By Mitch Phillips
WARSAW (Reuters) - Ask most England fans what links Paraguay, Belgium, Cameroon, Denmark, Ecuador and Spain and they would struggle for an answer, though the keenest would recognize their joint significance in the team's tournament history.
Apart from the 1966 World Cup, which England won on home soil, those are the only countries they have managed to beat in a knockout match at a major tournament.
Contrast that with their appalling record against the game's 'big guns' where, '66 apart, England have managed to lose all 10 of the one-off matches they have played against fellow World Cup winners (or winners-elect) in major championships.
The figures make sobering reading for those encouraged by Roy Hodgson's side's progress through the Euro 2012 group phase.
Throw in the fact that England are the only one of the last eight never to have reached a European Championship final and it make the confidence surrounding the team ahead of Sunday's quarter-final against Italy suddenly look a little misplaced.
England were slow to join the international soccer party, considering themselves above such petty issues as the first three World Cups.
When they did finally deign to join the fun in 1950 they failed to get out of the group stage after a humiliating defeat by the United States.
In 1954 and 1962 they lost in the quarter-finals to Uruguay and Brazil respectively and only in 1966, where they beat Argentina in the quarter-finals and West Germany in the final, did they get one over on a future and former World Cup winner.
Since then it has been one loss after another.
The 3-2 1970 World Cup quarter-final defeat by West Germany was a bitter blow after a side many considered to be superior to that of four years earlier had led 2-0, and prefaced a 12-year-World Cup absence.
In 1986 they finally managed a knockout stage win, beating Paraguay 3-0, but it all went wrong in the quarters when they were on the wrong side of Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" and brilliant solo goals for eventual winners Argentina.
At Italia '90 they got past Belgium and Cameroon, somewhat luckily, but Germany again proved a step too far with a penalty shootout defeat in the semis, followed by a loss to hosts Italy in the third-place playoff.
When England hosted Euro 96 they beat Spain on penalties, again fortunately after a side a long way from the class of the current crop had much the best of a goalless draw at Wembley, only to lose to Germany again in another semi-final shootout.
A painful last-16 defeat on penalties after a fantastic match against Argentina knocked them out of the 1998 World Cup and though they managed group-stage wins over Germany (Euro 2000) and Argentina (2002 World Cup), when it came to the do-or-die matches they continued to be found wanting.
Brazil in 2002 and Germany in 2010 continued the stranglehold big nations have had over England, with 'upstarts' Portugal getting in on the act with two quarter-finals wins
So now England face Italy in a rare tournament match-up - and if they win they could well play Germany again in the semis.
The odds of success are lengthening.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)