England face Italy in Manaus on Saturday, with much of the debate leading up to the big kick-off focused on who should make Roy Hodgson’s first-choice XI.
Will Wayne Rooney feature as the main striker? Who will take up the attacking midfield positions? Will Glen Johnson hold down his place at right-back?
Indeed, there is plenty to consider, and the debate will no doubt continue throughout the World Cup in Brazil as England hope to end their run of 48 years since they were last crowned champions.
With a youthful side at his disposal, Hodgson’s Three Lions may well surprise a few people yet, but what if he could select his team from England’s World Cup legends of yesteryear? Who would make his ultimate starting line-up?
With so much talent to choose from, it’s an arduous task, but we like a challenge at Bleacher Report, so here’s our all-time England World Cup XI.
Disagree with our selections? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Gordon Banks was a World Cup winner in 1966, and his displays throughout the tournament that summer were enough to seal his legend.
He wasn’t satisfied with that, though, and when England travelled to Mexico in 1970 to defend their title, he played his part in one of the World Cup’s most memorable moments—that save from Pele’s header when England and Brazil clashed in the group stage. It’s still regarded by many as the greatest ever, and you can view it in the YouTube clip above.
Currently a coach in Roy Hodgson’s setup, Gary Neville was one of the finest right-backs of his generation and, in England terms, possibly the greatest his country has produced. Throughout his career, Neville was the first choice in his position, featuring in the 1998 and 2006 World Cups. Had it not been for his broken foot, he would have also travelled to Japan and Korea in 2002 ahead of Danny Mills.
When fans discuss football in England and the legacy left by those who have donned the Three Lions jersey, Bobby Moore’s name is often the first to be mentioned. The only captain to lift the World Cup for his country, Moore’s legend and character epitomise everything that is great about English football.
His spirit lives on with a statue erected in his honor overlooking the famous Wembley Way at the new stadium. He doesn’t just make England’s all-time World Cup XI; he would captain it and no doubt lead from the front, as he always did.
A man cut from the same cloth as Bobby Moore, John Terry has been a warrior for club and country. His international career may have ended in somewhat unfortunate circumstances—with Terry retiring in 2012 ahead of a hearing with the FA surrounding alleged racist comments he made to Anton Ferdinand—but that shouldn’t damage his legacy.
He captained England in the 2010 World Cup, and when his country needed him, he was often there providing a wall between himself and the goal. An outstanding defender.
Similar to Gary Neville on the right flank, Ashley Cole is arguably the finest left-back England have produced. There have been plenty too—just think of Stuart Pearce and Graeme Le Saux in the more modern era, while Emlyn Hughes and Eddie Hapgood are two others from further back in history.
Cole’s defensive ability and threat in attack were rare, though, and while Brazil 2014 proved a bridge too far, his appearances at three World Cups in 2002, 2006 and 2010 outline how influential he has been for his country.
We all remember those tears from Italia ’90 when the realisation he would miss the final had England qualified got the better of Paul Gascoigne. Twenty-four years on, that moment still puts a lump in the throat. It’s what Gazza was all about—passion for his country best articulated by his ability with a football.
Injuries and his lifestyle away from the pitch damaged his career, and while Italia ’90 may have been his only World Cup, Gazza made sure he left his mark.
Another of England’s 1966 contingent to make our all-time XI, Alan Ball ranks among his country’s best midfielders. He was barely out of his teens when England lifted the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley, turning 20 just before the tournament kicked off in May.
He was known for his industrious performances, displaying remarkable stamina that ensured his dogged approach could be sustained throughout 90 minutes. Don’t be fooled, though; he could play a bit too, and he enjoyed a successful career with the Three Lions, winning 72 caps.
Sir Stanley Matthews
Featuring in England’s 1954 World Cup squad—then aged 38—Sir Stanley Matthews enjoyed a 23-year career representing his country, unrivalled by any other player before or since. He was 42 years and 102 days old when he made his final appearance for the Three Lions, facing Denmark in a World Cup qualifier in 1957.
His speed and agility is the stuff of legend, and the fact that he continued playing well into his 40s outlines what a talent Sir Stan was.
Sir Geoff Hurst
England’s hat-trick hero in the 1966 World Cup final, Sir Geoff Hurst’s name will forever be etched into English football folklore. He wasn’t even first choice heading into the tournament, but he made the most of injuries elsewhere and seized the moment to help England record a historic occasion at Wembley.
“Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over...It is now.”
For today’s generation of football fans, Gary Lineker is best known for being a competent TV presenter. Back in his prime, he was an even better striker. The former Everton and Barcelona front man led the line for England at Mexico ’86 and Italia ’90, scoring vital goals along the way.
Indeed, he picked up the Golden Boot in 1986 for his six goals despite England’s premature exit, and he scored a further four in Italy, including a fine effort against West Germany in the semi-final. Michael Owen and Alan Shearer have come close to emulating him, but England haven’t produced a striker of his ilk since.
Sir Bobby Charlton
With all the attention on Geoff Hurst and his World Cup final hat-trick, Sir Bobby Charlton is overlooked at times when it comes to his England heroics.
The fact that he still leads his country’s scoring charts with 49 goals—44 years after his retirement from international football—says it all. He was a key part of England’s 1966 success and is also Manchester United’s all-time goalscorer with 249, outlining the talent he had throughout an illustrious career.