They came close at Italia 90 and Euro 96, but on both occasions the Germans exacted revenge at the semi-final stage by prospering from penalty shootouts.
This summer, strangely, Roy Hodgson will take his squad to Brazil with very little pressure on their shoulders from either the supporters or media - many of whom believe that simply progressing beyond the group phase would be a success.
Here, to continue our countdown to the World Cup, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of England.
10. David Beckham (1996-2009, 115 caps, 17 goals)
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While there are more technically gifted players than Beckham that have been omitted from this selection, few have given as much to the Three Lions as the 39-year-old did. Having made his debut in September 1996, Beckham's international career had its fair share of highs and lows.
He made himself public enemy number one by getting sent off during the defeat on penalties to Argentina at the 1998 World Cup, but he atoned for that by scoring a stoppage-time goal against Greece that saw England qualify for the 2002 World Cup in dramatic fashion. During that tournament, he then laid the Argentina ghost to rest by scoring from the penalty spot in a 1-0 win during the group stages.
The 39-year-old made the last of his 115 appearances in an England shirt in 2009, while he retired from club football last year. Among his honours are league titles from England, Spain, the USA and France, as well as a Champions League medal from Manchester United's success in 1999.
9. Gary Lineker (1984-1992, 80 caps, 48 goals)
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England has arguably not produced a more natural converter of chances than Lineker, who retired from international football in 1992 just one goal shy of Sir Bobby Charlton's England record.
The now-Match of the Day presenter had a habit of finding the net at the World Cup, so much so that he was the tournament's leading goalscorer in 1986 with six goals and is still the only Englishman to have won the Golden Boot. He followed that up by scoring four more times in 1990, taking his overall total in World Cups to 10 - a tally only six players can beat.
He was equally prolific at club level, scoring goals on a regular basis for Leicester City, Everton, Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur and Nagoya Grampus Eight.
8. Bryan Robson (1980-1991, 90 caps, 26 goals)
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There are those who believe that England could have gone even further in 1986 and 1990 had Robson not suffered tournament-ending injuries, such was the impact that the midfielder had on the team.
Nicknamed 'Captain Marvel', Robson was an energetic midfielder, famed for scoring important goals, as well as having a fierce competitive streak.
After starting his career with West Bromwich Albion, Robson went on to win the majority of his honours with Manchester United. When he departed Old Trafford in the summer of 1994, he did so having lifted the Premier League twice, the FA Cup three times, the League Cup once and UEFA Cup Winners' Cup once.
7. Geoff Hurst (1966-1972, 49 caps, 29 goals)
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Such is the good fortune required on occasions to succeed as a footballer that Hurst may not have been included in this list had Jimmy Greaves not suffered an injury against France during the 1966 World Cup. With Greaves sidelined, Sir Alf Ramsey turned to Hurst, who grabbed his opportunity with both hands.
He scored the only goal of the quarter-final victory over Argentina before famously firing in a hat-trick against the West Germans during the final.
The 72-year-old is also revered among West Ham United supporters having scored 242 goals during his 13-year stint at Upton Park. The centre-forward scored during the 1964 FA Cup final as the Hammers defeated Preston North End, while he also featured in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup success a year later.
6. Gordon Banks (1963-1972, 73 caps, no goals)
He kept goal during England's success in the summer of 1966, keeping four clean sheets and making numerous stops during the final against the West Germans. Yet, he produced his finest individual moment for the Three Lions four years later. Playing against Brazil, a cross from Carlos Alberto was met by a powerful header from Pele. It seemed that everybody was waiting for the net to bulge, but a diving Banks somehow managed to get his hand on the ball to flick it over the crossbar. It's widely regarded to be one of the best saves ever made.
At club level he won the League Cup twice, as well as being voted FIFA's Goalkeeper of the Year six times.
5. Tom Finney (1946-1958, 76 caps, 30 goals)
For a while, one-club man Finney was England's leading goalscorer along with Nat Lofthouse, before both were surpassed by Charlton in 1963.
His recent death at the age of 91 was met with great sadness, with tributes being paid by some of the biggest names in football. At Preston's Deepdale ground there is a statue of the winger, who made 473 appearances for the Lancashire club, as well as a stand named in his honour.
4. Stanley Matthews (1934-1957, 54 caps, 11 goals)
Stan Mortensen may have scored a hat-trick for Blackpool in the 4-3 victory, but the 1953 FA Cup final will forever be known as 'The Matthews Final'. With the Tangerines 3-1 down with 35 minutes remaining, Matthews's tricky wing play helped spur his side on to win the trophy.
Such was his dedication to the game, he played until the age of 50 with Stoke City, while his last England appearance came against Denmark eight years earlier. There was even a clamour by some journalists for him to be chosen for the 1958 World Cup when he would have been 48, but the selectors refrained.
3. Duncan Edwards (1955-1958, 18 caps, five goals)
But for the tragic events on a Munich runway on February 6, 1958, it's highly likely that Edwards would have topped this list. Along with eight of his Manchester United teammates, the left-half, just 21, died after a plane taking the team home from a European Cup tie in Belgrade crashed as it attempted to take off.
It's of course difficult to truly gauge just how good Edwards would have been, but many of those that saw him up close believe that he could have been the greatest ever.
Finney once said: "He was so strong people could only see the power, but he had a most delicate touch. It is very sad to think what he might have done if he had been allowed. Unquestionably he would have been in the very highest rank." Meanwhile, Charlton, who played alongside Edwards with England and United, added: "You see, he was so good, when he was around you thought anything was possible. He was more than a great player. Sometimes he seemed like some bright light in the sky. He was a giant, and even today his loss is the hardest thing to bear."
2. Bobby Moore (1962-1973, 108 caps, two goals)
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West Ham's Hurst and Martin Peters may have scored the goals that won England the World Cup, but their club teammate Bobby Moore was the cornerstone of a well-organised defence. Captain of the team, the centre-half remains the only Englishman to have lifted the World cup.
In days leading up to the tournament in Mexico four years later he was controversially arrested in Colombia, where England had played a warm-up match. It was alleged that he had stolen a bracelet but, with no evidence, he was released and went on to feature as the holders reached the quarter-finals. Earlier in the competition, he produced a memorable challenge to stop Brazil's Jairzinho in full flow.
After his death in 1993, Pele said: "He was my friend as well as the greatest defender I ever played against. The world has lost one of its greatest football players and an honourable gentleman."
1. Bobby Charlton (1958-1970, 106 caps, 49 goals)
No player has scored more goals for either England or Man United than the 76-year-old, which is reason alone for him to top this selection.
He survived the Munich air disaster of 1958 and a decade later captained United to the club's European Cup success on an emotional night at Wembley, where he scored twice during the 4-1 victory over Benfica. On top of that triumph, he also won the First Division title three times and the FA Cup once.
During England's run in 1966 he scored both goals in the win over Portugal at the semi-final stage, with his performances throughout the tournament resulting in him winning the Ballon d'Or that year ahead of Eusebio.
England will face Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica in the group stages of this summer's World Cup, and you can follow every match live with Sports Mole.
Continuing our 50-day countdown to the tournament, we will be looking at the greatest players in France's history tomorrow. You can also see all of the World Cup top 10 lists so far by clicking here.