The golden goalkeeper

Euro 96: Shearer, Platt, Pearce and Gascoigne spot-on in the shoot- out as Seaman saves day for England
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Spain 0 England 0

After extra time; England won 4-2 on penalties

Pens: Amor, Belsue Pens: Shearer, Platt, Pearce, Gascoigne

THE tension was almost unbearable, the drama agonising, but Euphoria 96 rolls on as England face a semi-final against Germany or Croatia at Wembley on Wednesday night. Failing to capitalise on the good times, but clinging on through the bad, they emphatically put an ordinary performance behind them when they held their nerve during a penalty shoot-out.

Again David Seaman was England's spot-kick saviour, as he had been against Scotland a week earlier, turning aside Miguel Angel Nadal's kick towards his left corner to seal England's somewhat fortuitous, hard-earned win. There was thanks and relief. The heart could take little more after the rigours of sudden-death extra time, which was used for the first time.

If victory looked looked slightly beyond them during most of regulation time, it was quickly within their grasp when penalties forced themselves upon us. Alan Shearer gave England a lead, an advantage reinforced when Fernando Hierro hit the crossbar with Spain's first kick. That Wembley woodwork had come to England's aid again.

There were unerring conversions from David Platt, Stuart Pearce - how sweet that must have been for him after he missed one in the same situation during the World Cup semi-final of 1990 - and Paul Gascoigne, with Guillermo Amor and Alberto Belsue responding for Spain before able Seaman thwarted Nadal. The shot was at a comfortable height but the save was testament to the goalkeeper's equable temperament and swift reflexes.

Elimination by penalty is always a crude curtailment for any team, but Spain were entitled to feel more hard done by than most, having outpassed England for much of the game and seen refereeing decisions go against them. "By and large we were superior," said the Spanish coach, Javier Clemente, who was also annoyed that Gascoigne had performed stretching exercises during his nation's anthem.

That was a small sign, along with the jeering of the anthem by a section of the crowd, of the distasteful disrespect that had preceded them into the game. According to one tabloid, Spain gave the world syphilis; but what they gave us yesterday was a display of disciplined defence and neat passing football that might well have brought them reward but for a questionable offside and a denied penalty.

One hopes that it might induce some humility in the English. Though properly lauded for their performance against Holland last Tuesday, England have a long way to go to become European Champions, even if the mood of the crowd seemed to insist it was a foregone conclusion.

The heroes of Holland - Shearer, Teddy Sheringham and Steve McManaman - only fitfully threatened a goal while Gascoigne was at his most maddeningly wasteful and Platt subdued into ineffectiveness. Gary Neville, who received his second yellow card of the tournament yesterday, will miss the semi- final.

The Spaniards initially seemed apprehensive and their instinct was to retreat. England began the brighter and within 30 seconds, Shearer had been tackled from behind by Abelardo, which yielded a yellow card.

Shearer soon almost exacted more personal revenge, latching on to Gascoigne's header and firing in a powerful left-footed drive that Andoni Zubizarreta did well to turn over the bar.

The Spaniards gradually began to relax as England exhausted their first wind, and revealed themselves again neat passers of the ball. Sergi shot into Seaman's side netting and Kiko, looking especially inventive around the penalty area, even had the ball in the net after being slipped through by Javier Manjaran, but he was clearly offside.

Julio Salinas was also ruled offside when turning home the influential Fernando Hierro's mishit shot, though television replays showed him level. Spain should anyway have been ahead at the break after Salinas split the defence with a ball to Manjaran, who was inevitably confronted by Seaman.

England were now looking laboured and careless with possession, as they often have in the first-half periods of this tournament. A set-piece had almost brought them some joy, Tony Adams forcing Zubizaretta into a tip over the bar with a header from Gascoigne's free-kick, but with Spain producing the more precise approach play, Venables had much to do again at half-time.

"We were below par in the first half but I made a change and we looked better in the second," he said afterwards. Indeed, with McManaman brought in from the right and the tempo quickened, England enjoyed their best spell of the match.

McManaman, after some clever dribbling, curled in a cross that Shearer just failed to reach and, more glaringly, Sheringham could only touch Darren Anderton's header from Neville's long throw straight to Zubizarreta. Anderton also shot across goal when well placed and a stretching Shearer turned Gascoigne's cross over the bar.

Immediately before, Adams robbed Jose Caminero in front of England's goal with Spain claiming a penalty. They might also have had one when Alfonso went down under Gascoigne's challenge, but was booked instead for diving. Clemente was urging his team to seek a winner and but for Gareth Southgate's splendid tackle on Kiko, he might have seen it.

Gascoigne forced Zubizarreta into a good save in extra time and Alfonso was through in the 119th minute only to be robbed at the death but otherwise for both teams the prospect of one mistake in an increasingly unnerving situation inhibited instead of encouraged.

Both teams seemed to prefer the prospect of penalties; England plainly relished them the more. "I'm not going to apologise for winning on penalties after losing a European Cup final with Barcelona like that," Venables said. El Tel's luck does seem to have turned.

Spain: Zubizarreta (Valencia); Alkorta (Real Madrid), Abelardo, Nadal (both Barcelona); Belsue (Real Zaragoza), Manjarin (Deportivo La Coruna), Amor (Barcelona), Hierro (Real Madrid), Sergi (Barcelona); Kiko (Atletico Madrid), Salinas (Sporting Gijon). Substitutes: Alfonso (Real Betis) for Salinas, h-t; Caminero (Atletico Madrid) for Manjarin, h-t; Lopez (Atletico Madrid) for Alkorta, 74. Booked: Abelardo, Belsue, Alfonso.

England: Seaman (Arsenal); G Neville (Manchester Utd), Adams (Arsenal), Southgate (Aston Villa), Pearce (Nottingham Forest); McManaman (Liverpool), Platt (Arsenal), Gascoigne (Rangers), Anderton; Sheringham (both Tottenham), Shearer (Blackburn). Substitutes: Barmby (Middlesbrough) for Anderton, 109; Fowler (Liverpool) for Sheringham, 109; Stone (Nottingham Forest) for McManaman, 109. Booked: G Neville.

Referee: M Batta (France).

Stan Hey, page 30

How England won the penalty prize

England Spain

Alan Shearer 1-0

Firm shot high to goalkeeper's right

David Platt 2-0

Placed medium-height shot to

keeper's left

Stuart Pearce 3-1

Fierce shot low to keeper's left

Paul Gascoigne 4-2

Guided the ball with precision low to

keeper's right

Fernando Hierro 1-0

Blasted the ball against the crossbar

Guillermo Amor 2-1

Started run-up, paused, then scored

low to keeper's right

Alberto Belsue 3-2

Placed low shot calmly to Seaman's left

Miguel Angel Nadal 4-2

Seaman saved at full stretch, diving to

his left