Euro 1996 was the first European Championship to introduce the current format of 16 countries competing in the final tournament. Fifteen teams had to go through a qualifying round to reach the final stage. That year England qualified automatically as hosts of the event.
The first round of group stages saw all the big teams qualify to the quarters as expected except Italy and defending champions Denmark. Hosts England, after a slow start put in some clinical performances along the way to set up a bitter rivalry match with Germany in the semi-finals.
In a semi-final clash with full crowd support, they would have backed themselves heavily for the title that year. Their campaign up till the Semis was simply carried by a wave of Patriotism and Passion ever since they beat the mighty Netherlands 4-1 in the group stage. That optimism and confidence took a hit however, when Germany, England’s vanquishers in an epic 1990 World Cup semi-finals, again stood between them and the major showpiece i.e. the Euro trophy.
With Germany’s attack in mind, England’s manager Terry Venables made a change from the team that beat Spain in quarters. Phil Neville gave way to Paul Ince returning from suspension, although taking up the place in midfield.
In their very first attack, within 2 minutes, Ince hit the ball on the volley from 25 yards out with the German goalkeeper Kopke, having to punch it over the bar. Soon an electric atmosphere was set at Wembley and all English faithful believed that they can pull off the win as Kopke was never good with catching the ball.
Just three minutes of play had elapsed before England scored the opening goal. Gascoigne took a corner-kick and placed it towards the near post. Adams was there, beating Ziege and Sammer in the air, and connected with the ball to knock it on to Shearer, who headed it through Kopke's legs for his 5th goal in the Championships.
|Alan Shearer scores for England|
Germany are always known for a tough fight. So a comeback was definitely on the cards and this epic clash was far from over. The Germans were not rattled after going behind and they quickly mounted attacks after attacks on the English defense led by Helmer. In typical German style of play, they dug in deep, and the passes became smoother and started keeping lot of possession like they always do.
The Germans saw the Centre and the Right wing as their attacking zones and the equalizer eventually did come. The Swift Helmer moved forward to give the ball to Moller who continued to make ground in the English half. Brushing off Gasciogne easily, Moller fed the ball to Helmer who had continued his run, who in turn crossed for Kuntz to finish the excellent attacking build up by putting the ball at the back of the net.
|Kuntz eqaulizes for Germany|
Sixteen minutes into the game. The Wembley Scoreboard read 1-1.
England players felt a huge dominant force constantly charging and coming at them, and it became harder for them to keep the scoreline as it is, leave aside scoring another goal. England did have their few chances here and there. Darren Anderton crossing from a pass from Platt, found Shearer, but the tournament's highest goalscorer put the ball over the crossbar. Sheringham also tried to put his country ahead but Reuter stopped his shot. But the play for the next 74 minutes of regular time was fairly dominated by Germany who had taken a strong hold on the game.
The combined shots on target for the two teams was only TWO. Corners were zero. The Statistics will not agree but this game was a blinder and was going to etch itself into the books of history.
Just three minutes into the first extra time and the game could have been won by England after McManaman drove the ball towards goal but Kopke saved. Next came the German’s chance when Helmer crossed to Kuntz (like the goal they scored) but the latter could not capitalise this time. It was a nerve jangling time and it got worse for the English when Kuntz headed the ball into the England net but the referee blew for a foul committed by scorer.
The Wembley Crowd almost gasped a sigh of relief with the referee’s decision. The last attack of the Extra time saw Gascoigne fail to convert from a cross and the game went into penalty shootout.
For the second time in 5 days, England were in the penalty shootouts and they hoped they would have the crowd behind them in this one too.
Shearer took the first penalty followed by Hassler, Platt, Strunz, Pearce, Reuter, Gascoigne, Ziege, Sheringham and Kuntz, all scored. That meant that all five penalties were slotted into the back of the net by both teams and still there wasn’t much to separate the two.
And then it came in sudden death. Gareth Southgate missed from the spot for England which gave Möller his seal a historic win for the Germans, and again beat the English.
|Gareth Southgate misses|
And he did just that!!! He calmly put the ball past the English custodian taking his team into the final.
The Defeat was cruel for sure but England had in no way disgraced themselves during this Championship. They had provided the nation with some excellent memories and left the competition only on penalties.