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England's Euro 96 best XI? The team that demolished the Dutch

15:25 BST 20/05/2020
Paul Gascoigne England
Three Lions dismantled the Oranje piece by piece, but it ended up being their tournament highlight as things slowly unravelled in the knockout stage

When England took to the field at the old Wembley to play the Netherlands in the final group game of Euro 96, they only needed a draw to go through to the quarter-finals.

Up against a Dutch team which drew heavily from the Ajax side that had won the Champions League in 1995 and reached the final in 1996, the Three Lions were expected to have a real challenge on their hands.

Players such as Clarence Seedorf and Dennis Bergkamp bolstered the formidable Ajax core, with the young Jordi Cruyff - who had been courted by Spain - also in the squad after impressing at Barcelona.

However, Terry Venables figured out a way for England to win - and win well. Ronald de Boer called it one of the most embarrassing defeats he'd ever endured in football and it was described by The Independent as 'England's Night of Rapture'.

Goal takes a look back at a game which filled a nation full of joy and gave them confidence that they might end "30 years of hurt".

Netherlands 1-4 England | June 18, 1996 | Euro 96


England: Alan Shearer 23' (pen), 57', Teddy Sheringham 51', 62'
Netherlands: Patrick Kluivert 78'


Netherlands XI (3-4-3): Van der Sar; Bogarde, Blind, Reiziger; Witschge, Seedorf, Winter, R. De Boer; Hoekstra, Bergkamp, Cruyff.
Subs: De Kock for Witschge, Kluivert for Hoekstra, Cocu for R. de Boer.

England XI (4-4-2): Seaman; Pearce, Adams, Southgate, G. Neville; McManaman, Gascoigne, Ince, Anderton; Shearer, Sheringham.
Subs: Platt for Ince, Barmby for Shearer, Fowler for Sheringham.

Netherlands 1-4 England: The game

England lined up for the game against the Dutch just as they did for the first two games against Switzerland and Scotland, but Venables deployed a few canny tactical tweaks which helped to seal victory.

With Guus Hiddink favouring an expansive 3-4-3 with wingers pushing on, England's full-backs - Stuart Pearce and Gary Neville - would sit back somewhat to stifle the threat, while Gareth Southgate was tasked with man-marking the dangerman Dennis Bergkamp in the middle.

The idea was to remain as tight as possible defensively and then spring into life on the counter-attack, where the likes of Steve McManaman and Darren Anderton would press high to support Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham.

After soaking up some early pressure, England eventually got their rewards, when Anderton laid the ball off to the galloping Paul Ince, who was hacked down in the box by Danny Blind. Shearer scored in the first two matches and continued the habit as he stepped up to fire England ahead from the spot, burying his penalty kick into the bottom left corner, well beyond Edwin van der Sar's considerable reach.

Conceding mid-way through the second half was a blow to the Dutch and it took the wind out of their sails, though they continued to create opportunities, winning eight corners in the first half, while Bergkamp was brilliantly denied by Seaman just before the break. The half-time interval granted the Three Lions welcome reprieve and they were, once again, quicker out of the blocks after the restart.

Just five minutes had elapsed when Sheringham managed to hold off the attention of Aron Winter to nod Paul Gascoigne's looping corner kick into the back of the net. The goal gave England a tremendous lift and the Dutch barely responded as Shearer added a third just five minutes later in what has gone down in Three Lions lore as one of the best tournament goals scored by the team.

The technical ingenuity of McManaman, Gascoigne and Sheringham combined to release Shearer through one on one with Van der Sar and he blasted the ball high into the net to send England cruising towards the last eight of the competition. Five minutes after that Sheringham pounced on a Van der Sar parry to make it 4-0. The flood gates had opened.

With Scotland leading 1-0 against the Swiss in the other group match, the Netherlands were facing into a shock elimination due to the negative goal difference brought on by the beating, but substitute Patrick Kluivert pulled one back with just over 10 minutes remaining and it was a crucial consolation goal as they qualified, but only just.

Football coming home or false dawn?

The England team that beat the Dutch so convincingly on June 18, 1996 was subsequently heralded as the greatest in generations and hopes were high that they would go on to bring football home by winning a major international tournament.

At the end of the game, ITV commentator Brian Moore noted: "I cannot remember a better all-round England team performance than this. They're all in it together and they've made the Dutch look ordinary."

Indeed, there was no shortage of lion-hearted leaders, with Tony Adams and Pearce marshalling the backline, while box-to-box midfielder Ince - excelling in Serie A for Inter - added steel in the middle to complement Gazza's prodigious technical grace. Shearer was fast becoming - if not already - the best striker in world football, ably aided by his willing wing-man Sheringham.

As it turned out, however, that game would be the high point of the tournament for England as they struggled past Spain on penalties in the quarter-final before losing out on penalties to eventual champions Germany in the semi-final.

Venables made a big tactical change for the semi-final against Germany, departing from the 4-4-2 system that had served him well against the Netherlands in favour of a 3-5-2 system with Platt and Ince together in the midfield. Rather than allowing for a swashbuckling style that triumphed against the Dutch, it resulted in stalemate.

Nevertheless, despite the heartache of losing on penalties to their arch-rivals, the 4-1 win at Wembley still stands out in the memory of those who played it, though it will ultimately form the basis of a great 'what if?' conversation.

“It must be the highlight of my footballing life,” Sheringham later said in an interview with FourFourTwo magazine.

"Everyone talks to me about 1999, winning the Treble, but for me it’s playing for England at Wembley, in a major competition, beating Holland 4-1 the way we did, scoring two goals and being made man of the match. It doesn’t get much better than that."

In the aftermath of the game, Venables declared that he could now "sleep easily" and perhaps the elation of winning so emphatically against one of the tournament favourites lulled the England boss and his players into a false sense of security - as if the hard work had been done, when it had not.