England’s sixth semi-final at a major international tournament beckons at Wembley tonight, and a piece of Chelsea history could be made if any of our Three Lions feature against Denmark.
We have had players in England squads who have made it at least as far as the last four, but no Blue has ever got on the pitch in a semi-final (not including the recent Nations League). Here we look at the Chelsea absence in those previous World Cup and European Championship tournaments, and consider why that could change tonight…
England’s only success in a semi-final to date was naturally overshadowed by what followed in the final, but nonetheless the 2-1 victory over a Portugal side with Eusebio at its fore was a brilliant contest. Bobby Charlton scored the England goals, and while our own Peter Bonetti was in Alf Ramsey’s squad that glorious summer, he served as the ever-present Gordon Banks’s back-up.
Barry Bridges, Terry Venables, Peter Osgood, Marvin Hinton, John Hollins and Bonetti had made the 40-strong group initially named by Ramsey, but only our goalkeeper survived when that was cut down to the 22-man squad for the World Cup.
Chelsea finished in sixth place in the 1967/68 First Division, but topscorer Osgood nor Bonetti were called up to the European Championships at the end of that campaign. It was an enforced absence for Bonetti, who had to withdraw from the squad ahead of the tournament after sustaining a knee injury in a friendly against Real Madrid.
England were beaten by a physical Yugoslavia side in a dour game in Florence. It would be a long wait until the Three Lions reached another semi-final…
Twenty-two years, to be precise. This time there were two Chelsea players in Bobby Robson’s squad. Tony Dorigo offered cover to Stuart Pearce at left-back, and goalkeeper Dave Beasant was called up after England’s first game at the tournament because David Seaman had to pull out with a thumb injury.
Neither were involved in England’s heartbreaking penalty shoot-out loss to West Germany, and while a narrative has emerged that there were calls for Beasant to come off the bench because he was a specialist at saving spot-kicks (think the ’89 FA Cup Final), he was not one of the five substitutes available to Robson, with regular back-up Chris Woods preferred.
Dorigo was on the bench but didn’t come on. He did, however, play in the third place play-off, supplying an assist for David Platt’s equaliser in an eventual loss to hosts Italy.
There were no past, present or future Chelsea players in the Euro 96 squad, although at least the manager, Venables, had come through our youth system and starred in our midfield for much of the 1960s.
Dennis Wise had been selected in Venables’ initial group of 26, but he was one of four players cut for the tournament, held on home soil. His chance at a major tournament would come, however, at Euro 2000.
More than two decades later, England were back in a semi-final, this time at the World Cup in Russia. Our own Gary Cahill (pictured top) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek had made one and three appearances respectively in the Three Lions’ games leading up to the Croatia showdown in Moscow, but both were unused substitutes as the East Europeans triumphed 2-1 after extra-time.
Loftus-Cheek did then start the third place play-off loss to an Eden Hazard-inspired Belgium three days later.
Could this unwanted record change tonight? There must be a strong possibility Mason Mount plays at least some part tonight having started three of England’s five games so far, and been hindered by self-isolation for the other two.
Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw appear to be Gareth Southgate’s first-choice full-backs, but a switch to 3-4-3 to match the Danes could increase Reece James' and Ben Chilwell’s prospects of featuring.
Whatever happens, our England trio will be focusing on getting the job done – and then possibly becoming the first Chelsea player to represent the Three Lions in the final of a major tournament…