It looks likely that some of Manchester United’s World Cup contingent will make history in the coming days by competing in a World Cup quarter-final success.
Victor Lindelof’s Sweden take on England (Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford) on Saturday. Before then, France and Paul Pogba face Uruguay, while Brazil, with new boy Fred still waiting for his first minutes on the pitch, tackling Belgium (Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku).
With so much at stake, it is worth noting that only five Reds have ever been part of a national team that progressed at the last-eight stage of the tournament, even if the format was different in some years.
Since Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles’ heroics on home soil for England in 1966, when Argentina were overcome 1-0 in the most fractious of encounters, only Cristiano Ronaldo, Louis Saha and Robin van Persie have joined the elite band of players.In 2006, Ronaldo’s Portugal beat England on penalties, with the United star converting the decisive spot-kick. Wayne Rooney, who was sent off, was on the losing side, along with Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville. In the same year, Saha came on for matchwinner Thierry Henry in the final five minutes of France’s 1-0 triumph over Brazil.
Four years ago, in Brazil, Robin van Persie helped the Netherlands defeat Costa Rica on penalties in the quarter-finals, scoring the Dutch team’s opening spot-kick following a 0-0 draw.
Unfortunately, there has been more heartache than joy for United’s players at this stage of a World Cup. Roger Byrne was the first Red to reach this stage in the global competition, losing with England 4-2 to holders Uruguay in 1954. Harry Gregg (Nothern Ireland) and Colin Webster (Wales) followed suit in 1958, before Charlton’s England came unstuck against Brazil in 1962.Old Trafford legend Charlton featured in the last eight for an impressive third occasion as England attempted to retain the trophy in 1970, and was substituted with the Three Lions 2-1 ahead. However, West Germany hit back to win 3-2 after extra time.
No Red appeared in a World Cup quarter-final during the 1980s, although this was complicated by a change in format as Northern Ireland and England both made a second group stage in 1982 but did not qualify for the semi-finals. Bryan Robson missed the 1986 defeat to Argentina and win over Cameroon in 1990 due to injury.
So, 28 long years after United's previous last-eight representative, Peter Schmeichel kept goal for Denmark in a 3-2 loss to Brazil in 1998, Rivaldo scoring twice in Nantes. There was more disappointment against the Selecao in 2002 as an England side containing David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt crashed out 2-1, with Rivaldo again on the mark.
Fellaini and Lukaku will be hoping for better luck against the South Americans on Friday, and we wish all the United contingent well with the pressure reaching fever pitch in Russia.