Much debate and speculation surrounded the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson to the role of England Manager. As the first foreigner to be handed the position it was always a decision that would divide opinion but the Swede let his results do the talking and he would become the longest serving Manager since Sir Bobby Robson.
Having proven his quality with several European clubs, including Goteburg, Benfica, Roma, Sampdoria and Lazio he was actively sought by The FA and appointed in January 2001.
After an auspicious start that saw Eriksson’s new charges dispense of Spain 3-0 in a friendly at Villa Park, sights turned to qualification for the 2002 World Cup and progress could not have been better. Five wins out of five – including the famous 5-1 thrashing of Germany in Munich – meant that England entered their final Qualifier at Old Trafford against Greece needing only a point to book their place at Japan and Korea.
The match proved a fitting climax to what had been an exciting campaign, with David Beckham scoring a trademark free-kick in the dying seconds to secure a 2-2 draw and England’s place in the Finals.
High expectations in Japan and Korea were dashed in the quarter-finals by eventual champions Brazil despite taking the lead and seeing Ronaldinho sent off early in the second half.
Qualification for Euro 2004 followed and although an early hiccup against Macedonia saw the Three Lions drop two points, Eriksson again showed the required consistency to top the group and command automatic qualification for the Finals in Portugal.
In Wayne Rooney, Eriksson had one of the country’s top young talents and having helped England to the reach the tournament the 18-year-old continued to impress – scoring four goals in three group games to see England through to the quarter-finals and a clash with the hosts.
Eriksson lost his precocious young talent, however, just 27 minutes into the match through injury and although England managed to hold on for a 2-2 draw after extra-time, the dreaded penalty shoot-out would once again be England’s undoing.
Despite the disappointment of two quarter-final losses, Eriksson seemed confident he could find the formula to take England to the next level and was given the opportunity to prove it with qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Another convincing qualifying campaign that saw England drop just four points meant Eriksson claimed automatic qualification again and with it raise the hopes of nation once more. Although it was announced before the Finals that Eriksson would be leaving his post as Manager after the tournament, England set off to Germany in high hopes, keen to give the Swede the perfect send-off.
Rooney was again the focus of attention. Having broken a bone in his foot towards the end of the season there was concern he would not be fully fit for the Finals but he defied the odds to come back in England’s second group game.
Unbeaten in the group stage, Eriksson guided his team to a quarter-final re-match with Portugal. History seemed intent on repeating itself, with England losing Rooney again – this time to a red card in the 62nd minute. And to complete the unfortunate comparison, Portugal were again victorious after a penalty shoot-out.
The end of Eriksson’s World Cup hopes signalled the end of an era for England. With David Beckham stepping down as captain and Eriksson leaving the international set-up altogether, the Three Lions would have a different look in their next qualifying campaign.