If ever there was a must win game, then this was it for England, but not only did they have to win it, they needed to smash little Luxembourg to pieces if they were to put any pressure on Italy in World Cup qualification. No more games had been played in Group 2 since the capitulation in Rome, so England remained on top of the group on goal difference, but after this game the Italians would have two games in hand. The Azzurri had scored four in Luxembourg but Finland had put seven past the group minnows in Helsinki. Don Revie’s men would be hoping to get close to the target set by the Finns if Italy were to feel any discomfort on the road to Argentina.
Once again, Revie made wholesale changes with just four men retaining their places from the drubbing at the hands of the Dutch. Ray Clemence, Dave Watson, Trevor Francis and skipper Kevin Keegan were the men to keep the shirt. Dave Clements would have been retained at right back but an injury meant that John Gidman won his first and only cap. Joe Royle was also a late replacement for Dennis Tueart up front. The opponents from Luxembourg featured just four full time professionals, one of whom played in the Belgian 3rd division, and hadn’t won a game since beating Norway in 1973.
Despite the paucity of the opponent, the importance of the match saw 81,000 turn up at Wembley expecting a hatful of goals. ITV had the coverage with highlights that night and commentary from Brian Moore and Jack Charlton.
England were on the front foot from the kick off and had an early chance through Gordon Hill, the Manchester United winger latching on to a knock down from Joe Royle and firing an effort just over the crossbar. It took the home side just 10 minutes to open the scoring and whilst the goal came from a reliable source, the creator was totally unexpected. Dave Watson, the centre half, delivered a beautiful chipped ball into Kevin Keegan and the skipper made no mistake, heading home from six yards out. “The goal England wanted” said Brian Moore and it was hoped that it would open the floodgates. Instead it led to almost an hour of frustration.
Despite dominating the game, England could just not find a way past the Luxembourg defence, and to barely made a chance worthy of the name in the remainder of the first half. A bout of head tennis in the Luxembourg penalty area ended with Trevor Francis heading over and then the same man fired a shot over the crossbar. However that was the sum of the chances that Revie’s men conspired to create in a disappointing first half display.
England though did respond in the second half and a four goal salvo in 20 minutes after the hour at least kept the pressure on Italy to respond in their forthcoming fixtures. The Luxembourg wall was finally broken again on the hour mark when a bobbling ball inside the area was thumped home by Francis. Then six minutes later, the Birmingham City striker turned provider again, putting in a deep cross which was met by Ray Kennedy who fired in at the near post to make it 3-0.
On 70 minutes England went 4-0 up. A corner by Hill was met by Mick Channon and his header squirmed through the keeper and just crossed the line. Then with just nine minutes to go Channon made it 5-0 from the penalty spot, picking himself up after being fouled by Raymond Zender, the Luxembourg goalkeeper, and rolling the spot kick into the bottom corner.
The penalty was a debatable one and the visitors frustrations boiled over in the final minute when Gilbert Dresch was sent off for a second bookable offence, a wild hack on Channon. Moments later the final whistle blew and for the first time in a long time, the England team left the Wembley turf to cheers rather than jeers.
Don Revie seemed a little happier in his post match interview saying “In the last three performances we let the public down. This time I thought we were patient. With a little bit of luck the final score would have been double figures.” However his opposite number Gilbert Legrand saw things a little differently and was distinctly unimpressed by Revie’s men saying “England made too many mistakes for professional players. My feeling is that Italy will go through to Argentina.”