1996 was the summer football came home.
It was supposed stay home too, as England looked to end 30 years of hurt and lift a trophy for the first time since Bobby Moore picked up the World Cup at Wembley in 1966.
Terry Venables’ men captured the nation with the mercurial Paul Gascoigne in midfield, a solid defence containing the likes of Tony Adams and Stuart Pearce, and an attack led by Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham.
As hosts, England didn’t have to qualify for their tournament, meaning these were their first competitive games for nearly three years.
Their last competitive match was that 1994 World Cup qualifier in San Marino when, needing to win by seven goals to stand a chance of making the tournament, they conceded to the minnows after just eight seconds. Although they won the match 7-1, their World Cup hopes, and Graham Taylor’s stint as England boss, were over.
England’s Euro 96 group
England went into the tournament in 24th place in FIFA’s rankings and were drawn in Group A along with Switzerland, Scotland and the Netherlands.
Switzerland, just above England in the rankings at 21, were first up.
Alan Shearer had gone nearly two years without an England goal. Nevertheless Terry Venables stuck with the then-Blackburn Rovers striker and was duly rewarded when Shearer struck after 23 minutes.
England looked on course to win until Kübilay Türkyilmaz struck an 83rd minute equaliser from the penalty spot, following a Stuart Pearce handball.
Next up was Scotland, who had held the Netherlands to a 0-0 draw in their opening game.
Shearer found the net again, as did Paul Gascoigne who topped off one of England’s all-time great goals with the iconic dentist’s chair celebration with the help of his teammates and some handily placed Lucozade bottles.
Their final group game against a Netherlands team containing the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf and Edwin van der Sar is now regarded as one of the best England performances ever.
Shearer and Sheringham both scored twice as the Dutch were demolished in a 4-1 drubbing, their heaviest defeat for more than 20 years.
England finished top of Group A.
England’s reward for winning Group A was a quarter-final against Spain, then ranked sixth in the world.
Venables’ men were outplayed, and Spain perhaps should have won, with a goal ruled out and three penalty shouts dismissed by the French referee.
After 90 minutes the match was still 0-0, and the tension was racked up a notch for the already nervous Wembley crowd as the game entered extra time in a period when Golden Goal – next goal wins – still existed.
England made it to the penalty shootout and for once actually won, David Seaman the hero as he saved the decisive spot kick to secure a 4-2 win.
The iconic moment though was Pearce exorcising the demons of his miss against West Germany in the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup, as he drilled the ball into the bottom corner and screaming in celebration.
Germany, Europe’s top team in 1996, were lying in wait in the semi-final. Just as they did at Italia 90.
Despite the match being played at Wembley, England were officially the away team. Hence the now infamous grey kit.
Alan Shearer headed England into the lead after just three minutes. But the lead lasted just 13 minutes when Stefan Kuntz fired Germany level.
England came so close to a winner. Gascoigne was mere centimetres from reaching that ball from Shearer that bobbled across the six-yard box and Darren Anderton hit the woodwork in extra time.
Kuntz also had a golden goal ruled out for pushing.
To penalties it went. Both sides scored their first five spot kicks, and then it was Gareth Southgate ’s turn.
We know the rest. His shot was saved. Andres Moller’s wasn’t and, in an almost unbearable repeat of the 1990 World Cup semi-final, Germany marched into the final after a 6-5 win on penalties.
Gareth Southgate was left in tears at the end of Terry Venables’ final match as England boss, Germany beat the Czech Republic 2-0 in the final, and England had to wait 22 years to win another penalty shootout with, ironically, Southgate as manager.
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