England qualified for the 2018 World Cup with victory over Lithuania and have not missed a major tournament since the dark, dark days of Steve McClaren almost ten years ago. However, having said that, there are few national sides on the planet who contrive to give their fans so little to get excited about. 20 years ago today, England qualified for World Cup 1998 with a spirited draw against Italy. Although, the Three Lions still had a time share agreement at Heartache Hotel back then, they had...
The playoff to avoid the playoffs.
England needed all three points to top their World Cup qualifying group ahead of Ukraine, while an estimated 20,000 Poles filled Wembley on the October night to give the atmosphere of a cup final.
Some early anxious moments were quickly forgotten when Rooney headed home to give the hosts the lead before half time, while captain fantastic himself Stevie G rolled back the years by barging his way into the box to stab past Wojciech Szczęsny and confirm the reservations for disappointment in Brazil.
Once again England needed a positive result at the Euros after slipping up against France. And they got exactly that against Sweden.
Andy Carroll powered in an insanely aesthetically pleasing header while screaming "ENNNNGLAAAAAND" (or at least that's how I remember it), before set pieces once again stopped Roy Hodgson's side from running away with it.
However, despite going 2-1 down with half an hour to go, England responded magnificently with substitute (and architect of their last memorable win) Walcott netting the equaliser from outside the area, before Danny Welbeck bagged the winner with time to spare from a neat (almost foreign-looking) backheel.
Still a teenager, two years on from being taken to the World Cup, Theo Walcott finally looked like the player everyone wanted him to be.
Playing from the right, the Arsenal starlet made Fabio Capello's decision to drop the tired-looking Beckham seem like a masterstroke, as he ran the Croats ragged in Zagreb bagging his hat-trick and becoming the youngest player in England history to do so.
After what happened a year before - when England lost 2-3 at home to Croatia to miss out on a place at Euro 2008 - the victory was particularly cathartic. Who knows, maybe this Fabio Capello can get one over on our other old foes... like Germany?
Yes, Rooney was
The 18-year-old's uninhibited style and pace caught the Croatians off guard as he scored twice to ensure that lax defending from set pieces didn't cost England in the group decider.
This was also one of the few games in which England seemed to solve the (now rather quaint sounding) conundrum of how to play Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and Gerrard together in the midfield.
And the victory marked the first time ever that the Three Lions had progressed beyond the group phase of a European Championships when it had been staged outside of England.
Having fun at a tournament and winning a routine game well routinely, is about as English as Currywurst.
But that is exactly what happened in the summer of 2004, when England could and perhaps
should have won their group with all nine points. However, Zinedine Zidane happened in the opener against France and the Three Lions were left needing a positive result against the Swiss in the second match.
Rather than cracking under the pressure, England, inspired by Rooney, rose to the occasion and performed like the actual heavyweights we seem to think we are.
Atmosphere, tension, Darius Vassell.
The two heavyweights of Euro qualifying group 7 played out a crunch tie in April 2003, with victory at the Stadium of Light even more important after England had dropped points away in Macedonia in the previous qualifier.
England prevailed eventually thanks to goals in the last 15 minutes from Vassell and Beckham, while David James produced the save of his career to deny Nihat, and Sven's men ended up winning the group and booking a place in Portugal by a single point.
Oh, and a 17-year-old named Wayne Rooney made his competitive debut.
One of only two World Cup knockout victories post 1990, the either being a grimly-fought 1-0 victory over Ecuador four years later in 2006.
The routinely clinical way in which England finished off the Danes in the last 16 of the World Cup in Japan is what nearly all fans expected against another Scandinavian opponent at a similar stage of the Euros last summer, but alas...
Sven-Goran Eriksson's men actually had comfortably less of the ball than their opponents, but did that damage early with Rio Ferdinand's effort inside five minutes setting the pace, before Michael Owen and Heskey tripled the advantage at the break.
Fun quiz question, can you tell me the
only World Cup game since England beat Denmark that the Three Lions won by more than a one-goal advantage?
2-0 against Trinidad & Tobago.
The 3-2 victory in 2005 was just a friendly, but this was the real deal.
The only World Cup tournament win over one of the big boys (a two-time World Cup winner no less) in my lifetime came under the dome in Sapporo.
The win, which was not emphatic but none the less deserved, put to rest (well, sort of) the ghosts of 1998 and 1986 and was the first time England had beaten Argentina since winning the World Cup in 1966.
Beckham's stroked penalty down the middle proved to be a false dawn, but it was the high point of England's most enjoyable tournament of the last 20 years.
The England victory of the last 20, 30... 50 years?
The fact that it was against Germany made the qualifier achieve near mythical status, but more unique was the fact that England ran riot. England simply don't run riot (on the pitch anyway). England get kettled into a corner and beaten down.
However, on that night in Munich things just worked. Talent came of age, individuals clicked as a team and the manager - the bespectacled Swede with a Serie A winners medal and a weakness for the ladies - had a plan.
Germany may have qualified anyway and reached the World Cup final, but still. Three words: Even. Heskey. Scored.
Just imagine England confidently dispatching South American heavyweights by a two-goal margin in a tournament these days. There isn't enough bunting in the world to cover the celebrations.
Darren Anderton got things started in Lens with cracking top corner finish, before David Beckham hit the now patented David Beckham free kick (the first England ever scored at a World Cup) to make it 2-0 inside half an hour.
Colombia, captained by Carlos Valderrama, had plenty of chances but couldn't find a way back in as the Three Lions reached 1998 World Cup knockout stage with panache and hope.
Watch the highlights back as Sol Campbell goes on a frankly outrageous 60-yard run past five men, before being tackled on the edge of the penalty area. It is scientifically impossible to even think about Phil Jones doing that.