England show nerves of steel

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The Independent Online
In case you didn't know, in case you didn't hear the roar from Wembley at 5.38pm or the chants of "Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land" that rang out late into the night from Dover to Carlisle, England won.

In the most dramatic and nerve-wracking fashion imaginable, they went through to the semi-finals of Euro 96 by beating Spain in a penalty shoot- out. After 90 minutes of ordinary time and 30 of extra time failed to produce a single goal, the shoot-out ended 4-2 to England.

In the event, after all the gaudy hype, the new spirit in the England side produced by last week's 4-1 defeat of Holland was scarcely allowed to show. The Spaniards had the edge in terms of chances, but they lacked the killer touch in front of goal, and if it was the England attack that shone last Tuesday, yesterday it was the defence.

Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham - two-goal heroes in that victory - both missed chances. But the defence stood solid, with Stuart Pearce outstanding, and more than one Spanish striker found the ball whipped from his feet in the very act of shooting.

For Pearce, it was a day to lay a ghost. In 1990 his penalty miss against West Germany helped see England out of the World Cup. When he stepped up yesterday - at his own insistence - to take England's third penalty, most of the 75,000 crowd knew this all too well.

Shearer had put his away safely. Fernando Hierro hit the crossbar. David Platt scored. Guillermo Amor scored. Then Pearce put the ball on the spot, and a perfectly placed left foot drive lifted the burden of six years. His face suggested the exorcism of devils. It was left to Paul Gascoigne to score, and Seaman, whose tournament so far has been the stuff of dreams, to save from Miguel Angel Nadal. 4-2: England were through to face Germany or Croatia in the semi-final.

The result prompted mass hysteria in the stadium as the crowd began to party to the England song "Three Lions", whose composers, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, conducted from the royal box.

The day's other quarter-final also went to penalties: France and Holland were 0-0 after extra time, but the French went through after Bernard Lama saved from Clarence Seedorf.

Reports, pages 30 and 32