Euphoria 96 for Pearce the brave

England come suddenly to life in sudden death as a penalty victim turns hero and a cool keeper has glory in his hands

Wembley Stadium has seen nothing like it since the Live Aid and Nelson Mandela concerts of a decade ago. David Seaman's save from Miguel Angel Nadal's penalty in the shoot-out provoked an instant mass party to the background of the song "Three Lions" that has become an alternative national anthem.

Amid all the celebrations, however, questions will have to be asked about the introduction for the first time in an international of the sudden- death element to extra time, and later, about the precise merit of England's win.

But one question that was emphatically answered was whether Stuart Pearce had the bottle to take part in another international shoot-out. Six years ago, in the sultry heat of Turin, England's World Cup semi-final against West Germany went to penalties, with Stuart Pearce being the first to miss, thereby opening the door to a German triumph.

With Chris Waddle also missing his kick, nobody was very likely to pillory Pearce - who would be brave enough to try? - but public pity can be an equal burden, not to mention whatever demons the full-back had bottled up as a consequence. So it was an act of astonishing bravery for Pearce to accept his coach's nomination for one of the kicks knowing that a second fateful miss would leave a terrible legacy.

In the event, after Alan Shearer and David Platt had comfortably tucked their shots away, and Fernando Hierro had hit the bar for the Spanish, Pearce was less pressurised than he might have been. Even so, there was a potent sense of tension as he placed the ball and then retreated for his run-up, and this time he was rewarded for his courage.

The powerful low shot, hammered by his anvil of a left foot zipped into the bottom corner, clear of any fateful deflection of the sort which German goalkeeper, Bodo Illgner, had produced in Turin. Pearce, usually a stoic celebrator of his goals, this time allowed himself a roar of exultation and a clench-fisted gesture as he rewrote a chapter of his professional career.

What will concern the England coach, Terry Venables, after the raw thrill of victory has subsided, will be how close to the edge his team came in a game which not only carried the natural pressures of cup football, but also the new torture of the prospective sudden-death goal in extra time.

It had seemed from the first half that the two well-matched teams were destined to fall into this experimental phase, almost as rabbits are lured into headlights. Indeed, the knowledge that this novelty was lurking seemed to colour a good deal of the match.

The fluency that England had generated to destroy the Dutch was largely absent, apart from a spell early in the second half, but here even the now-deadly Shearer spurned a close-range chance, as too did Darren Anderton and Teddy Sheringham.

Spain, who competed at every level throughout the game, were denied two goals by offside decisions, the second of which was the very epitome of what they term "hair-line". And they certainly finished the normal period of the game in full cry for another of the late goals which had enabled them to qualify from their group.

Indeed, Spain's performance - penalty-taking apart - gave the lie to all the knockabout stereotypes which some of our tabloids have been peddling in the run-up to this game. One can only imagine that, far from ridiculing the Spanish into timidity, this coverage actually inspired them into giving the most determined of performances yesterday.

England's supporters and their ringmasters may wish to consider the insidious counter-effects of gloating triumphalism if they wish their team to progress to the final next Sunday.

The repetitive playing of "Three Lions", and the exhibitionist displays of its composers, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, is in danger of overshadowing the efforts of the players, and you fear the worst if England have to entertain their expected visitors, Germany, in the semi-final this Wednesday.

Let us instead hear a little more about the "Five Lions", the four players who strode up in this cauldron to execute their successful penalties - Shearer, Platt, Pearce and Paul Gascoigne - and an extraordinary goalkeeper, David Seaman. It has gone past the stage of considering him to be a lucky goalie, such is the consistency not only of his all-round keeping, but also of his defiant ability to banish the goalkeeper's fear of the penalty. Seaman, in contrast, seems to thrive on them. And, just as Pearce laid his own personal ghost to rest, Seaman will now be able to hear the name Nayim without twitching.

England player-by-player assessment By Norman Fox

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor