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
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software / Web Developer - ASP.NET

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company produces a wide ra...

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones