World Cup - Leon Wobschall: Who will follow in Lineker’s steps and become national hero?

Gary Lineker in action for England during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Gary Lineker in action for England during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
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I CAN remember those glorious words from Barry Davies as if it was yesterday.

That most erudite of commentators famously uttered ‘And Mlynarczyk’s lost it – and Lineker says thank you very much” to herald the England striker’s hat-trick clincher against Poland in the sweltering Monterrey heat in June 1986.

One or two of those vintage gold commentary moments wouldn’t go amiss against Uruguay in Sao Paulo this evening. Presuming the stage is set for Clive Tyldesley, that is...

Back to 1986 and who of a certain age can forget the explosion of joy after goal poacher turned TV anchor Lineker fired England into an unassailable 3-0 lead and an ultimately safe passage into the knock-out stages of Mexico 86. Not qualifying through the group stages? What was all the fuss about...

In fact, there was quite a bit of brouhaha after an opening game loss to Carlos Manuel’s Portugal and a turgid goalless draw against Morocco which put England on the brink of elimination.

Similarly England now find themselves in a spot of bother early in group proceedings when in past history, the do-or-die stuff has usually been reserved for final group matches before we eke a way through.

A case in point being their progression back in 2010 which was hardly a thing of beauty against Slovenia – and the prelude to a brutal beating by Germany.

Eminently more inspired was France 1998 in Lens when David Beckham announced himself on the world stage with a picture-book free-kick in the qualification-clinching 2-0 win over Colombia.

A mixture of ecstasy and relief was manifest among fans that night as it was in 1990 when a nervy 1-0 victory over Egypt was achieved thanks to Mark Wright’s header – with the real fun reserved for the next three rounds when the nation fell in love with the national team and a cheeky chappie from Gateshead.

Struggling through the minefield of the group stages of major competitions is almost as English as a Ploughman’s lunch. Never mind the Germans who carve up qualification as easily as a combine harvester crops wheat, let’s make it interesting...

In mitigation, England’s group was always going to be a toughie. It looked a Group of death with a lower-case D before the finals, now it’s a capital D.

But on the positive side, Uruguay’s history in making a complete horlicks of the group stages is more spectacular than England’s, with La Celeste going out of the World Cup this way in 1962, 1986, 1990 and 2002.

England veterans have alluded to losing their first game at Euro 2004 to France and still qualifying for the knock-out stages. Perfectly justifiably.

Given the way England conducted themselves going forward against the Italians, they are entitled to feel they possess momentum in their ranks, having already garnered more plaudits in 90 minutes in Manaus than they managed in four awful games in South Africa.

Back in Portugal in 2004, the new kid on the block was Wayne Rooney and now it’s Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge.

The question remains can the comparative ‘old stager’ in Rooney rewind the clock to Coimbra and Lisbon 11 summers ago when he led the Swiss and Croats a merry dance.

Start doing that and we should be in business.

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