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Sport - Football: England's Woes

England's national football teams seem to have got into the habit of reaching major semi-finals in recent times and losing. It is however, an upgrade on past tournaments. The men's team have improved almost beyond recognition in the way in which they approach these events under Gareth Southgate and Phil Neville's reign as manager of the women's team show similar progress. But neither are anywhere near really being ranked with the best. Yet.

Above - A familiar sight for English football (AP)

England's 2-1 defeat by the reigning world champions the USA in this year's Women's World Cup is no real surprise although the match could have gone the other way. The US were, let's be honest, a little better than England but not by so much that England were outclassed. Far from it in fact but the US did have that little extra to win the game, just as Croatia did in the men's World Cup in Russia.

What may be the question, for some at least in England, is, why is the USA the team to beat? Why can't the country that gave the game to the world - England - be true equals? Really - the USA? Hardly a hotbed of football, or soccer as they call the game.

The answer lies in what are now more years in the past than I care to think about. When I was still a fresh-faced youth I spread my wings a little and made my first trip across the pond to the USA on my own. I had been years before, in tandem with my father, who held an ambition to visit the country and towed a little me around almost the entire country on a Greyhound bus. It was certainly an eye-opener, for us both, but my sojourn later was still the first real trip of my own.

While there I went to the Texas city of Dallas and watched a youth tournament called (inevitably) the Dallas Cup. The USA wasn't the first place that sprang to mind, at the time, for the beautiful game but boys teams from the city had been touring Europe for some time and impressing everybody with the level of skill they had. What restrained the male game in the US was the lack of a real, competitive men's professional league. Yes, they did have a league, and had for a number of years but American gridiron football and baseball had become well-entrenched decades before; the US as a country had never really taken to soccer.

But wait - what happened when England, then supposedly at the height of their powers, played the USA at the World Cup in 1950? England lost, 1-0 to a goal by Joe Gaetjens. Held in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, the result was one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history. Or was it?

As unbelievable as it may seem today, the 1950 tournament was England's first. The Football Association (the FA), noses in the air, had considered the first (held in Uruguay) beneath them. As the tournament became more established, the FA then had a dispute over payments to amateur players, and three World Cup tournaments had already taken place before this one.

The England team that day was: Bert Williams in goal, Alf Ramsey, John Aston, Billy Wright(c), Laurie Hughes, Jimmy Dickinson, Wilf Mannion, Tom Finney, Jimmy Mullen, Stan Mortensen and Roy Bentley. The manager was Walter Winterbottom and Stanley Matthews watched as he hadn't been selected for that game.

Undoubtedly some of the biggest names of the era in English football but not only did