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ANOTHER 25 Years of Hurt: Euro ’96 25 Years On

In the summer of 1996 football came home. We finally had a major tournament after 30 years of celebrating Sir Alf Ramsey’s famous World Cup win. And now, we were going to lift the European Championships at Wembley, the true home of the beautiful game.

Or at least that was the plan. It isn’t an England tournament without a bit of hurt and a penalty shoot-out is it?

In the Premier League Manchester United had marched to the Premier League title with a handful of English starlets and between England’s strike force of Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand, and Robbie Fowler had struck exactly 100 league goals between them.

 

England were expected to be a force…

Their start got off to a less perfect start, however. With over 76,000 packed into Wembley England kicked off their campaign with a draw against Switzerland, with Artur Jorge’s men scoring a late penalty to get the Three Lions off to a faltering start.

Off the field, it was almost perfect however, the hooliganism which had cast a shadow over England’s successful 1990 World Cup campaign was few and far between, with the tournament eventually being described as the ‘model tournament’ by police in the country.

The following game, again at Wembley got the side back on track in one of the most memorable games in tournament history. The opposition, the Auld Enemy – Scotland.

It took the introduction of Jamie Redknapp in the second half for the game to open up with a tense first half as the two rivals went at it and eventually the deadlock was broken when a Gary Neville cross was met by the head of Alan Shearer who wheeled off with his trademark celebration.

The turning point came towards the 80th minute, however. After Tony Adams brought down Gordon Durie in the box, David Seaman became the hero, saving Gary McAllister’s penalty and seconds later Paul Gascoigne pulled off one of the tournament’s moments of magic.

The goal summed up Gascoigne as the magician he is and his dentist’s chair celebration was splashed over all the back pages the following day.

By then Terry Venables’ men were full of confidence and went into the final group game against the Netherlands full of confidence.

Keeping his scoring run going, Shearer backed a further two to put England out of sight, whilst Teddy Sheringham also got in on the party bagging a brace and sending the Dutch back to their base on the end of a 4-1 thrashing.

 

Euro 96 Knockout Stages

The knockout stages saw a cagey affair with Spain, who had yet to develop their tika taka style. A 0-0 bore draw was followed by penalties, and memories of the World Cup six years previous when England were heartbreakingly knocked out in the Semi-Final.

Like in 1990, David Platt stepped up and converted alongside Shearer, Gascoigne, and Stuart Pearce, who showed an enormous sense of character to step up after 1990. His celebration has since become iconic, as though he was releasing the demons which had haunted him for six years. He had become Psycho once again.

England were in a Semi-Final for the second time in the space of a decade, and for the second time in the space of a decade their opposition was Germany.

Unlike in 1990, England got off to the best possible start. Within just three minutes Alan Shearer put England into the lead, sending the 75,862 crazy. It took little more than 10 minutes to be pegged back again, with Stefan Kuntz equalising.

For the following 105 minutes chances couldn’t be converted and it was to be a penalty shootout to send England into the final or crashing out.

 

Penalties…

Shearer, goal. Platt, goal. Pearce, he wasn’t going to make that mistake twice, goal. Gascoigne, Sheringham, both tuck their penalty neatly away. The Germans were their typical selves. Efficient. Häßler, Strunz, Reuter, Ziege, and Kuntz all finished, meaning sudden death.

Gareth Southgate was the first man to step up. The Aston Villa centre half had played just four times for the Three Lions before the tournament and now the entire nation was on his shoulders. Others had shied away, succumbed to the pressure. But in front of 76,000, and millions watching on the television across the nation, Southgate’s effort was saved and Andreas Möller emphatically finished to send Germany once again into the final.

 

Euro 96 Winners

The Germans went on to win the tournament – their last European Championship win – beating the Czech Republic 2-1 after Oliver Bierhoff scored a golden goal in extra time.

Two decades on it is still painful for England fans, but with the likes of Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney, and Raheem Sterling in the ranks, can England put a haunted past behind them in the competition and fire their nation to glory in France?

 

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