The Highs and Lows of Ashley Cole's Remarkable England Career

BR UK NewsFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2014

The Highs and Lows of Ashley Cole's Remarkable England Career

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    Ashley Cole has announced his retirement from international football, after Roy Hodgson decided to leave the left-back out of his 23-man squad for this summer's World Cup in Brazil.

    Regardless of what you think of the merits of both Hodgson's initial decision and Cole's subsequent response, it is hard to argue that Cole was anything other than a fantastic servant to the Three Lions over the course of his 107 caps.

    Of course there were many highs and lows during that period; in this slideshow we attempt to round them up.

High: Cole Makes His Debut Against Albania, 2001

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    After just four appearances for the Under-21 side, a 20-year-old Cole was thrown straight into the starting XI for the senior side by Sven Goran Eriksson.

    The Arsenal youngster played well in a late 3-1 win for the Three Lions, although there was an odd incident in stoppage time after Andrew Cole had clinched the three points with his first international goal in six years.

    As the Guardian's David Lacey wrote at the time:

    The striker's moment, however, was immediately lost in confusion as Ashley Cole, joining in the celebrations, ended his first senior England appearance by being struck on the head by a lipstick.

    The Arsenal defender did not look seriously hurt but the incident gave the evening a sour, if cosmetic, ending and another complaint to Fifa, to add to that from the Under-21 game, will ensue.

    As his international career continued, Cole would continue to find himself in such strange situations.

High: England Demolish Germany in Cole's Fifth Game

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    Was it ever going to get much more special than this? In just his fifth game for his country, Cole played his part as England famously demolished Germany 5-1 in Munich. It was an occasion to savour.

High: Makes World Cup Finals Bow

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    Just 21, Cole made his World Cup finals debut for England as they bid for glory in Japan and South Korea.

    Cole started every one of England's games (his first appearance, against Sweden, was just his ninth cap), acquitting himself well as the Three Lions ultimately crashed out to Brazil at the quarter-final stage of the competition.

Low: England Stunned at the Death by France

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    As games go, this was surely one of the most disappointing that Cole was involved in. England looked on the way to a crucial victory over France in the first group match of Euro 2004, before two goals in the closing minutes from Zinedine Zidane resulted in the most painful of sucker punches.

    England rebounded, but especially after the high of qualifying for the tournament with a hard-fought draw against Turkey in Istanbul, this was a horrid start to their Euro 2004 campaign.

High: Cole One of the Players of the Tournament at Euro 2004

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    England's overall experience ended in disappointment (when does it not?!), but for Cole personally Euro 2004 was one of his high points.

    The left-back was exceptional even in defeat against Portugal, shackling Cristiano Ronaldo (one of the players of the tournament) for 120 minutes before England finally succumbed on penalties.

    Cole was named in the official team of the tournament for his performances, effectively ushering in the era of him being unanimously considered one of the very finest left-backs in the world.

Low: Cole Subject to Racist Abuse in Heated Friendly with Spain

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    Another low came in 2004, when Cole and other black England players found themselves the subject of racist abuse from fans in Madrid during England's heated friendly with Spain.

    Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips were subjected to almost non-stop assaults, a situation that shocked the players and briefly seemed to threaten the game's abandonment.

    Cole also got in an altercation shortly before half-time with the Spain coach, Luis Aragones—pushing the tactician back after he was initially shoved while trying to get the ball.

    It was a sad night for football, and one that the footballing bodies should have perhaps done more about.

High: Another Good World Cup for Cole

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    Four years on from making his bow in Asia, Cole again played every game—and this time, every minute—as England once again went out of the competition in the quarter-final.

    With Cole locking down the left flank, England conceded just three times in the entire tournament, losing on penalties to Portugal in the quarter-finals (admittedly, that probably counts as a low).

Low: Back-Pass Mistake Against Kazakhstan Sparks Boos from Own Fans

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    Perhaps the lowest individual moment came in a game against Kazakhstan at Wembley in 2008. Cole's underhit back-pass allowed Zhambyl Kukeyev to make the score 2-1, sparking the crowd to boo the full-back every time he subsequently touched the ball.

    England nevertheless went on to win 5-1, but the incident seemed to hurt Cole, who became ever more reclusive in his dealings with fans and the press.

    According to a report by Kevin Garside in the Telegraph, boss Fabio Capello told reporters: "I don't understand why the crowd boo one player – you have to help the players more when they make a mistake."

    Rio Ferdinand added:

    Players make mistakes. Some people showed a little bit of ignorance and immaturity. I think the majority of the fans were trying to gee him up and get behind him.

    It was probably the only sour point of the night from my point of view.

    Hopefully people will go home and think, on reflection, it was the wrong thing to do.

High: Cole's 80th England Appearance Makes Him Highest-Capped Black Player

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    The game was a boring 0-0 draw, one of the worst in recent English memory, but the game was notable for Cole on a personal level—his 80th cap seeing him overtake John Barnes as the most-capped black player in England's history.

Low: Disaster for England at the Hands of Germany

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    Barely a week later, however, Cole would experience another devastating low—as England would be dumped out of the World Cup after a humbling 4-1 defeat at the hands of the impressive Germany.

    The Three Lions were never really in the game—despite Frank Lampard's goal that never was—and the defence was particularly suspect; Cole was unable to help out as Fabio Capello's side crashed out of the tournament in South Africa.

High: Becomes the Most Capped Full-Back in England History

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    Against Denmark in 2011, Cole broke another record, surpassing Kenny Sansom to become England's most capped full-back of all time. And he had only just turned 30.

High: Defensive Display Leads England to Spain Victory

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    A memorable result, even if it meant little in the grand scheme of things—Cole playing his part in a brilliant rear-guard action as England defeated world champions Spain thanks to Frank Lampard's header.

    It was the sort of result you might one day tell your grandchildren about (shame it did not come in an international tournament, though).

High: Cole Reaches His Centenary for Three Lions

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    This could perhaps have just as easily gone down as a low, considering the way Cole's approach to the landmark occasion—initially declining the offer of being captain, before coming to a confused compromise—lent the whole situation an aura of farce.

    In the end, however, it was a special moment—Cole was warmly applauded by the fans at Wembley as he was honoured ahead of the friendly against the Republic of Ireland.

    The seventh player to reach the milestone—Frank Lampard has since joined the ranks—Cole cemented his place in the England pantheon, and looked genuinely emotional at doing so.

    "I was [emotional]," Cole told the BBC. "I'd like to thank the fans, because I didn't really expect the reception I got.

    "It was very nice. I'm delighted and overwhelmed. I'm kind of speechless."

Low: The Passing of the Guard, as Shaw Replaces Cole

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    Ashley Cole's 107th and final cap (unless something changes significantly in the next few weeks, months or years) provides a somewhat fitting end; the veteran substituted at half-time to give his successor, Luke Shaw, his England debut.

    It was very much a changing-of-the-guard moment, even if there was no actual shaking of hands on the pitch at Wembley.

Low: Left out of England's Squad for the 2014 World Cup

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    And that brings us up to date. 

    Will Luke Shaw enjoy—and endure—a similarly eventful international career?