20 years since David Beckham’s iconic free-kick - our writers pick their favourite England goals

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20 years since David Beckham’s iconic free-kick - our writers pick their favourite England goals - REUTERS
20 years since David Beckham’s iconic free-kick - our writers pick their favourite England goals - REUTERS

On the anniversary of David Beckham's stunning last-gasp free-kick goal against Greece to take England to the 2002 World Cup, Telegraph Football's writers have selected their personal favourite England goals.

Emile Heskey v Germany, 2001

Sam Wallace

The 1990s had not been a great decade to be an England fan, and depending on one’s perspective the 1980s had been even worse. The 2000s started in similar fashion until this night in Munich. Emile Heskey wrapped up a momentous 5-1 win over Germany, finishing a counterattack and celebrating with his DJ move - very much a pre-digital kind of thing. It looked like a glorious new era for England. But by the following summer, it would be Germany in the World Cup final, and for England the decade followed a predictable path where tournaments were concerned. Heskey would play for the next 10 years, but he only scored four more goals for England - and just one at a tournament.

Harry Kane v Tunisia, 2018

Jason Burt

Certainly not the best goal England have ever scored but it felt like one of the most important. Kane’s header came in the 91st minute when it looked like England were going to draw their opening group game which would have felt like the start of another, familiar tournament failing. But they remained patient and scored a real team goal. Since then they have reached the World Cup semi-finals and the final of Euro 2020. It fuelled belief.

Michael Owen v Argentina, 1998

Oliver Brown

A strike that still stands alone in the England canon, announcing a wunderkind in unforgettable fashion. Owen would reflect, with some pathos given his late-career struggles, how it all flowed from the audacity of youth. At 18, he had the speed not simply to flick David Beckham’s pass into his path and hare past Jose Chamot, but to terrify the entire Argentinian defence, rounding it all off with an unerring finish across the face of Carlos Roa.

John Barnes v Brazil, 1984

Chris Bascombe

John Barnes announced himself on the world stage by weaving through Brazil's defence in Rio’s Maracana stadium, scoring one of the greatest England goals, worthy of Pele or Zico. Those of a certain age will remember exactly where they were when it happened… watching Cilla Black singing ‘Surprise Surprise’. In 1984, ITV would not shift the broadcast schedule so only came on air for live second half coverage of the glamour friendly. Barnes scored in the 44th minute making it a classic ‘look at what you have just missed’ moment.

Stuart Pearce v Spain, 1996

John Percy

Not a goal, as such, but what a moment, nonetheless. Stuart Pearce had waited six years to exorcise the demons, so it was the ultimate cathartic moment when he blasted his penalty past Andoni Zubizaretta in the quarter-final shoot-out at Euro 96. The relief, joy and frustration all poured out in Pearce’s raw celebration and the bitter memories of 1990, when he missed from the spot against West Germany, faded away. It wasn’t spectacular, or indeed the crucial penalty, but for sheer emotion it will be difficult to beat.

David Platt, v Belgium, 1990

James Ducker

When Bobby Robson replaced Steve McMahon with David Platt in the 71st minute, it was clear he was looking for the win. But things had got increasingly cagey as the game went deep into extra-time and, by the time England won a free-kick from a central position about 40 yards after a mazy run from Paul Gascoigne with the match still goalless, plenty of players were already turning their minds to the prospect of a penalty shoot-out. “I was thinking, ‘Whatever happens, Peter Shilton is going to take one before me’,” Paul Parker later recalled.

There were 119 minutes on the clock and this was England’s last roll of the dice. Chris Waddle and Gascoigne stood over the ball and, given its position, the free-kick looked more suited to a left-footer. Yet Gascoigne was not going to hand over responsibility for it to anyone and, after a big run up, he slowed just as he got to the ball and clipped the free-kick like a golfer might a wedge with back spin. The ball seemed to hang in the air and then just drop, almost like - as Parker says - it hit a soft-padded wall. Platt was stood in front of another substitute Steve Bull, the former Wolves striker who was shouting “Leave it, leave it”.

Platt had already spun 180 degrees to get his chest facing the ball and then completed the arc as he allowed the ball to drop over his right shoulder before hooking it past Michel Preud’homme in the Belgium goal. On the one hand it was pure instinct and intuition and on the other an extraordinary demonstration of flawless technique. It was such a pure goal - a volley with such a high degree of difficulty in such a pressure cooker situation. Most players would have got their feet in a tangle and fallen over.

I was 10 at the time and watching at home with my mum and dad and younger brother and it was one of those rare, ‘Have I just seen that?' moments.

With the exception of Diego Maradona’s two goals for Argentina against England in 1986, no international goal is more seared on my memory than that one. You know how good a goal is when you become utterly synonymous with it and Platt, for all that he achieved during an accomplished playing career, will always be remembered for that piece of exquisite improvisation.

Luke Shaw v Italy, 2021

Mike McGrath

As he struck his half-volley perfectly, it gave England fans belief they were going to win a major tournament. For that reason it is the greatest Three Lions goal I’ve seen, and it is also a little under-rated because of the heartbreak that followed. Luke Shaw started the move before sprinting to the other end of the pitch and finishing off the post - a perfect full-back’s goal. At that moment England were unstoppable.

Wayne Rooney v Croatia, 2004

Jim White

It may not have been as spectacular as his overhead kick against Manchester City, but the second of Wayne Rooney's goals against Croatia is rich in meaning. England had gone behind, Paul Scholes equalised from Rooney's pass, then the 18-year-old took control of the game. First he scored a long-range piledriver, then he exchanged passes with Michael Owen and ran from the halfway line to stroke the ball into the Croatian net. For England fans it was a goal that promised the birth of an international superstar: calm, precise and brilliant. Here was the final piece to make the golden generation into champions. It wasn't to last, obviously. He was crocked in the next round and, for all his loyal contribution, never again matched such heights. But for a moment he allowed us to dream.

Sir Bobby Charlton v Mexico, 1966

Jeremy Wilson

England actually started the 1966 World Cup campaign with a disappointing goalless draw, but all that changed with a Bobby Charlton-inspired 2-0 win against Mexico. And the catalyst was Charlton’s mazy run from well inside his own half that culminated with a thunderous 30-yard shot. The ball would still be rising now if the Wembley net had not got in the way. Timeless, even in grainy black and white.

Harry Kane v Denmark, 2021

Luke Edwards

It is not the best England goal I have seen but when you have spent a lifetime seeing England fail and have, in total, watched England teams - male and women - lose five semi-finals in a row this was the goal that changed everything.

Denmark had more than held their own at Wembley, minds were beginning to stray into nervous territory with a penalty shoot-out looming at the end of extra time, but England had begun to get back on top and the cheer when the referee pointed to the spot, following a foul on Raheem Sterling, was deafening.

Up stepped Kane, the skipper. The initial penalty was poor, far too close to Kasper Schmeichel, but what followed in a few tenths of a second was incredible. The initial groan, the deflation, the frustration, the sheer disbelief, swallowed up in the scream of euphoria, joy, happiness and relief when Kane tucked in the rebound.

England would finally win a semi-final, a truly magical moment. It even made losing the final to Italy on penalties far more bearable. A curse, or whatever you want to call it, had been broken.

Theo Walcott v Croatia, 2008

Matt Law

My nomination is three goals rather than one, when Theo Walcott became the youngest player to score an England hat-trick, aged 19, in 2008. I was in Zagreb to report on the match and his performance that night was one to take the breath away. The pick of the goals was probably Walcott's third, as he coolly slipped the ball into the net after being played in by Wayne Rooney to create history.

We'd like to hear from you. Tell us your favourite England goal in the comment section below

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