In the event, Scotland suffered another heroic failure while England look forward to a Wembley quarter-final on Saturday. They will relish it more than Spain, their opponents. The Dutch go to Anfield to meet France.
England's performance was certainly the finest since the halcyon days of Italia '90. It may even be the best since the days of Sir Alf Ramsey, though Bobby Robson could point to the 1986 World Cup win over Po- land and a 4-1 win in Yugoslavia that earned European Champ- ionship qualification a year later. England outplayed the Dutch in every area of the game and were four goals up in barely an hour. The only blot on the night was a second booking for Paul Ince which will keep him out of the quarter-final.
So surprising was the result Ladbrokes had not even put it on the coupon. Even so, they were not so impressed as to install England as favourites; Germany remain the bookies' tip. That is a fair judgement. England have improved spectacularly since their stumbling draw with Switzerland but, as coach and players said last night, they must not get carried away. Last night's match was in the balance until Teddy Sheringham scored the second goal five minutes after the break. It was only then it became a rout - the Netherlands heaviest defeat for more than 20 years.
Both Sheringham and Alan Shearer scored twice. Shearer is now the top scorer in Euro 96 with four goals and the way he took last night's double showed his confidence is high. Shering- ham's pair were his first of the competition, and they were a welcome return to form. Some pundits (including this one) had suggested replacing Sheringham with Nick Barmby. Terry Venables preferred to keep a settled side. After retaining a team just once in 18 warm-up games, he has now selected the same XI three times.
The key player, as on Saturday against Scotland, was Steve McManaman. Starting on the right, where he had finished against Scotland, he set the mood, running at the Dutch defence from the start. As early as the first minute he had dispossessed Jordi Cruyff and freed Shearer on the right. The cross was swallowed by Edwin van der Sar, who immediately launched a counter-attack which was only halted when Ince fouled Dennis Bergkamp. The free-kick, from Richard Witschge, was wasted but the tone of the evening had been established. Five minutes later England almost went ahead as Shearer met an Anderton corner with a low drive. It arrowed towards the near post but his erstwhile - if brief - Blackburn team-mate Witschge kicked it off the line.
There was bite as well as enterprise in the vibrant start, Aron Winter being cautioned for a tackle on Anderton after 18 minutes. His captain joined him in the book three minutes later but the context was far more significant. McManaman broke on to Sheringham's pass down the right only to find, as is often the case when David Platt is not playing, that no one was up with him. Once the Liverpool winger would have tried to beat one man too many, or attempted a wasteful shot. No longer. This time he waited and, when Ince arrived, slipped a neat pass to him. The midfielder took it in his stride, flicking it past Danny Bli- nd into the box. But as he made to follow, the Ajax man stuck out a leg and brought him down.
Up stepped Shearer, brimming with confidence. Unlike Gary McAllister's on Saturday, the penalty was never in doubt, even though the 6ft 5in goalkeeper dived the right way. The Dutch responded with both Winter, with a header, and Berg- kamp, with a volley, going close from corners. Bergkamp will long be reminded at Highbury of an incident five minutes from the break. Capitalising on a missed header by Gareth Southgate, he advanced on Seaman only to be denied by a superb one-handed save.
England survived to prosper. Five minutes after the break, Paul Gascoigne floated a deep corner from the left and Sheringham, losing his marker ,Winter, headed it inside the far post. In reply, Clarence Seedorf swer- ved a shot through a crowd of players which Seaman did well to read. No matter. Eight minutes later England scored again. Measured passes took England to the Dutch box, whereupon Gascoigne burst into it. He drew two defenders then slipped a pass to Sheringham, who shaped to shoot then found Shearer. The dummy was so effective even Shearer, momentarily, bought it. He recovered to drill in the ball.
Wembley exploded anew three minutes later as England scored a fourth. McManaman's shot was deflected, Van der Sar spilled it, and Sheringham followed up. The Dutch were in disarray - Bergkamp, finding himself at right-back, was book- ed for fouling McManaman. He then shot over from six yards. Finally, they rescued themselves as Kluivert ran on to Bergkamp's pass and slipped the ball through Seaman's legs. It was enough for the Dutch to survive, but when they dream of Wembley, it will be with a shudder.
Ken Jones, page 12
ENGLAND (4-4-1-1): Seaman (Arsenal); G Neville (Manchester United), Adams (Arsenal), Southgate (Aston Villa), Pearce (Nottingham Forest); McManaman (Liverpool), Gascoigne (Rangers), Ince (Internazionale), Anderton (Tottenham); Sheringham (Tottenham Hotspur); Shearer (Blackburn Rovers). Substitutes: Platt (Arsenal) for Ince, 68; Barmby (Middlesbrough) for Shearer, 76, Fowler (Liverpool) for Sheringham, 76.
England statistics: Bookings: Sheringham, Ince, Southgate. Free-kicks conceded: 16. Goal attempts: 10. On target: 8. Corners: 3. Caught offside: 1.
NETHERLANDS (3-3-1-3): Van der Sar (Ajax); Reiziger (Ajax), Blind (Ajax), Bogarde (Ajax); Winter (Internazionale), Seedorf (Sampdoria), Witschge (Ajax); R de Boer (Ajax); Cruyff (Barcelona), Bergkamp (Arsenal), Hoekstra (Ajax). Substitutes: De Kock (Roda JC Kerkrade) for Witschge, h-t; Kluivert (Ajax) for R de Boer, 73; Cocu (PSV Eindhoven) for Hoekstra, 77.
Netherlands statistics: Bookings: Winter, Blind, Bergkamp. Free-kicks conceded: 11. Goal attempts: 15. On target: 4. Corners: 11. Caught offside: 1.
Referee: G Grabher (Austria). Man of the match: Shearer.