England have reached World Cup semi-final for the first time since the Gazza-led team of Italia 90, which famously lost to Germany on penalties. But how do the teams compare and who makes a combined XI? We take on the challenge...
Shilton, one of England’s greatest ever keepers and his country’s record appearance holder, was already 40 in Italia 90 and nearing the end of his career. He was as dependable as ever but it has to be said there was never any great confidence he would save a penalty in a shoot-out. As for Pickford, the Sunderland man, at 24 and with only eight caps, is at the opposite end of his career. He wasn’t even first choice until just before the World Cup. But his youthful agility and natural self confidence have shone through. He’s no Shilton yet, but the signs are good. Would you go for experience of raw youthful talent? It’s a tough choice that, but modern football favours the latter.
This isn’t really a fair comparison. Pearce is one of the great warriors and legends of English football and probably their best ever left-back. He may have missed a penalty against Germany in the 1990 semi-final but he went on to make up for it against Spain in Euro 96. Young, meanwhile, is not an out-and-out left-back. The Manchester United man, who prefers to play higher up the pitch, has been turned into a wing-back this season and has done well. Not in the same class as Pearce, of course, but as one of the older players in the squad his experience has been vital as well as his delivery from set-pieces. The choice here has to be Pearce.
There is far more to link these two than just their surnames. Both bring remarkable pace to the back four, a precious commodity, and both are capable of playing at centre-back or full-back. The original Walker probably edges the battle because of his positioning and defensive skills which the Manchester City version is still learning having only recently being converted to play in a back three by Gareth Southgate this year. He has been excellent — and crucial — for England in Russia and will reach his predecessor’s level very soon. But Des gets the vote for now — just.
Now you put the two teams side by side, it’s uncanny how so many of the players, 28 years apart, share so many similar qualities. Butcher was the original no-nonsense, die-for-the-cause centre-half who led England from the back. He was 31 in 1990, playing for Glasgow Rangers, at the peak of his powers. Maguire, with similar qualities, is just arriving on the scene but also has leadership qualities. He brings the ball out of defence better than Butcher. The modern era needs youthful exuberance, but how could you leave out Butcher? He gets the vote.
England’s performance in Italia 90 was transformed when Bobby Robson switched to a sweeper system and asked Mark Wright to be the focal point, bringing the ball out of defence. He was excellent in Italy and set the tone for England’s success. Stones potentially has even more talent and has been able to keep his mistakes down to a minimum in Russia. Again, they are very similar players; comfortable on the ball with an eye for a pass. Stones just gets the nod because you feel there is so much more to come from him.
Capable of playing at centre-back or full-back, Paul Parker was underrated — a very good player with pace, positioning, and a real work ethic. He was only 26 in 1990 and yet to play for Manchester United but he was one of England’s top performers in the tournament. The same can be said of Trippier, who has come from nowhere to be one of England’s star performers. Parker is the better defender, maybe even the better player, but Trippier gets the nod for his end product. His crossing and set-pieces have been outstanding.
OK so this is another lop-sided match-up. Manchester United’s Lingard has been excellent for England, providing energy, quick passing, and movement in midfield — and often setting the pace for his team. His character off the pitch is also a vital part of the team dynamic. But Waddle? He was on another planet. Many believe he was even better than Gazza in 1990 despite his penalty miss; an absolute top quality player. If only his shot in extra-time had not hit the post we wouldn’t even be having this question. Waddle wins this vote easily.
Sorry Jordan. If you’re going up against anyone in English football history then Gascoigne is the one you would want to avoid.
The midfielder was pure genius and in 1990 he had all the energy, passion and exuberance of youth that we see in England’s current team. Henderson, playing an entirely different and more defensive role in 2018, shouldn’t be up against him. But who else could you allocate? Henderson had his best game of the tournament against Sweden but is second best to Gazza. Who wouldn’t be?
An interesting one. Platt is actually the one type of player England’s 2018 model are really missing in Russia; an energetic midfielder who arrives in the box and scores goals — which he did in spectacular style in Italia 90. Dele, a smarter player who links midfield and attack, is vitally important to the modern side, scoring a crucial goal against Sweden. But he’s inconsistent and drifts out of games; you’d have to go for Platt here.
Beardsley was another player at his peak in Italia 90, aged 29 and playing for Liverpool. One of the cleverest and most skilful players of his time, he was incredibly unselfish and always looking to work with his strike partner. His shuffling, jinking, low-to-the-floor running style was similar to Sterling’s in many ways. The City man has been a vital cog in England’s success in Russia, stretching the opposition with his direct running and energy. But he’s missed an end product — and that means Beardsley gets the vote.
What an impossible decision to make. If there was a way of pairing these two together up front, England would have won the World Cup years ago. Lineker is one of England’s greatest ever strikers, one of their best ever finishers and was outstanding in two World Cups. He was 29 in 1990 and at his peak. But Kane must just have it. Stronger in the air, better at holding the ball up, and capable of scoring from distance — and those attributes get him the vote.
Pickford; Pearce, D Walker, Butcher, Stones, Trippier, Waddle, Gascoigne, Platt, Kane, Beardsley.