When Football Almost Came Home

Southgate’s penalty, Gascoigne’s miss and German ruthlessness – let’s take a look back at the EURO 96 Semi-Final that brought the nation to its knees.

After an epic judgement night in this years European Championship’s ‘group of death’ containing giants of the international footballing scene in France, Germany and Portugal, a pair of 2-2 draws between Portugal and France as well as Hungary against Germany meant that the Germans hung on to second place. Their prize in the round of 16… England at Wembley. Looking forward to potentially England’s biggest game in recent memory, lets take a look back on what happened the last time these two met at Wembley in this competition, a game that would enter footballing folklore.

A tournament both players and fans can look back on with immense pride, this was the first footballing competition that graced our turf since the World Cup in 1966 and it certainly did not disappoint, rekindling the nations love for the beautiful game once again. This was the height of Britpop, Baddiel and Skinner gave us a new football song in ‘Three Lions’ which we still hear bellowed out to this day as well as TV show Football Focus doing a great job of building up the hype. The nation had contracted a football fever.

A slow start to the tournament saw England pick up a lacklustre point against the Swiss. However, England really turned it on against Scotland, where a Paul Gascoigne inspired performance secured the three points. The final group game was also special, dismantling a star-studded Dutch side by 4 goals to 1, the solitary Dutch goal sending Scotland home in the process. England’s quarter final matchup was against the Spanish, who had two goals disallowed throughout the game, but England weathered their storm and took the game to a penalty shootout with the score 0-0. Shearer, Platt, Gascoigne and Pearce all converted their penalties with the first Spanish effort from the spot rattling the crossbar and David Seaman would save the fourth Spanish penalty, diving low to his left, sending England through to the semi-finals where they would meet old adversary, Germany.

Paul Ince, David Platt, Steve McManaman, David Seaman, Gareth Southgate and Alan Shearer. Front row left to right Paul Gascoigne, Teddy Sheringham, Tony Adams, Stuart Pearce and Darren Anderton, line up before the European Championship Finals semi final match between England and Germany at Wembley, on June 26 1996 in London, England. Germany won the match on penalties. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Eager for revenge after the semi-final of Italia 90, where the Germans would beat England on penalties and eventually go on and win the World Cup, the passion and desire shown throughout the game at Wembley will never be matched again. So much so that the English national anthem was sung so loudly inside Wembley that Paul Young, the man brought in to sing it, could not be heard even with a microphone, Young simply put down his mic and left it to the fans and players to create noise no national anthem could ever recreate. It was a real goosebumps moment and a phenomenal display of patriotism and passion.

Into the game and England started the brightest of the two teams, a thunderous Paul Ince volley from distance had to be punched clear for a corner ball in just the second minute of the game. Gascoigne floated a ball into the area, it was met by skipper Tony Adams at the front post, who glanced it back into the danger area and the on running Alan Shearer headed the ball past German keeper Andreas Köpke to give England the dream start and an early lead. Wembley erupted, fans were in pandemonium, was football actually coming home?

England’s lead didn’t last long however, after some nice build-up play from the Germans the ball found its way to the centre back Thomas Helmer on the left-hand side, he played a teasing, inch-perfect ball into the area, evading the whole England backline. The ball was met by Stefan Kuntz who slid in and prodded the ball home past Seaman. After just 14 minutes, the game was tightly poised at 1-1.

Both teams scored early, but the rest of the game saw a distinct lack of chances, with the best of them falling to Germany with Thomas Helmer hitting the ball over from a cut back, around 12 yards out. The game was firmly hanging in the balance and while the second half saw much better quality than the first, no clear-cut chances were created. The 90-minute whistle blew and the game went into extra time and potentially penalties. Golden Goal was also played in this tournament meaning that the first team to score in extra time would win and go through to the final.

Just three minutes into extra time England squandered a glorious opportunity which would have seen them through to their first final since 1966 and it was Darren Anderton with the chance. A Steve McManaman pullback was just behind Anderton so had to adjust his body accordingly, making the chance more difficult. Anderton fired into the post from 6 yards out and the ball graciously fell into the hands of Köpke in the German goal.

England had a scare themselves, with the Germans having the ball in the back of the net with a Kuntz header from a corner. Everyone thought it was all over, that was it, that was England out of the tournament. But no, the referee had spotted a foul by Kuntz on Gareth Southgate. Nobody in the ground saw a reason to give a free-kick except the referee, keeping England in the game by the skin of their teeth.

The biggest chance of extra time fell to England’s star man, their golden boy, the controversial but brilliant, Paul Gascoigne. The move started off with Gazza winning the ball back in the midfield, the ball found its way to Teddy Sheringham who played an incredible cross-field pass to his strike partner Shearer on the right-hand side, he volleyed the ball across the face of goal, bobbling past Köpke and Gascoigne found himself at the back post completely free. As the ball came across him, he made a desperate slide towards the ball as any sort of contact would have seen the ball fly into the net however, it just trickled past his left boot, illuding him and the rest of the country of a European Championship final. Gascoigne was so unlucky; he was a studs length away from being the hero. ‘If he’d have had size 9 boots on instead on 8 and a half, he’d have scored’ was the message on commentary, he was seriously that close, it was a matter of millimetres.

A few smaller chances fell to both sides throughout the rest of extra time, with McManaman coming closest for England and Paul Ince having to head off the line at the other end to keep the scores at deadlock. PENALTIES!

Shearer steps up for England – he fires it in the top right corner. 1-0.

Hassler was up first for Germany and placed the ball into the bottom corner, Seaman guessed the right way but had no chance. 1-1

Platt, Pearce, Gascoigne and Sheringham all followed suit but converting their penalties but the Germans were ruthless and right on England’s tails, also converting their first 5 spot-kicks in relentless fashion, making the score 5-5. Sudden death!

England’s first five regular takers were all assured, confident and never really looked like missing, the same cannot be said for England’s sixth taker, current England manager, Gareth Southgate. Unlike the others, he rushed and hurried his run-up and to the despair of over 100,000 inside Wembley and millions watching at home, placed a very tame penalty to the right of Köpke who smothered the ball with ease, Germany was on the brink.

Germany’s fate landed in the hands of captain Andreas Möller, if he converted Germany would be in the final and England would go crashing out. He stepped up to the spot oozing with confidence, smashed the ball down the centre of the goal while David Seaman dived away to his right and with that England’s dream of bringing football home was over, just like that.

For those few weeks in June 1996, football was everything for an Englishman, the beautiful game had recaptured the minds and spirits of an entire nation and when Möller converted, it broke hearts, it crushed dreams. The Germans would go and win the final against the Czechs with an Oliver Bierhoff golden goal.

England couldn’t bring football home in that fateful Summer of ‘96 but now in the present day, England face Denmark for a place in the European Championships final with a chance to right the wrongs of the 26th of June 1996.

Written by James Sadler

The Hex Blog

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