The English were excited to host the 1996 European Championship 30 years after hosting the World Cup. Back then they had taken the title, so now hope were high that England had the chance of a repeat. The official anthem of the English national team was a song called “Football's coming home”, underlining the high expectations to the English side.
England had a mixed record in the 1990s. After reaching the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup, they had been eliminated in the first round of Euro 1992 and had failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the USA. After such a debacle Terry Venables had taken over as manager. England's layers were all drawn from the English league, with the exception of Paul Ince, from Inter Milan, and the controversial and super-talented Paul Gascoigne, who at the time was playing in Glasgow Rangers. Gascoigne's talent had brought him to many clubs, but his controversial personality and heavy drinking had caused him much criticism. In the second game of the tournament he scored a memorable goal against Scotland, and celebrated it by pretending to be drinking, in order to get back at his many critics.
The English side was captained by Arsenal's experienced defender Tony Adams, and with Nottingham Forest's Stuart Pearce and Aston Villa's Neville Southgate in defense, in front of Arsenal's David Seaman in goal. Gaiscoigne, Paul Ince, Arsenal's veteran David Platt and Liverpool's Steve McManaman made for a qualified midfield, Tottenham's Teddy Sheringham and Blackburn's Alan Shearer were Venable's preferences up front.
England opened the tournament with a disappointing 1-1 draw with Switzerland, but a 2-0 win against Scotland and a 4-1 trashing of the mighty Netherlands returned optimism to the English. In the quarterfinals England had to resort to a home referee (Spain had one clear penalty call and two goals disallowed for offside, one of them controversially) and penalty kicks to defeat Spain.
The echoes of history were all over when it became clear that England would be facing their eternal arch-rivals of Germany in the semi-final at Wembley, same place where they had defeated them in the World Cup final of 1966.
After winning the 1990 World Cup Germany had been full of confidence, if not to say arrogance, about the prospects for German dominance in the football world. But this had soon been shattered when they sensationally lost the Euro 1992 final to Denmark, and in the 1994 World Cup Germany had been eliminated by a strong Bulgarian side in the quarterfinals. For the qualification for this European Championship they had gotten some revenge as they had won their group ahead of Bulgaria.
Berti Vogts continued to coach a team captained by the Bayern Munich striker Jurgen Klinsmann. The veteran Lothar Matthaus had not been called up due to feuding with Vogts, but the team still had a wide base of experienced players coming mostly from the two dominant German clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Matthias Sammer from Borussia Dortmund had taken over the role of the dominant midfield-player alongside Andreas Moller, also from Dortmund, and the veteran Thomas Hassler from Karlsruher SC. Bayern Munich's Mehmet Scholl, Christian Ziege and Mario Bassler complemented a strong midfield. In defense there were solid veterans like Borussia Dortmund's Jurgen Kohler and Stefan Reuter, as well as Bayern Munich's Thomas Helmer. Klinsmann was the undisputed striker, other choices were Udinese's Oliver Bierhoff, Besiktas Stefan Kuntz and Stuttgart's Fredi Bobic.
Surely Germany entered the tournament as title contenders, but doubt remained about the team's cohesion. But as had been seen in previous tournaments in history, German teams seemed to thrive more in the face of internal disagreement. In the first round of the tournament they had been in a difficult group with the Czech Republic, Russia and Italy. After defeating the first two countries 2-0 and 3-0 respectively, 0-0 against Italy was enough to put them in the quarterfinals, where they defeated Croatia 2-1. The Germans were surely as excited about the semi-final against England as the English were, hoping to get revenge for the defeat of 1966, which they felt very much had come thanks to an illegal goal.
The match was only three minutes on before the locals erupted in cheers. Shortly after Andreas Kopke had made a good save on a Paul Ince shot, Allan Shearer scored after Darren Anderton had flicked a corner kick at the first post, to leave Shearer to head the ball in.
But Germany was quick to react and in the 16th minute Andreas Moller played Thomas Helmer in the English area and his flat cross was reached first by Stefan Kuntz, who pushed the ball into 1-1.
England seemed to want the victory more and were denied a couple of good chances, even though both teams played with tactical discipline in the second half. The match ended 1-1 and would have to go into and extra time with a new “golden goal” rule where first goal would win the match. England, already fearful of a dreadful history of penalty shootouts tried pressing the Germans but without results. Still, Stefan Kuntz managed to score for Germany on a strong header after a corner-kick, but the goal was disallowed for an apparent foul in the area by an England-friendly referee.
But the match ended 1-1 and once again penalty kicks would be decisive. All England's memories were surely in 1990, when they lost a legendary World Cup semifinal by penalty kicks to the later World Champions of West Germany.
History repeated itself, but it was an agonizing penalty shootout. Both teams scored on their first five shots, until Gareth Southgate's weak sixth shot was saved by Kopke, and Andreas Moller scored on the following shot to put Germany in the final.
Germany went on to win the final in Wembley agains the Czech Republic, get a small revenge for the famous 1966 World Cup defeat in that same stadium. For the English it was a bitter defeat to their arch-rivals, losing for yet another semifinal. Gary Lineker's famous quote just rang more true to English fans: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win”.
Referee: Sandor Puhl, Hungary
Penalty Kicks: England-Germany 5-6
England: David Seaman; Stuart Pearce, Paul Ince, Tony Adams (c), Gareth Southgate, David Platt, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Darren Anderton, Steven McManaman. Coach: Terry Venables
Germany: Andreas Kopke; Stefan Reuter, Steffen Freund (Thomas Strunz, 118), Thomas Helmer (Marco Bode, 110), Matthias Sammer, Andreas Moller (c), Mehmet Scholl (Thomas Hassler, 77), Steffan Kuntz, Markus Babbel, Christian Ziege, Dieter Elits. Coach: Berti Vogts
1-0 Alan Shearer (3)
1-1 Stefan Kuntz (16)
1-0 Alan Shearer
1-1 Thomas Hassler
2-1 David Platt
2-2 Thomas Strunz
3-2 Stuart Pearce
3-3 Stefan Reuter
4-3 Paul Gascoigne
4-4 Christian Ziege
5-4 Teddy Sheringham
5-5 Stefan Kuntz
Gareth Southgate missed for England
5-6 Andreas Moller