In Depth

Will England’s World Cup semi-final be a poisoned chalice?

England’s run to the last four captivated the nation, but history suggests it could be a one-off

England’s footballers returned home from the World Cup on Sunday with little fanfare, flying into Birmingham airport before slipping away to reunions with their families.

Although Gareth Southgate’s players confounded all expectations in Russia by making the semi-finals, their homecoming “perfectly summed up the manager and his understated, modest, coherent approach”, says Jim White in The Daily Telegraph.  “There was no parade, no welcome committee, no pictures snapped on the steps of Number Ten.”

This campaign marks the beginning of a new era, says White. The last time England made the semi-finals in 1990 there was an open-top bus parade to celebrate, but he points out that rather than progress, England failed to qualify for the next World Cup in 1994.

England need to win something to deserve adulation. “The French players have earned the right to be at the centre of the public giddiness currently engulfing their country. After all, they won the thing. Anything else is just self-delusion.”

But what are England’s chances of going one better next time round?

The harsh reality is that history suggests a semi-final, or even a final appearance, is rarely a stepping stone for greater things, and chances to make the final do not come round very often.

England waited 28 years for another shot at the final, and for victors Croatia the wait was 20 years. France made the final in 2006, but for Belgium the semi-final was their first since 1986.

So how have other World Cup semi-finalists fared this century?

2014 - Brazil

None of the last four at the 2014 World Cup made it past the quarter finals in Russia. The winners Germany went out in the group stages, finalists Argentina only made the last 16. Brazil, who were humbled 7-1 in front of their own fans four years ago, lost in the quarter-finals this time round, and Holland failed to even qualify.

2010 - South Africa

Uruguay made the semi-final in 2010 but went out in the last 16 four years later. Spain won the tournament in 2010 but did not get out of their group in 2014, and lost in the last 16 in Russia.

Holland and Germany were the other two semi-finalists. Germany did progress to win in Brazil, while Holland managed another semi-final appearance four years later – which does give England some hope.

2006 - Germany

In Germany in 2006 the semi-finalists were Germany, Italy, Portugal and France.

The eventual winners Italy went out in the group stages of the next two World Cups and did not qualify for Russia 2018.

Portugal have not made it past the last 16 since 2006. France went out in the group stage in 2010.

2002 - South Korea/Japan

In 2002 the losing semi-finalists were hosts South Korea and Turkey.

Turkey won the third-place play-off, but that was the last game they played at a World Cup, having missed out on four straight tournaments since then. South Korea have played one knock-out match since 2002, losing to Uruguay in 2010.

Unless England can channel the kind of consistency shown by Germany or Brazil, their next shot at a World Cup final may not come for many years. 

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