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Which players make the final cut in England’s greatest ever World Cup eleven

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With the debate set to rage on who Gareth Southgate should and should not include in his squad for Qatar next month, will any of England’s current generation ever take their place alongside England’s greatest ever World Cup stars?

From the heroes of 1966, through the heartbreak of Italia 90 and the joy of Russia four years ago, the Three Lions have had plenty of names who have played a significant part in the country’s World Cup history. 

So, using just their performances for England during the finals, Sportsmail picks the players that would make up an all-time England XI.

GOALKEEPER

Gordon Banks

Tournaments: 1966, 1970

The sight of Gordon Banks at full stretch to get fingertips to Pele’s goal-bound header remains one of the greatest saves ever seen at a World Cup, and it makes him an automatic pick. 

Four years before that super stop in Mexico, Banks was England’s No 1 during their finest hour. On route to winning the World Cup in 1966, England didn’t concede a goal until the semi-final win, as Banks kept four clean sheets on the way to amassing 721 minutes without picking the ball out of his net – a record that was only broken by Jordan Pickford’s run in 2021. 

His save in Guadalajara has gone down in football folklore and the only disappointment for Banks and England is the illness that prevented him from playing in 1970’s quarter-final exit to Germany – a defeat often blamed on the performance of his replacement Peter Bonetti.

Gordon Banks played in every game at the 1966 World Cup and kept four clean sheets 

Banks' save from Pele during England's game against Brazil is one of the best in football history

Banks’ save from Pele during England’s game against Brazil is one of the best in football history

RIGHT BACK

George Cohen

Tournaments: 1966

In contrast to the plethora of right-backs at Gareth Southgate’s disposal right now, this spot was the hardest to nail down in England’s all-time World Cup XI. 

Gary Stevens and Paul Parker performed admirably across the 1986 and 1990 tournaments without standing out, while Gary Neville played in the middle in 1998 and missed Japan and South Korea with injury. 

Therefore, the nod goes to another 1966 hero in George Cohen. Cohen, a one-club man for Fulham over his thirteen-year career, quickly established himself as Sir Alf Ramsey’s first choice right-back ahead of the 1966 World Cup after he had usurped Jimmy Armfield. 

At the tournament, Ramsey’s tight midfield, free of wingers, relied on Cohen to bomb forward and provide an extra attacking outlet. It was his overlapping pass that led to Bobby Charlton’s winner in the semi-final win against Portugal, and he played a key role in the four clean sheets England racked up on the way to their greatest triumph.

George Cohen (left) was a key component of the way Sir Alf Ramsey's England side played

George Cohen (left) was a key component of the way Sir Alf Ramsey’s England side played 

CENTRE BACK 

Bobby Moore

Tournaments: 1966, 1970

There are fewer more iconic images in English football history than the sight of Bobby Moore holding aloft the Jules Rimet trophy, as England celebrated their one and only World Cup win in 1966. 

Moore was the Three Lions’ skipper in their finest hour, not only leading by example from defence where England kept four clean sheets on their way to the final, but also proving what an intelligent football mind he had, by setting up two of Geoff Hurst’s famous goals against Germany – including the memorable clincher to make it 4-2. 

In Mexico four years later, Moore overcame off-field distractions to keep the captain’s armband and continue to excel at the centre of England’s backline. 

His tackle on Jairzinho in the 1-0 defeat to Brazil has been described as the ‘perfect tackle’, while the image of him swapping shirts with Pele is an iconic World Cup image of the era.

England's finest hour is cemented by the iconic sight of Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup

England’s finest hour is cemented by the iconic sight of Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup 

One of the most famous images in football history as Pele and Bobby More embrace in 1970

One of the most famous images in football history as Pele and Bobby More embrace in 1970 

CENTRE BACK 

Terry Butcher

Tournaments: 1982, 1986, 1990

A warrior of a defender, who’s defined by the image of him decked out in blood-soaked bandages during a World Cup qualifier against Sweden in 1989. 

Butcher’s World Cup journey began in 1982 when he was the youngest member of Ron Greenwood’s backline which would only concede one goal in Spain, but they were knocked out after two goalless draws in the tournament’s second group phase. 

In Mexico four years later, Butcher was nearer his prime, and would lead the Three Lions to the quarter-finals via two clean sheets before facing the good and the bad of Diego Maradona at the Azteca. 

By Italia 90, the now Rangers centre-back was the elder statesman of the defence but a vital component in England’s ride to the semi-finals – not least for his famous dance moves with Chris Waddle after the win over Belgium. 

That World Cup became his international swansong, as Butcher retired from England duty after the tournament, having amassed 77 caps – 14 of which came on football’s biggest stage.

Terry Butcher put his head on the line for England evident by this famous war wound image

Terry Butcher put his head on the line for England evident by this famous war wound image

The central defender played in three World Cups for his country before retiring after Italia 90

The central defender played in three World Cups for his country before retiring after Italia 90 

LEFT BACK 

Ashley Cole

Tournaments: 2002, 2006, 2010

At times whilst playing for England during his three World Cup finals appearances, Ashley Cole was considered the best left-back in the world – and rightfully so. 

By 2002, the athletic defender was already a title winner at Arsenal and was an ever-present for Sven Goran Eriksson’s England side that reached the quarter-finals in South Korea and Japan, before Ronaldinho’s KO. 

Four years later, and perhaps at his peak, Cole again played in every game for the Three Lions. Pulling off a miraculous goal-line clearance in England’s second round match against Ecuador, before resuming his rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo in the tournament’s quarter-final. 

And while Portugal orchestrated England’s downfall once again, their talisman met his match as Cole marshalled Ronaldo like no other defender has in the Portuguese star’s career. 

Cole was still first choice in 2010, but like the rest of the squad was dragged down as England limped out of the tournament. However, it didn’t detract from what a generational defender Cole was for his country. 

At his peak there was no better left-back in world football than England’s Ashley Cole 

CENTRE MIDFIELD

Paul Gascoigne  

Tournaments: 1990

There’s an argument to say that football in the 1990s was all centred around Paul Gascoigne and it all stems from what this once in a generation star did at Italia 90. 

Gascoigne was the unpolished gem of Bobby Robson’s England squad and he grew into a global star in front of our eyes at the World Cup in Italy. The midfielder got better game-by-game, and the tournament became a highlight reel of a player perhaps never rivalled in an England shirt. 

There was the Cruyff turn against Holland, the looping ball for David Platt’s winner over Belgium and his role for Gary Lineker’s penalty double in the Cameroon win. All culminating in the moment he was shown the yellow card for a foul on Thomas Berthold in Turin that led to his famous tears, which pulled the trigger on Gazza-mania back home. 

Gascoigne returned a hero – fake breasts and all – amidst England’s heartbreak and was lauded as one of the stars of the World Cup, but sadly he never got another chance to parade his talents on football’s biggest stage. 

The tears of Paul Gascoigne at Italia 90  was an image synonymous with the tournament

The tears of Paul Gascoigne at Italia 90  was an image synonymous with the tournament 

Gazza was one of the best players at the tournament in England's run to the semi-finals in Italy

Gazza was one of the best players at the tournament in England’s run to the semi-finals in Italy

CENTRE MIDFIELD 

Bobby Charlton

Tournaments: 1962, 1966, 1970

For a long time England’s record goal-scorer and a man who played at three World Cups for his country among his 106 caps, Bobby Charlton is a bona fide England all-time great – with a World Cup winners medal to rubber stamp his legacy. 

His World Cup journey began in 1962, with a goal in the Three Lions’ 3-1 group stage win over Argentina, but in would be four years later where Charlton would make his mark on the tournament’s lineage. 

As the talisman in Sir Alf Ramsey’s midfield, the Manchester United star played a vital role in the nation’s greatest footballing moment. He scored England’s first goal of the finals, in the second group game win over Mexico, but it was his performance and brace in the semi-final win against Portugal that has been long lauded as one of the most important individual displays from an England player. It was the prelude to the famous World Cup victory and secured Charlton’s status as one of the very best to do it in an England shirt. 

There was one final hurrah at the 1970 tournament, where he couldn’t prevent the side from a quarter-final KO to Germany, and it turned out to be his final cap in a glittering England career. 

Bobby Charlton scored 49 goals in 106 games for his country and won the World Cup in 1966

Bobby Charlton scored 49 goals in 106 games for his country and won the World Cup in 1966

CENTRE MIDFIELD 

David Beckham

Tournaments: 1998, 2002, 2006

Becham’s World Cup legacy is one of polarising highs and lows, but by the sheer volume of moments he has to be included in this team. 

In 1998, Beckham was part of Glenn Hoddle’s new generation that had burst onto the scene at Manchester United by way of his famous halfway line goal at Selhurst Park, and had since become a massive star both on and off the pitch. 

In France, Becks quickly made his mark on the tournament with a trademark free-kick against Colombia after battling his way back into Hoddle’s first choice XI. But it all came crashing down in a moment of madness in St Etienne. His red card against Argentina saw him vilified by England fans and effigies were burnt as he shouldered the blame for the side’s quarter-final exit. 

To his credit, Beckham bounced back and led England – via that incredible free-kick against Greece and despite a metatarsal scare – as captain to Japan and South Korea four years later, where his penalty in the 1-0 win over Argentina felt like some sort of redemption for someone who was now one of football’s biggest names. 

Unfortunately, Sven Goran Eriksson’s England again exited at the quarter-final stage to Brazil, but Beckham’s World Cup story didn’t end there. His final fling came in 2006, where his goal against Ecuador saw him become the first England player to score in three separate World Cups, but ultimately his Three Lions’ ‘golden generation’ fell short once again. 

David Beckham began his World Cup journey with this free-kick against Colombia at France 98

David Beckham began his World Cup journey with this free-kick against Colombia at France 98

The moment Beckham saw red in England's quarter-final exit against Argentina in St Etienne

The moment Beckham saw red in England’s quarter-final exit against Argentina in St Etienne 

Four years later Becks got his revenge as his penalty saw England beat Argentina in 2002

Four years later Becks got his revenge as his penalty saw England beat Argentina in 2002 

STRIKER

Gary Lineker

Tournaments: 1986, 1990 

Across two tournaments there weren’t many players better at putting the ball in the back of the net in world football than Gary Lineker. 

Lineker went into the 1986 World Cup off the back of a 30-goal haul for Everton in the First Division and the goals just continued to flow in the heat of Mexico – although it took until the third group game for him to get going. 

The pressure was on both England and their number 10 against Poland, but Lineker responded with one the quickest hat-tricks in World Cup history, and it set him on course for the tournament’s Golden Boot. 

Four years on, Lineker was still leading England’s line and was instrumental in England’s run to the semi-finals. Scoring four goals, including converting two nerve-racking penalties in the quarter-final win over Cameroon, Lineker finished his England World Cup career with 10 goals, a Golden Boot and an infamous number two on the pitch.

Gary Lineker celebrates netting a hat-trick for England en route to winning the Golden Boot

Gary Lineker celebrates netting a hat-trick for England en route to winning the Golden Boot 

Lineker continued his goal-scoring exploits at Italia 90 scoring four times in the tournament

Lineker continued his goal-scoring exploits at Italia 90 scoring four times in the tournament

STRIKER 

Geoff Hurst

Tournaments: 1966, 1970

Fate dealt Geoff Hurst a winning card in 1966, but the striker took full advantage of the situation to make himself an all-time England hero. 

Going into the World Cup, England’s first-choice strike force was Jimmy Greaves and Roger Hunt, and Hurst’s performances in the Three Lions’ warm-up games didn’t suggest anything otherwise. 

Greaves started England’s first three games at the finals, but then suffered a deep leg gash that saw him ruled out of the quarter-final against Argentina. Hurst stepped in and grabbed the winner for Sir Alf Ramsey’s side and it became the catalyst for one of England’s most famous ever moments. 

Hurst grabbed an assist in the semi-final victory over Portugal and then, despite calls from some to bring Greaves back for the final, the West Ham man got the nod for the showpiece against Germany. At Wembley Hurst wrote his name into World Cup folklore by becoming the only man to net a hat-trick in the final and play the key part in England’s glorious triumph. 

Hurst was still part of the England set-up in 1970, scoring in the game against Romania, but his treble – accompanied by Kenneth Wolstenholme’s immortal commentary line – means he’ll live in English football history forever. 

Geoff Hurst lifts the World Cup trophy after his famous hat-trick for England in the 1966 final

Geoff Hurst lifts the World Cup trophy after his famous hat-trick for England in the 1966 final 

STRIKER 

Harry Kane

Tournaments: 2018

Michael Owen can count himself unlucky for not bagging the last spot, but with a nod to England’s most recent World Cup in Russia four years ago, Harry Kane – Golden Boot and all – makes up the front three. 

Kane’s World Cup is often better remembered for his displays later on in the competition where he couldn’t quite carry England to the final, however he was one of the main reasons Gareth Southgate’s side got so far in the competition. 

The opening game brace against Tunisia – including a 91st minute winner – set England on course, then his hat-trick against Panama put the Tottenham striker into the record books alongside Lineker and Hurst with World Cup trebles. His expertly taken penalty in the victory over Colombia was another key moment in the England skipper getting his team over the line. 

Those six goals resulted in him finishing as the tournament’s top scorer – only the second England player to achieve the feat – and set him on a path to become his country’s record goal-scorer in competitive internationals. 

He needs just two goals in Qatar to match Wayne Rooney’s tally of 53, while another would make him England’s most prolific international player ever. 

Harry Kane got England off to the ideal start with a brace in the win over Tunisia at Russia 2018

Harry Kane got England off to the ideal start with a brace in the win over Tunisia at Russia 2018

The eleven players that make up our all-time England World Cup XI from tournament displays

The eleven players that make up our all-time England World Cup XI from tournament displays 

SUBSTITUTES’ BENCH

Peter Shilton 

Tournaments: 1982, 1986, 1990 

Sol Campbell

Tournaments: 1998, 2002, 2006

David Platt

Tournaments: 1990  

Alan Ball

Tournaments: 1966, 1970  

Michael Owen

Tournaments: 1998, 2002, 2006  

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