Throughout Euro 2016 we will be serialising Rob Fielder’s marvellously comprehensive book, The Complete History of the European Championship. The series will look at the 10 greatest matches in the tournament’s history, recalling the events around the games and many of the wonderful players who have graced the competition over the years. We began with Yugoslavia’s thrilling fightback against France in the semi-final of the 1960 European Nations’ Cup, and now it’s time for England’s victory against the Netherlands at Euro ’96…
ENGLAND – NETHERLANDS 4:1 (1:0)
Scorers: 1:0 Shearer 23, 2:0 Sheringham 51, 3:0 Shearer 57, 4:0 Sheringham 62, 4:1 Kluivert 78
18.06.1996 (19.30) London, Wembley Stadium, Att: 76,798
ENG: Seaman; Gary Neville, Adams (c), Southgate, Pearce; Anderton, Ince (Platt 68), Gascoigne, McManaman; Sheringham (Fowler 77), Shearer (Barmby 76)
NED: Van der Sar; Reiziger, Blind (c), Bogarde; Ronald de Boer (Kluivert 71), Winter, Seedorf, Richard Witschge (De Kock HT); Cruijff, Bergkamp, Hoekstra (Cocu 71)
Referee: Gerd Grabher (Austria)
After the turgid fare offered by England in the tournament opener against Switzerland (a 1-1 draw), victory over Scotland had changed the atmosphere in the host nation. David Seaman’s save from a Gary McAllister penalty had been followed by a moment of genius from Paul Gascoigne. Receiving a Darren Anderton pass in the inside-left channel, but seemingly well covered by Colin Hendry, he flipped the ball over his head with a most delightful touch, forcing Hendry to slip in shock as he attempted to compensate, before blasting past his Rangers colleague Andy Goram on the volley for an historic goal. Gascoigne’s celebration, lying on the floor with his arms outstretched while Teddy Sheringham squirted water in his mouth in mockery of the “Dentist’s Chair”, helped to put so many unwanted headlines behind the team.
Amid the euphoria that erupted in response to Gascoigne’s moment of magic there was still an air of caution around England. A poor record against the Netherlands, who had entered the tournament among the favourites, was accompanied by a feeling that somehow Gascoigne’s brilliance against Scotland might all have been for nothing. With both nations having taken four points from their opening two matches, they needed only one more to advance to the quarter-finals. As such it seemed to suit both sides to play out a draw here and take their chances in the next phase.
There was little in the early stages to suggest the managers, Terry Venables and Guus Hiddink, were following such a script. Both teams demonstrated drive and determination with an eagerness to build momentum in the tournament. The Dutch looked lively by the time the first big chance came along; an Anderton corner from the right picking out Alan Shearer whose shot was cleared off the line by Richard Witschge. The next England attack of note counted for more. Steve McManaman, playing with real confidence as he had against Switzerland, fed Paul Ince who displayed a deftness of touch not always associated with such a tigerish midfielder to backheel the ball past Danny Blind. The Dutch defender, not expecting a moment of such class and cleverness, was forced to bring Ince down. With two goals in two games Shearer was in the groove, and his penalty was taken with such emphatic power that Edwin van der Sar had no chance.
Before the interval the Dutch threatened to draw level, particularly through an Aron Winter header and a Dennis Bergkamp volley, but Seaman remained cool. For England, Teddy Sheringham saw a shot saved by the goalkeeper and questions raised before the game about his ability at international level might have grown more vocal had the Netherlands got back on level terms. Instead, after the break, the Spurs forward made his critics look foolish. First came a corner, swung in from Gascoigne on the left, which Sheringham directed superbly into the far corner while under pressure from Winter.
Then came the moment of the match as Gascoigne set off on a surging run and laid the ball back to Sheringham in a superb position. With everyone inside Wembley expecting him to put his laces through the ball, Sheringham displayed the quickness of mind for which he was so renowned, shaping to shoot and instead passing to Shearer who hammered it home. Five minutes later England were in dreamland as they made it 4-0. Anderton shot from 25-yards but the deflection off Blind wrong-footed the goalkeeper. His parry broke for Sheringham and when the England number 10 slid in to score it completed a dramatic 11-minute spell which had seen some sumptuous play.
At this point, with Scotland winning against Switzerland courtesy of a fine strike from Ally McCoist, the Dutch were on the brink of elimination. Chasing a goal to have any chance of salvaging something, Hiddink threw on Philipp Cocu and Patrick Kluivert in search of a breakthrough. England similarly made three changes (Platt, Barmby and Fowler all thrown into the fray), content in the knowledge that they were effectively into the next round.
Perhaps there was an air of over-confidence that allowed the Dutch an opening but they had made chances consistently throughout the game. This time Clarence Seedorf found Bergkamp with a pass that the Arsenal forward brought down majestically before slipping a superb ball through for Kluivert. As Seaman advanced, Kluivert, who was making a habit of delivering at important moments after netting the winner in the 1995 Champions League final for Ajax as well as both goals in the Netherlands’ play-off victory over Ireland at Anfield, shot between the keeper’s legs to pull one back. That ultimately was enough to eliminate Scotland and book a place in the last eight. England meanwhile could reflect on one of the best performances in their history.