A complete oral history of Euro 96 by those who experienced it firsthand: ‘There’s never been anything like it’

This is the story of Euro 96, England’s greatest summer of football, told here by sixteen people from eight different countries

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Thursday 09 July 2020 13:03 BST
Euro 96 holds a special place in the national sporting consciousness
Euro 96 holds a special place in the national sporting consciousness (Rex)
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At the peak of Euro 96, as England joyously swept the Netherlands away, Darren Anderton was struck by something else about the occasion.

It was one of those rare performances when a team were playing so well in a big game that he could actually stand back and savour it. The feel. The fans. The setting. The song.

“That half-hour will always stick with me,” Anderton tells The Independent.

“There’s usually so much pressure when you play for your country that you can’t take any of it in. Normally, you’re not 4-0 up in a European Championship game against Holland with 30 minutes to go. It was an amazing feeling. Under the lights, the emotion, the energy. The whole crowd singing ‘football’s coming home’. I definitely felt myself humming along to it during the game. It was like walking on clouds at that point. It was surreal. An amazing feeling.”

It was a rare competition in many other ways, too. The football wasn’t always spectacular but, crucially for any tournament’s legacy, Euro 96 had as many ‘moments’ and lasting memories than any since Italia 90. That is what stood out for many of the 16 people, from eight different countries, interviewed for this piece.

Euro 96 was a truly special tournament
Euro 96 was a truly special tournament (REX)

Many used another word: “special”.

That wasn’t just the English saying it either. Czech Republic and Croatia were playing their first ever tournaments as independent countries, and enjoyed national events of their own. Germany won. That raised one of a few dramatic ironies that only enriched England’s great summer of football. Perhaps the biggest irony was how it started: a long way from home, with the same old downbeat stories from off the pitch.

That is the start of the story of Euro 96, a story that Teddy Sheringham says “just escalated and escalated”. It is told here by those who experienced it.

Germany were the eventual, and perhaps inevitable, winners
Germany were the eventual, and perhaps inevitable, winners (Bongarts/Getty)

The interviewees

  • Darren Anderton, England
  • Oliver Bierhoff, Germany
  • Ronald de Boer, Netherlands
  • Jordi Cruyff, Netherlands
  • Barry Davies, BBC commentator
  • Marcel Desailly, France
  • Steffen Freund, Germany
  • Steve Howey, England
  • Stefan Kuntz, Germany
  • Alfonso Perez, Spain
  • David Seaman, England
  • Teddy Sheringham, England
  • Vladimir Smicer, Czech Republic
  • Igor Stimac, Croatia
  • Ramon Vega, Switzerland
  • Christian Ziege, Germany

Teething problems

England took a pre-tournament trip to China and Hong Kong, since Terry Venables wanted the squad to relax in a different environment. They relaxed a bit too much. On the flight over, a set-to involving Paul Gascoigne and a steward saw the pilot threaten to land the plane in Russia. During the trip, Gascoigne’s birthday culminated in the notorious ‘dentist’s chair’, where a player would lie back and have drinks poured into their mouths.

On the return flight, the hyperactive Gascoigne got what was for him a rare sleep. One player – Robbie Fowler claims Alan Shearer – woke him up with a slap, resulting in a commotion that caused £5,000 damage.

Anderton and Sheringham visit the Great Wall of China
Anderton and Sheringham visit the Great Wall of China (Getty)
Gascoigne meets the locals
Gascoigne meets the locals (Getty)
... and gets up to his usual antics
... and gets up to his usual antics (Getty)
Much to the disapproval of the red tops
Much to the disapproval of the red tops

Sheringham: We had a little bit of bad press beforehand.

The Sun front page: ‘DISGRACE-FOOL – look at Gazza… a drunk oaf with no pride’

Howey: Look, we went out. It was Gazza’s birthday and obviously we’d had a few drinks. We got lambasted. Some it was justified. Some of it absolutely not.

Anderton: There was a real negative vibe around everything. I was just thinking ‘oh my lord, this is shit!’

Vega: We saw it in the Swiss squad and were saying ‘wow, this is some preparation for the opening game, seeing the hosts getting drunk in Hong Kong’. We thought we may have a chance here.

Sheringham: We didn’t know how the supporters were going to take to us.

Davies: A lot of newspapers argued the players most involved should not be in the squad. That would have robbed us certainly of Gazza, probably Sheringham and one or two others.

Howey: Terry used it. ‘It’s us against them, we’re all in this together, let’s show everybody how strong we are.’ If anything, it helped.

Anderton: Even on the football side, there was talk Alan Shearer shouldn’t play because he hadn’t scored for 12 games for England. Ridiculous! Venables told him ‘you’re my number-nine, I back you, you’re the best goalscorer’.

Howey: Alan didn’t change. His attitude was the same.

Anderton: It was after that the enormity of it all started to sink in, and kind of blew you away. All the press attention, the training facilities.

Seaman: The group was tough, too. We were thinking ‘oh my God’. We had Scotland and Holland – who Terry thought were the standard.

Anderton: I remember, during one training session, [assistant manager] Don Howe suddenly asking ‘do you know what you’re about to be part of? Do you know what an opportunity this is?’ It made us start to think.

England start to throw it away…

Group A: England 1-1 Switzerland (Shearer 23; Turkyilmaz 83 pen)

The Independent's match report from Wembley

The opening ceremony at Wembley
The opening ceremony at Wembley (Getty)
The moments before
The moments before (Getty)
England take the lead...
England take the lead... (Getty)
... but Turkyilmaz strikes for Switzerland
... but Turkyilmaz strikes for Switzerland (REX)

Seaman: Getting to Wembley, I remember seeing knights on horses around the stadium, things like that.

Anderton: We didn’t get to see the whole opening ceremony, but you knew it was going on. It all felt different. The nerves were something I hadn’t experienced before.

Seaman: There was a lot of pressure opening the tournament.

Vega: It was a very special moment, playing in a game like that at a historic stadium like Wembley. A lot of pressure, of course, but even more pressure for England.

Sheringham: It was still an unbelievable occasion to be involved in, being the home nation, at Wembley, the noise from everyone getting behind us.

Vega: People might have thought the small Swiss team was easy. We had other thoughts.

Anderton: We actually started the game brilliantly.

Sheringham: We create a half-chance, and you know if Al got a half-chance, there’s no one better.

Seaman: All of a sudden, Alan shoots, 1-0.

Anderton: A brilliant goal.

Howey: Al was off and running.

Davies: That was a classic example of Terry Venables’ management, a pat on the back before the achievement.

Vega: Shearer was in his prime, the best striker in England. He was hard to play against. Him and Sheringham worked very well, the way they moved.

Sheringham: We didn’t have to work it out that much. Al was an intelligent player, an out-and-out goalscorer, our main man. It was just about moving myself around him, staying out of his way, and also making goals for him.

Vega: Marco Grassi might have scored before half-time. He hit the bar.

Anderton: The second half starts, the pitch is sticky, it’s boiling hot, there’s a few stray passes, the crowd get anxious. We get anxious. It was so tense.

Vega: We were still giving it a go, and trying. We surprised England with how well we actually played.

Seaman: There was a lot of pressure, and I think that was reflected in the performance.

Vega: They were at home, first game against little Switzerland… and it went the opposite way.

Anderton: I guess it was like Switzerland’s Euro 96 final to play against us, to be the spoilers. It happens a lot in international tournaments. We just didn’t expect it to happen to us.

Vega: I think the performance from England was average on the day. We went for it.

Anderton: The ball hit Stuart Pearce’s hand. It probably was a penalty.

Vega: Turkyilmaz scores, a great moment.

Anderton: It turned into a disaster. It probably culminated in the game passing us by.

Vega: England was close to an embarrassment. We could have won it late.

Anderton: I remember coming off and thinking ‘that’s the worst game I’ve ever played’. We were allowed go home and see our families on the Sunday, but I remember being sat there in the room with Teddy when we got back, asking ‘what happened? Who’s going to get dropped?’

Seaman: For a first game, you can understand it, but it put the pressure right on for Scotland.

Anderton: we had a meeting, and Terry backed the players.

Venables to the squad: ‘It happens, we lost our nerve. We should have been a bit mentally stronger, but you’ve got to blank all that out. It’s a tournament. It’s not about winning every game 3-0 or 4-0. We’re not getting carried away by the performance or the media or anything else. We stick together and go from here. I look around the room and I see a team that should go and win the tournament.’

Guests arrive, the party begins

Group A: Netherlands 0-0 Scotland

Group B: Spain 1-1 Bulgaria (Alfonso 74; Stoichkov 65 pen); Romania 0-1 France (Dugarry 25)

Group C: Germany 2-0 Czech Republic (Ziege 26, Moller 32); Italy 2-1 Russia (Casiragi 5, 52; Tsymbalar 21)

Group D: Denmark 1-1 Portugal (Laudrup 22; Sa Pinto 53); Turkey 0-1 Croatia (Vlaovic 86)

Scotland held the Netherlands to a draw
Scotland held the Netherlands to a draw (Getty)
The draw left Group A hanging in the balance
The draw left Group A hanging in the balance (REX)
Croatia’s win over Turkey was a bruising affair
Croatia’s win over Turkey was a bruising affair (Getty)

Stimac: As a generation, we grew up through very difficult times with the war going on in Croatia. We were waiting to be recognised as an independent country, so didn’t have the chance to participate in sporting competitions for four years. Euro 96 was massive for us, for our proud nation and our people who suffered for so long.

Smicer: It was the first time in history we represented only the Czech people, after the separation of Czechoslovakia. So we felt a little bit of pressure.

Bierhoff: Playing a tournament in England, the cradle of football no less, was something very special. The stadiums, the enthusiasm, the level of public attention. It all impressed us a lot.

Vega: Once you got into the stadiums, you could feel it. We were singing that fantastic song in the showers as a team within days, [starts singing] ‘It’s coming home!’

Alfonso: It was just fantastic.

Cruyff: I was rooming with Dennis Bergkamp, who was playing for Arsenal. He got me excited for English football.

Ziege: As Germany, you always feel pressure to win the trophy.

Freund: We didn’t see ourselves as top favourites, but we knew it would be very hard for any opponent to beat us. Berti Vogts left out Lothar Matthaus, which caused some negative headlines and comments in the media. It was my first international tournament, though. I was excited.

Smicer: We just had the feeling ‘don’t do something really, really bad’, because we had a difficult group, with two of the big favourites. A group of death. So we were real underdogs, and inexperienced. We felt we could lose all three games.

Stimac: We were going to England to win the tournament. We had great players – Davor Suker, Zvonimar Boban, Robert Prosinecki – and could play against the best with very exciting players.

Davies: The day after the England-Swiss match, I did Denmark-Portugal, which was no great game. I then went onto Newcastle and saw France beat Romania. Romania should have won. France had left out Eric Cantona and David Ginola despite wonderful seasons in England.

Fan banner at St James’ Park: ’No Cantona, no Ginola, no support’

Desailly: It was a new adventure for us, where we had to rebuild, and build experience. We missed the World Cup in the USA. The coach [Aime Jacquet] had to make some tough decisions, like leaving out Ginola and Cantona, but that was made easier by the emergence of Zidane. It was a time to think of the future.

Smicer: We had a good preparation, and thought we may have a chance against Germany. We had three or four players in the Bundesliga, like Patrick Berger. Germany might start slow, because it’s the start of the tournament. There is always a chance for outsiders.

Bierhoff: We hit the ground running.

Smicer: We conceded two goals in the first half an hour.

Ziege: I scored an early goal and we kind of flowed.

Smicer: We showed nothing, and didn’t feel good after that.

Stimac: That first game was the most difficult. Turkey was an unpleasant side, very physical. We knew being patient was important. Goran Vlaovic scored from a great counter-attack in the 85h minute, which released the pressure. Winning against Turkey gave us an extra confidence before facing actual European champions, Denmark.

Centuries of rivalry, 90 seconds of change

Group A: Scotland 0-2 England (Shearer 53, Gascoigne 79)

The Independent's match report from Wembley

England were the favourites to win at Wembley
England were the favourites to win at Wembley (Rex)
But Scotland were determined to poop the party
But Scotland were determined to poop the party (Rex)
Shearer gave the home side the lead
Shearer gave the home side the lead (Getty)
Before McAllister’s penalty was saved by Seaman
Before McAllister’s penalty was saved by Seaman (Getty)

Anderton: The vibe was tense, but exciting as well because it’s Scotland.

Seaman: It was the first time we’d played them in years.

Sheringham: It was really all about getting the result, all the more so as it was one of the home nations.

Howey: It was a beautiful day, the fans really emotionally involved.

Anderton: You know it’s going to be more like a Premier League game, but we knew it would suit us if it was a bit more of an international game. On paper, we had the better team and should beat Scotland nine times out of 10. As the week before proved, that doesn’t always happen.

Seaman: It was another tense first half.

Anderton: They played pretty well. We weren’t playing great.

Seaman: Shearer scores again, the goals are really flowing now.

Anderton: We were still trying to get our quality players like Jamie Redknapp on the ball to make things happen.

Davies: They had spurned a great chance at going level through Gordon Durie. That would have been a real tester for England.

Anderton: We’d had a warning.

Seaman: Durie came through, and it was a blatant penalty by Tony Adams.

Anderton: I’m thinking ‘it’s deja vu, a penalty again’

Sheringham: It would have been 1-1 again, exactly like Switzerland

Anderton: I was just thinking ‘we’re going to get battered again’

Sheringham: We were nervous

Seaman: If it’s 1-1, we’re right under pressure because we’ve only got two points from two games before Holland.

Howey: It’s a big moment, Gary McAllister stepping up, a good penalty taker.

Seaman: I had this little theory I used for penalties, that I always used to say was my special technique. It was all dictated by the way the player ran at the ball. I didn’t watch videos, because the good takers change their sides. But nearly ever penalty taker you see, they put their head down as they’re hitting the ball. That’s when I used to go.

Davies: The ball appeared to move.

Seaman: I guessed right, but because Gary hit it so hard, I didn’t have time to get my hand on it. So I just stuck my elbow on it. Luckily, it just flew straight over the crossbar.

Howey: We’re punching the air on the bench, but they’ve still got a corner.

Seaman: I got hold of the ball, and kick it out to one of the lads.

Howey: It all turns in a minute.

Sheringham: It was a long kick from David Seaman, I controlled it, laid it out to Darren Anderton. It was quite a nice move, a soft, flowing move.

Anderton: The ball’s come out to me, I’ve seen Gazza’s run.

Sheringham: Darren’s lofted a lovely floaty little ball into Gazza’s path.

Anderton: You can see it coming. Colin Hendry’s coming in and you’re thinking ‘go on then, flick it, flick it’

Sheringham: He’s flicked it up in the same flowing manner.

Anderton: He does it.

Sheringham: He struck it beautifully.

Anderton: It was just perfect. The goal of the tournament.

Howey: Absolutely ridiculous.

Anderton: You don’t want anyone else in that position to produce individual genius like that. And everything about it, where he was playing for Rangers, against Scotland and his teammates. And of course the celebration.

Howey: That’s iconic too, the dentist’s chair.

Sheringham: Of course it was set up. We knew he was going to do it.

Howey: It was a ‘fuck you’ to the reporters really.

Seaman: It was magic. But I’ve told him loads of times, it might have been better for me if it came later in the game. The crowd could have reflected on my save! He nicked all my glory! To be fair, they were together the real turning point in the game, and the tournament.

Genius from Gazza
Genius from Gazza (Getty)
The goal won England the game...
The goal won England the game... (Getty)
... and elevated Euro 96 to another level
... and elevated Euro 96 to another level (Getty)
An iconic celebration
An iconic celebration (Getty)

Anderton: Absolutely everything changed after that, the feel, the atmosphere, that weight of expectation lifted. You need that bit of luck that makes the whole crowd go ‘yeah, we’re with you’. That’s exactly what happened within that minute.

Seaman: It all transformed after that.

Davies: That was when it became a national event.

Anderton: After the game, the crowd stayed and were singing ‘football’s coming of home’, just enjoying it. That always stuck with me. They were with us. You could feel it.

Davies: The atmosphere changed completely.

Howey: We knew we had what it takes to go far, but this was the combination of everything. It just clicked.

After the old enemy, a new mood

Group A: Switzerland 0-2 Netherlands (Cruyff 66, Bergkamp 79)

Group B: Bulgaria 1-0 Romania (Stoichkov 3); France 1-1 Spain (Djorkaeff 48; Caminero 85)

Group C: Czech Republic 2-1 Italy (Nedved 5, Bejbl 35; Chiesa 18); Russia 0-3 Germany (Sammer 56, Klinsmann 77, 90)

Group D: Portugal 1-0 Turkey (Couto 66); Croatia 3-0 Denmark (Suker 54, 90, Boban 81)

McManaman relaxes with a copy of The Telegraph...
McManaman relaxes with a copy of The Telegraph... (Rex)
... while Gazza prefers a copy of Auto Trader
... while Gazza prefers a copy of Auto Trader (Rex)
Suker celebrates his goal against Denmark
Suker celebrates his goal against Denmark (Getty)

Anderton: The best thing about that summer was obviously the squad and the players we had then, just a different class set of lads. On the pitch, different characters who would moan at you, but it was about getting the best for us.

Howey: You couldn’t have a better group. That was shown with my own situation. Terry Venables told me to get ready for the Scotland game, only I tore my ankle ligaments going out for a bloody run. I was absolutely inconsolable but Terry told me ‘don’t be moping, come down, be a part of it’. I spoke to my parents and thought ‘this is once in a lifetime’. It meant I was involved, but not involved, so could see it all from both sides.

Seaman: It all just felt right with Terry as manager. He’d give you this confidence. He was a brilliant man-manager. He must have been to man-manage Gazza!

Howey: Gazza just doesn’t sit. he doesn’t rest. And he’s a pest. He could cause chaos in an empty house. He just went 24/7. He’d be up at 5am waiting for lads to wake up to be mischievous. He was on full blast constantly.

Seaman: We used to have a rota to baby-sit him. Terry would say to me ‘David, he’s getting hyper, take him fishing.’

Howey: We don’t know how he did it, but when we went training he managed – somehow – to get into players’ rooms and disrupt them.

Seaman: You had to treat him with kids’ gloves, but the player you get on the pitch is an absolute genius. That’s where he loved to be. That’s where that ridiculous energy went.

Howey: We stopped in Burnham Beeches in Slough, played table tennis, watched movies. Everybody had their own little thing, but everyone got on. It was craic amongst each other, and basically taking the piss a bit.

Anderton: We’d get together in the big room and watch the games on the projector. Teddy and Al would run a little book. The boys were basically trying to batter them.

Sheringham: Yeah, we had a little bit going on, to relieve the boredom.

Anderton: We certainly did take note of what was going on – and who was playing well.

Cruyff: Euro 96 was a good opportunity for myself personally, as I was leaving Barcelona. We played well against Switzerland and I scored.

Smicer: For the second game, Italy probably underestimated us a bit. The coach Arrigo Sacchi made seven changes from their 2-1 win over Russia, where they were impressive.

Sacchi, in his autobiography: I was thinking of USA 94, when we had nothing left by the final. I made an error.

Smicer: Some things went our way. Luigi Apolloni had a red card after 27 minutes, and Pavel Nedved scored the first goal after five minutes. These things give you confidence, We also knew we had to do something as, if we lost, we’d be out. Radek Bejbl made sure we won. It was everything. It changed the tournament for us.

Davies: One of the highlights for me was Davor Suker against Denmark.

Stimac: We knew we were going to enjoy our second game much more as Denmark was not like Turkey, a destructive side. They played attacking football, and it was a very open game.

Davies: Suker had scored from a penalty before Boban scored. As Denmark chased the game, Peter Schmeichel came forward, and Suker tried to beat him from all of 40 yards. Peter saved that, but not the next.

Stimac: We all knew what Davor was going to do.

Davies: With Schmeichel coming out again, Suker this time brought it forward and chipped him.

Stimac: He was one of those players that just produced special things.

Davies: A wonderful moment. Not for Peter.

England know they can play

Group A: Netherlands 1-4 England (Shearer 23 pen, 57, Sheringham 51, 62; Kluivert 78)

The Independent's match report from Wembley

England take the lead from the penalty spot
England take the lead from the penalty spot (Getty)
Shearer scored again in the second-half
Shearer scored again in the second-half (Getty)
Sheringham also scored twice
Sheringham also scored twice (Getty)
England’s belief grows stronger
England’s belief grows stronger (Getty)

Seaman: By that moment, for every game we’d go to from our hotel to Wembley, the route all the way down the M40 would be full. People would be stood out on the streets with flags and scarves, cheering us as the coach went past.

Anderton: It was something I’ve never seen before or since, magical.

Seaman: We’d get people following us in their cars, with flags hanging out the window.

Anderton: When we’d be five minutes away from Wembley, Al would put the song in to get the boys going. Three Lions. The lads just loved it. We absolutely loved the journey to the stadium.

Howey: When we’d be sat in the dressing room, you’d look around and go ‘bloody hell, he’s good, he’s good, he’s good’. There wasn’t a weak link in that squad.

Anderton: Going into the Holland game, we knew all we needed was a draw to go through, but we had a completely different mindset. There was no negativity at all. It was just ‘go out and play, toe to toe’, knowing on paper it would be the most difficult game in the group. It didn’t turn out that way.

Seaman: When we got together for friendly games for the two years before, Terry would make us watch videos of Holland, because he knew they were the standard to rise to.

Anderton: Holland were always a great team, who’d stopped us going to the World Cup in 1994. A lot of the boys were part of that campaign. That was a big thing for them.

Seaman: Holland were the ones.

Anderton: There were rumours about some in-fighting. That got a mention in the changing room before. ‘Let’s see what they’re made of, let’s get stuck into them’.

Cruyff: We had a difficult time, with a lot of internal issues in the squad.

De Boer: We were built on Ajax, and a lot of players were thinking about the next step, the future. Ajax wanted to keep them, and there was a salary grading they wanted to implement, A-B-C. Some guys thought they would be in A, but ended up in B.

Cruyff: It wasn’t really a team. It was good individuals, but off-pitch issues affected us.

Anderton: That was the opposite to the Switzerland game. Everything that could go right did go right. That belief from the Scotland game just shone through.

De Boer: When you go into a tournament, you do it as a group. I think the focus when you go into a tournament everyone has to be clear of mind, as a whole. We didn’t perform well.

Anderton: The first half was pretty open, especially once we got the penalty.

Seaman: Alan again.

Anderton: I remember defensively it was a struggle for me, going down what was their right.

Seaman: At 1-0, I had a one-on-one with Dennis Bergkamp. Dennis was clean through and I ended up saving it down to my left. I reminded him as soon as we got back to Arsenal.

Anderton: Me and Macca were wingers rather than wing-backs in that system. We were both fit as hell, could get up the pitch without any problem. We didn’t enjoy it as much defensively, and having players attack us one-on-one, but the idea was that we as a team would have more possession to use our attributes – which were of course going forward. That’s where Terry’s tactical nous shone through.

Seaman: I had a couple of bits to do, but I remember watching it going ‘oh my God it’s one’, ‘oh my God it’s two’…

Sheringham: I headed in the second. I was pleased to weigh in with a goal, and not just create.

De Boer: We were not able to turn that back. That belief and unity was not in our team at that time because of what happened as a group.

Anderton: Once we got that second goal, it was the best half of football I can remember playing for England. We were putting some great moves together.

Howey: Gazza dribbles through, and the ball comes to Teddy.

Davies: It’s a splendid disguised pass.

Sheringham: A pass like that comes in the moment. It was always the way I played the game, when someone was in a better position. If you make out to shoot, fix up the player and roll it to someone, they should score. So the percentages go up, and the fact I was rolling it to Alan Shearer…

Seaman: … ’oh my God, it’s three’…

Anderton: That team goal summed up everything Terry Venables had been working towards over two years; that sort of performance, that sort of passing. He was thrilled with it. That goal summed up how good that team could be, and was.

Davies: Absolutely wonderful.

Cruyff: In games like that, you need that extra yard for each other. That energy wasn’t there. It doesn’t gel.

Anderton: I had a shot that was saved.

Sheringham: I followed in…

Seaman: … ‘oh my God, it’s four.

De Boer: That game, England had a good strike force, every shot was a goal.

Seaman: It was just great football, and great for me to watch!

Anderton: That half-hour is something that will always stick with me in terms of emotion, the energy I felt. You could just run all day, couldn’t put a foot wrong.

Seaman: Dennis still had a bit of magic.

Sheringham: Kluivert’s goal knocked Scotland out.

Cruyff: In certain moments we got unlucky, but when you lose 4-1 there’s not a lot to argue about. We got hammered.

Davies: The best performance by an England team I’d ever seen. The Dutch didn’t play very well, but they weren’t allowed to play very well.

Howey: The feeling was ‘who have we got next? Bring it on.’ It was amazing.

The fairytale takes off

Group A: Scotland 1-0 Switzerland (McCoist 36)

Group B: France 3-1 Bulgaria (Blanc 21, Penev OG 63, Loko 90; Stoickhov 69) Romania 1-2 Spain (Raducioiu 29; Manjarin 11, Amor 84)

Group C: Italy 0-0 Germany; Russia 3-3 Czech Republic (Mostovoi 49, Tetradze 54, Beschastnykh 85; Suchoparek 5, Kuka 19, Smicer 88)

Group D: Croatia 0-3 Portugal (Figo 4, Joao Pinto 33, Domingos 82); Turkey 0-3 Denmark (Laudrup 50, 84, Nielsen 69)

All of the groups in some way went down to the last game, although the fact Croatia had already qualified helped give Portugal a facile 3-0 win, which eliminated Denmark.

Scotland’s victory over Switzerland was little more than a typical moral victory. Patrick Kluivert’s goal against England proved much more than a consolation, as it eliminated the Scots on goal difference.

Spain needed an 84th-minute Guillermo Amor winner against Romania to go through with France.

Group C, however, had all of that drama and more combined. With Czech Republic having beaten Italy, and both on three points, Sacchi’s side needed a better result to go ahead on points. The Czechs just needed to match Italy’s result. The night didn’t go so simply.

Scotland beat Switzerland in their final game...
Scotland beat Switzerland in their final game... (Rex)
... only to crash out on goals scored
... only to crash out on goals scored (Getty)
A draw with Russia sent the Czech Republic through (AFP )
A draw with Russia sent the Czech Republic through (AFP ) (AFP)

Smicer: After Italy, we finally started believing in ourselves. We were feeling like we’d already won our tournament, but we knew we had a chance to go through. Russia had lost both games, and we heard the dressing room was not going well. We believed Germany were capable of not losing to Italy.

Bierhoff: To finish that group as leaders was no small feat.

Smicer: Our game against Russia was one of the craziest of the tournament.

Sacchi: An epic confrontation… Germany had qualified. We had to win. There was no other recourse.

Smicer: We were winning 2-0 at half-time, controlling the game, and probably started to concentrate on what was happening at Old Trafford.

Bierhoff to Sacchi, mid-game: Wow, you’re playing so well.

Sacchi: We dominated.

Smicer: The bench heard Italy had a penalty.

Sacchi: Pierluigi Casiraghi pressured Matthias Sammer, and was taken down.

Smicer: Zola missed

Sacchi: He didn’t have that determination he should have had. It was a weak shot to the left of Koepke. The goalkeeper saved it without problems.

Smicer: We were not concentrating on the second half. We only needed a draw and were 2-0 up, so thought it was over. It wasn’t! Russia came out determined, and strong. They scored three goals. The last [by Vladimir Bestchastnykh] flew into the top corner with five minutes left. It was for us disaster.

Sacchi: We had a series of incredible attacks…

Smicer: We had to do something. We were going out if we lost and Germany drew, but Russia made a mistake two minutes before the final whistle…

Sacchi: Koepke had an incredible match.

Smicer: … Lubos Kubik gave me the ball at the edge of the box, coming high behind me, bouncing. I just hit it. I didn’t place it, just hit it. It went through the legs of the defender, so the keeper didn’t really see it. Goal.

Sacchi: The result just wouldn’t change. 0-0.

Smicer: I was so happy, my first goal for the Czech national team, and it was to qualify for the European Championship quarter-finals. It was enough. It was special for me, and to come at Anfield.

Bierhoff: Italy only managed to finish third.

The Italian press: ‘A disgrace’

Sacchi in his press conference: ‘Why? This isn’t a disaster. We played well.’

Smicer: We had a great celebration at our base in Preston after the Russia game, drinking until four o’clock in the morning. We felt like champions. We were not thinking about Portugal. We didn’t care. We’d qualified. This was a big dream for us, and we thought if we qualify from this group, anything is possible.

Big battle, greater redemption

Quarter-final: Spain 0-0 England (2-4 on penalties)

The Independent's match report from Wembley

England’s match against Spain was unbearably tense
England’s match against Spain was unbearably tense (Rex)
The goalkeepers shake hands
The goalkeepers shake hands (Bongarts)
Pearce’s redemption
Pearce’s redemption (Rex)
Seaman saves for England
Seaman saves for England (Getty)
The hosts are through to the final four
The hosts are through to the final four (Getty)

Anderton: It was a totally different type of tension now, as it was knock-out.

Sheringham: The possibility of penalties – and all that history – had been a big part of the build-up.

Alfonso: We had our own history, but we were confident.

Sheringham: It was a funny one. Terry – and remember this could have been his last game – knew their manager [Javier Clemente] very well from the Spanish league, and thought he might play one way. But he ended up playing another way [three at the back].

Alfonso: To play a big tournament game against England at Wembley, it’s a fantastic scenario.

Anderton: Spain were different class. A really good team. People forget that. I think they were probably the best team we played against. They played some really good football, and had spells in the game where we struggled to stay in it.

Alfonso: We played a great game, but lacked that little bit of luck.

Anderton: There were some heart-in-mouth moments.

Seaman: They had one goal that was offside, and one that wasn’t.

Davies: There was no doubt the Julio Salinas goal was a perfectly good goal. The linesman flagged, and the referee went with him.

Seaman: It’s easy to admit afterwards, but that should have counted.

Alfonso: If we’d had VAR, it would have been very different. But that’s what fate had for us. That’s football. These decisive moments are what settle football history.

Anderton: They didn’t get that bit of luck you need.

Sheringham: It just became a battle, of minds and workmanship. All over the pitch, all day. It was inevitable it was going to penalties.

Alfonso: A lottery. We wanted to win it in the 120 minutes.

Seaman: Hierro hit the first over.

Alfonso: Seaman was a great goalkeeper, and a big goalkeeper. He made the goal feel smaller.

Sheringham: The possibility of Stuart Pearce taking a penalty was also a big part of that build-up.

Seaman: I was obviously near the goal, concentrating on what I’m going to do, and then I see Stuart walking down for the third penalty. I’m like ‘why has he said yes?’

Anderton: I was a young lad watching Italia 90, and the heartbreak of Stuart and Chrissy Waddle missing. So to be there and watch him go up and take that penalty was pretty nerve-racking. God knows how he felt.

Howey: He knew the pain it caused him, and the country, of missing. So for him to have the bollocks to do that…

Seaman: He was a regular penalty-taker, and he would have felt he let the squad down if he hadn’t put his hand up – never mind Italia 90. When he started walking down, I’ve never wanted anyone to score more.

Anderton: We were willing him to score more than anyone.

Davies: It was a good one.

Sheringham: He scored.

Howey: It was just ‘wow’. It was absolutely electric.

Davies: He wrote in his book I’d exaggerated his reaction on scoring!

Seaman: Stuart was directly in front of me. He had a little pause and then shouted ‘come on!’ He was looking directly at me as he was shouting! I thought ‘I’d better do something about this. I’d better not let him down.’

Sheringham: We didn’t get to our fifth penalty.

Seaman: I used my theory, which was still a guess that allows you to save it either high or low with either arm. You very rarely save it with both arms. Having said that, that’s exactly what I did with [Miguel] Nadal’s.

Alfonso: We played against a very good team, but we deserved more.

The home strait

Quarter-final: France 0-0 Netherlands (5-4 on penalties)

Quarter-final: Germany 2-1 Croatia (Klinsman 20 pen, Sammer 59; Suker 51)

Quarter-final: Czech Republic 1-0 Portugal (Poborsky 53)

Semi-final: France 0-0 Czech Republic (5-6 on penalties)

France beat Holland on penalties
France beat Holland on penalties (Getty)
Germany edged out Croatia
Germany edged out Croatia (Getty)
Figo could not inspire Portugal to victory over the Czech Republic
Figo could not inspire Portugal to victory over the Czech Republic (Getty)
And the Czechs reached the final with a win over France
And the Czechs reached the final with a win over France (Getty)

Smicer: We knew we would be underdogs in every game, but had nothing to lose. Nobody was paying attention to us, we felt confidence, that we could do anything. It’s a cup competition, one-off games, so why not?

Desailly: We believed, and were determined to make a mark.

Ziege: You can lose one of these games in a second.

De Boer: We know the Dutch and penalties.

Desailly: I can still remember now when Laurent Blanc scored the penalty that put us through against Netherlands. It was amazing, no small thing for us.

Kuntz: We were picking up momentum, and made it further than in USA 94.

Freund: The game against Croatia was the most aggressive. They tried to impress on us with their physical appearance and hardness in the first half.

Stimac: We had a ‘man in black’ against us who favoured Germany so much.

Ziege: They tried to hurt us this way - but it didn't work out, as we know.

Freund: We could stand the pressure and took the lead. My mistake unnecessarily let Suker in to score. Fortunately for me, we had Matthias Sammer - the best player of the tournament. He was always there when things got tight, and scored the winner for a deserved 2-1 win.

Stimac: That was the worst refereeing I saw in my whole career.

Smicer: We were no longer surprised by our performances, but everyone was surprised by what Karel tried against Portugal.

Davies: Poborsky produced another moment of the tournament with that scoop.

Smicer: You never expected finishing like this. I played with Karel for Slavia Prague, where we got to the semi-finals of the 1995-96 Uefa Cup, so knew what he was capable of. A class player. He was in the form of his life, but he’s quiet, and wouldn’t talk about it that much. It didn’t surprise me he could do this, but I was amazed.

Desailly: We believed we could go to the final. We had a lot of confidence.

Smicer: We knew we were not good enough to control these games and dictate the tempo. We were playing against better teams, football-wise. So we didn’t play any spectacular football, to be honest. We just tried to defend, give everything, and hit teams on the break.

Desailly: The semi-final against Czech Republic was the opposite of the quarter-final for us.

Smicer: Even before the game against France, we said we wanted penalties. We knew it was our only chance to beat them. We had four or five players out through injuries or suspension, and were against Zidane, Djourkaeff and a really strong squad who two years after won the World Cup. We knew our history with penalties. Czechoslovakia had won Euro 76 on penalties with the Panenka. So it was ‘OK boys, don’t do anything stupid, be solid at the back.’

Desailly: It was a disappointing game.

Smicer: France didn’t play great football. They knew they had really good players and much more quality than us, but couldn’t find the key to be free in their game. There was too much pressure on them.

Desailly: It’s the painful reality of a shoot-out. [Reynald] Pedros missed his kick. It happens.

Smicer: We scored all our penalties.

Desailly: We had played Germany in a friendly before the Euros and had beaten them. That disappointment helped us kick on, but we were devastated.

Smicer: We watched the other semi-final afterwards, and wanted England to win. What a final that would be, to play England at Wembley. It would have been a great end to the story.

I know that was then, but it could be again

Semi-final: Germany 1-1 England (6-5 on penalties) (Shearer 3; Kuntz 16)

The Independent's match report from Wembley

The stage is set
The stage is set (Getty)
Germany prepare for kick-off
Germany prepare for kick-off (Getty)
Shearer gives England an early lead...
Shearer gives England an early lead... (Getty)
... but Kuntz quickly pulls one back
... but Kuntz quickly pulls one back (Rex)
Gascoigne goes desperately close to winning it late on
Gascoigne goes desperately close to winning it late on (Rex)

Davies: On the evening of semi-final day, Des Lynam – who was fronting for BBC of course, a first-class presenter – handed over to me in the commentary box way earlier than was usually the case. The reason was the sound of the stadium singing ‘Three Lions’. I basically just let the crowd take over.

Howey: You could feel the emotion.

Freund: I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like it.

Davies: It just quite extraordinary. Again it was Germany, again it was Wembley. There were many people who would have known what it was like in 1966. I was there. The atmosphere was so good.

Seaman: Some of it beforehand went a bit far.

Daily Mirror front page: ACHTUNG! SURRENDER – for you Fritz, ze Euro 96 Championship is over.

Southgate in the pre-match media: A lot of things written we don’t agree with. Some people have built it up to be more than a football match.

Kuntz: It was indescribable, the greatest moment of my generation – to play at the ‘old’ Wembley in the first place, even more so against England.

Bierhoff: We saw the German end filling up, too. That was another spur for us.

Anderton: We felt, without a doubt, we were the best team in the tournament at that point, and could beat anyone.

Howey: Everybody was full of confidence. Pound for pound, we thought we were better than them.

Anderton: Jurgen Klinsmann, who’d been a teammate of mine, wasn’t playing either. That’s going to affect any team.

Bierhoff: Throughout the tournament, we were dogged by major injuries. We were even granted permission to call up an extra player in Jens Todt. But it welded us closer together.

Anderton: We believed. Everything people had doubted us for, right from the start. We’d done it all. Even winning a penalty shoot-out.

Sheringham: And a fantastic start after two minutes, Tony Adams’s flick-on.

Seaman: Shearer again.

Anderton: Even scoring that first goal, it wasn’t like we got overly excited by it. It was just ‘this is what is meant to happen, we can get another, no problem’.

Sheringham: A quality they had was their work rate, and digging in.

Anderton: There was a lucky deflection that put Kuntz through.

Kuntz: I turned it in. Madness. All my football dreams come true.

Anderton: It began to develop into one of those games, back and forth. Again, one of those where you felt you could run all day. I gave Christian Ziege a bit of a run-around at times.

Sheringham: We went for it, started to play great football, the way we kept the ball.

Kuntz: Emotionally, one of the most intense games I’ve played.

Davies: When I’m asked which England match I enjoyed the most, I say that semi-final, in spite of what happened.

Anderton: Even playing in it, it felt like I was in classic football match, that would always be remembered. Like France-Germany 1982 or Italy-Brazil 1982, something special. One of those games you dream you’re involved in as a kid when smashing the ball against the neighbour’s fence in the back garden. That was the magnitude of it, and being part of it was huge.

Davies: As it turned out, the final was in the semi-final.

Freund: It was a physical and mental strain for everyone on the pitch.

Howey: We created so many chances, then it’s extra-time again.

Sheringham: It was tense and nervous, and made even more tense and nervous by the golden goal.

Anderton: We did everything but score. I hit the post.

Seaman: So close.

Sheringham: He’s just tried to clip it.

Seaman: I didn’t really have a lot to do, bar the odd moment.

Davies: Kuntz had a golden goal ruled out.

Seaman: Not sure why!

Anderton: Then Gazza has that chance.

Sheringham: I clipped a lovely ball in for Al, he hits it on the volley.

Davies: I can still see Gascoigne sliding in, just get your big toe on it.

Freund: I was only two metres away, and for a second, could see us on the plane back to Germany...

Anderton: Gazza just needed to change his studs.

Freund: The relief!

Anderton: Agony.

Davies: Gazza hesitated, but he said he thought the goalkeeper was going to get a touch that would change the position of the ball as it came to him. If the roles had been switched, and Gascoigne had crossed with Shearer on the receiving end, England would have got to the final.

Bierhoff: Germany were lucky!

Anderton: We deserved to win.

Howey: The lottery – again.

Southgate’s missed penalty handed Germany the initiative
Southgate’s missed penalty handed Germany the initiative (Getty)
The defender’s tame shot was easily saved
The defender’s tame shot was easily saved (Getty)
England were on the brink
England were on the brink (Getty)
Moller thumped home the winning penalty
Moller thumped home the winning penalty (Getty)
England were out
England were out (Rex)

Bierhoff: For any penalty shoot-out, you need a combination of quality, psychology and just plain good luck. That’s the beauty of it.

Howey: Like everything, the lads practiced and practiced and practiced. But it’s completely different. For some players it doesn’t affect them at all, some it affects more than others.

Seaman: So many of the penalties were perfect. Even for the ones I got right, I barely got a hand to. And our lads, under that pressure, were finding top corners or down the posts.

Kuntz: I wanted to take the fifth penalty, because I didn’t think England would convert so many! I was wrong.

Sheringham: I went up for our fifth, and it’s the most nervous I’ve ever been on a football pitch. Ever. I remember walking up, putting that ball on the spot and thinking ‘you’ve got to score this, there’s no way you can miss’.

Bierhoff: With every penalty that goes in, the pressure mounts for the next player stepping up.

Sheringham: I was then actually speaking to myself and saying ‘just put the ball exactly where you want it and he can’t save it. Just put it there with a bit of pace and you score.’ I put it exactly where I wanted it to go. When the ball hit the back of the net, it was just relief and ecstasy all at the same time.

Seaman: It’s 5-4 and I was thinking ‘I’ve got a right chance of becoming an even bigger hero here’.

Kuntz: I had to get my nerves under control and channel some other sort of emotion, which for me was anger. I thought of how my kids would be mocked at school the next day if their father missed the deciding penalty. So I banished my fear and gained the necessary focus.

Seaman: Another perfect penalty.

Davies: As Gareth stepped up for sudden death, I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t know the story about some discussion between Southgate and Ince to be number six and seven. I didn’t say it on air – it wasn’t my place – but I was worried.

Ziege: The only rule you have to follow is picking a corner early on, and not change the decision or start thinking about it. Otherwise, you have a problem. Obviously you need a certain mentality and a strong mind.

Howey: Gareth would have been nervous, but all the lads were nervous.

Davies: It’s saved and my immediate reaction was something everyone in the country would have said – ‘oh no’.

Seaman: Moller scores the winning penalty. It wasn’t to be.

Bierhoff: Germany were lucky… but deserving winners.

Anderton: Gareth was distraught, but he has such a good mentality, it wasn’t like he was bawling his eyes out. He was very level-headed, knows anyone can miss a penalty. It was a team full of people that wouldn’t blame anyone for missing a penalty. It’s just one of those things that happened.

Howey: Even though he did miss, he’d had an amazing tournament.

Bierhoff: I think we were just a little stronger mentally.

Anderton: I just never saw us losing the game. That was the whole thing. When it happened, it was just disbelief, I really didn’t know what to feel.

Seaman: I remember being out on the pitch, and just thinking ‘oh God, we’re out now’.

Anderton: Put it this way, you’re out of the hotel the next morning but your bags are not packed from when you left for the game, that’s for sure. It was at the time surreal, certainly a few tears.

Seaman: Then there’s the feeling of ‘well, we’ve given it a right good do’.

Anderton: We came back to the hotel and got applauded in, even though we got beat.

Davies: Amid all that, it was Terry’s last game, because the job had been taken off him.

Anderton: That was strange, especially for me, knowing what he’d done for me and the man he was.

Seaman: It could have been so different.

No plans for final day

Final: Czech Republic 1-2 Germany, golden goal (Berger 59 pen; Bierhoff 73, 95)

Berger gave the Czech Republic the lead
Berger gave the Czech Republic the lead (Getty)
But a late brace from Bierhoff won the tournament for Germany
But a late brace from Bierhoff won the tournament for Germany (Getty)
Queen Elizabeth presents Germany with the trophy
Queen Elizabeth presents Germany with the trophy (Getty)
The victors enjoy a lap of honour
The victors enjoy a lap of honour (Getty)

Smicer: As we went to Wembley, we knew what was going on back in Prague, in the Czech Republic. The fans went crazy. They were so happy. They couldn’t believe we were in the final, and in the most legendary stadium. Everyone wanted to go.

Kuntz: It was the biggest game of my footballing career.

Freund: We had hardly anyone left, through injuries. I accidentally suffered a cruciate ligament tear in a duel against Darren [Anderton] in the semi-final. It was a tough time for me, seriously injured with no chance to appear in the final.

Ziege: We felt excited, but nervous. It went as soon as the match started, but you need that feeling to be ready for these big games.

Smicer: We felt confident. We felt our destiny was to win the tournament. We’d got through the group, the Poborsky quarter-final goal, the penalties against France… We thought we would get revenge and be champions. When we lost 2-0 against Germany before, we were frightened of something. We were not free in our game. Now we moved without fear, a different team. We believed we would win, that we’d show them we are good enough. It works. Then the penalty after an hour. Berger scores.

Bierhoff: I had started on the bench and was dying to prove my worth. I had scored 17 goals for Udinese in Serie A that season and was on top of my game.

Smicer: Unfortunately, even when 1-0 down, they do something. They always do. They had Bierhoff off the bench. Bierhoff killed us. That was his game. He headed the equaliser.

Bierhoff: Golden goal again. The fact one good shot can be decisive is at the back of everyone’s mind.

Smicer: Momentum was against us now, and so was luck. Through the whole tournament, we’d been lucky many times, but against Germany…

Anderton: That’s what they do. They win games, they win tournaments. They find a way.

Smicer: The ball comes to Bierhoff at the edge of the box.

Bierhoff: When you’re so close to the goal at such a decisive stage of the match, you just give everything you’ve got to finish. It was a mixture of instinct, a good sense of orientation and single-mindedness.

Seaman: It was a goalkeeping mistake.

Bierhoff: I was over the moon.

Smicer: No chance to react. It killed us.

Bierhoff: The golden goal, a historic football moment that our team created for Germany.

Home truths

Wembley Stadium
Wembley Stadium (Getty)
The Adidas Questra
The Adidas Questra (Getty)
Euro 96 will never be forgotten
Euro 96 will never be forgotten (Rex)

Anderton: The whole thing about Euro 96 was so many great stories. That’s what made it.

Davies: I can’t believe we wouldn’t have beaten Czech Republic in the final.

Smicer: Of course we would have beaten England! Well, we believed we would have!

Anderton: I didn’t watch the final. I had a barbecue around my house with family and friends. A few watched it indoors. I kind of stayed away, and would walk in at times and have a little look, but no, definitely didn’t.

Seaman: I did watch it actually, and found it really weird.

Smicer: I think Germany deserved to win it because of their consistency, and quality of course. We know that with them. That’s why they always win – even in England’s tournament.

Freund: From our perspective, it was maybe "balancing justice" for 1966.

Ziege: I guess it will still hurt a lot of people in England when they think about Euro 96, but at the same time everyone should remember what a great tournament it was, with a fantastic semi-final, with the lucky end for us - sorry.

Smicer: We came back as winners at home, a great moment, a great homecoming. We gave everything, no regrets. It was special for us.

Bierhoff: The scenes of jubilation, the all-night party back in the team hotel – that’s something I’ll never forget. Even today, people I meet ask me about the ‘golden goal’.

Stimac: It was fantastic. Great stadiums, fans from everywhere, and that special feeling taking part in such a massive competition. It helped us go even further in France 98. Making your nation proud and bringing them joyful times was why Euro 96 was very important to us.

Cruyff: It was not a good Euros for us.

De Boer: Hiddink did learn from it, for 1998

Howey: It could have been perfect, but it was a moment of unity. It brought everyone together.

Seaman: The biggest thing was the English public loved the team again.

Davies: Even with Gareth, a nightmare for him turned out to give him the backbone he’s put into very good purpose as England manager. When the worst moment you’re ever going to have on a football pitch has already happened, it does give you perspective.

Sheringham: The euphoria around it all was amazing. So exciting. It was just something that was great to be part of.

Davies: It was, without any question, the best football tournament I was ever involved in.

Anderton: What a story it would have been had we won it. There’s regret, of course, but I’m always happy to talk about it as it brings back good memories. When I look back to that summer, it always brings a smile to my face. There’s never been anything like it.

Additional reporting by Melissa Reddy, Mark Critchley and Alex Pattle.

David Seaman was speaking on behalf of Harry’s Heroes.

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