England team that beat Italy 4-0
Coach: Walter Winterbottom
Achievements: beat Portugal 10-0 away; beat Itay 4-0 away; unbeaten at Wembley
Key Players: Matthews, Finney, Lawton, Mortenson, Mannion, Wright, Franklin
Star Player: Matthews
The isolation of football's founding nation until 1950 is often dismissed as haughty arrogance, but there is an argument that England could really have been genuine world champions for long periods between 1870 and 1950. Without conistent international tournaments it is impossible to answer this question, but England won the football Gold Medal in the 1908 and 1912 Olympics and it seems clear no other nation had overtaken their mentors by this point. How they would have coped with the 1920s Uruguayans or travelling to and playing in South America in 1930 raises some doubts but it could be argued that they were the best team in Europe, if not the world, in the 1940s. Before this they may have even have won one or both of the 1934 or 1938 World Cups had they competed (and overcome Mussolini's grip on 1934 referees). Is it too much to suggest that if there had been a European-based World Cup in the 1940s then England would surely have won it?
This claim to greatness is chiefly substantiated by England's results against Italy, still technically reigning World Champions until 1950, and still under the guidance of Pozzo in 1948. Italy never beat England when they were world champions and on 16 May 1948 England beat the Italians 4-0 in Turin. The Italy team contained seven players from the great Torino side of the era. This was seen as a major victory at the time and justified England's high opinion of her own footballers. Also in 1948 England beat Portugal an incredible 10-0 away in Lisbon. This was a Portugese side that had recently ended the record unbeaten run of a great emerging Hungarian side. And, of course, England remained unbeaten at Wembley until 1953 (when this record was overturned by those same Hungarians).
This era represented the heyday of traditional English football. Playing in the now long-established W-M formation the team was based on the tough defending of players such as Neil Franklin, the work-rate of the great Billy Wright and the brave and physical style of forwards such as Tommy Lawton and Stan Mortenson. Frank Swift, the goalkeeper, had twice been named the world's best keeper in this era. To these red-blooded and honest values were added the tricky and direct wing play of Tom Finney and the legendary Stanley Matthews, and the guile of Wilf Mannion. This is a pattern of play that had defined English footballing culture for a long period, and to a large extent still does today.
Ironically the quality of English football in this era led to further arrogance and complacency and became the death-knell to further success. By 1950 it had all changed. England ended its isolationism and half-heartedly entered the World Cup in Brazil. A shock 1-0 defeat to the USA was not enough to wake up a complacent nation and it was the visit of the Hungarians in 1953 that awoke the world to England's fall from football's top table. Many players from the 1948 team were also fading by this point. It took Alf Ramsey to de-construct and re-create English football before they would finally become world champions in 1966 but there is a strong case to say that this 1948 side was in fact a much better England team.