share article

Latest articles