Six years on from a hot steamy night in Turin it came down to the agony of penalties once more. This time it was a warm, sticky night in north London but, once again, Germany were the victors.
The first 10 penalties were all successful. Then Gareth Southgate failed, but Andreas Moller did not. Germany now go on to meet the Czech Republic, who defeated France on penalties earlier in the afternoon, in the European Championship final on Sunday.
England are left to play the role of hosts. History, and the traditional love of the underdog, will ensure the Czechs get substantial support but there will be no great demand for tickets. The coach, Terry Venables, moves on, maybe to Porto, or simply to the courtroom, with his reputation at a high. He bequeaths to Glenn Hoddle a team rich in promise and suffused with self-belief.
It was a cruel way to end his reign and one spectator, more than any other, will know how Venables feels this morning. Watching from the Royal Box was Bobby Robson, whose England team lost to Germany on penalties in the World Cup semi-finals in 1990.
The parallels were uncanny. That night England, through Chris Waddle, had hit the post in extra time. Last night it was another Spurs winger, Darren Anderton, who struck the woodwork, two minutes into the extra period. If it had gone in England, under the "golden goal" ruling, would now be in the final. The Germans could point to a disallowed goal, headed in by Stefan Kuntz four minutes later. But Sandor Puhl, the referee, made few mistakes last night and he was probably correct in disallowing that one for pushing.
Kuntz it was who had earlier scored Germany's equaliser, after 16 minutes, Alan Shearer having put England ahead after just two. The match was all that could be asked of such an occasion. It would, as Stuart Pearce said afterwards, have "graced any final". It was always competitive, often enthralling, and marked with moments of high quality. The bulk of them came from England who dominated the second half and much of extra time. It was indicative that the outstanding player on the night was Dieter Eilts, Germany's defensive midfielder, who ended the night as an auxiliary centre-half after an injury to Thomas Helmer.
Helmer, Steffen Freund - who was also injured - and Jurgen Klinsmann - who did not play - are all doubtful for the final. With Moller and Stefan Reuter also missing - having been booked for the second time - Germany could be down to a dozen outfield players.
Both coaches fielded unexpected selections. Venables picked David Platt in a five-man midfield, leaving out Phil Neville and playing Southgate on the right of a three-man defence. It was his fourth position of the tournament. Berti Vogts opted to field one striker, Kuntz, and flood their midfield.
With so many players in that area the game could have stagnated. That it did not was due to the approach of both sides, notably England, and the early goal. It came from a corner earned by Ince with a rasping 25- yard drive which Andreas Kopke punched over. As Paul Gascoigne jogged up to take it, Shearer went to stand behind Teddy Sheringham and Markus Babbel was left marking both. As the corner dipped over Christian Ziege to Tony Adams, Shearer, then 16 yards out, began his move. Adams' flick- on carried the ball over Matthias Sammer and, arriving unchallenged, four yards out, was Shearer.
The rest was inevitable and the stadium - apart from one red, black and yellow segment - exploded with joy. "Three Lions" rang out and England charged into their opponents. A sterner referee might have booked Gascoigne as he clattered into Sammer - and Sheringham who risked a critical second yellow card with strong dissent. Puhl, however, understood the nature and importance of the occasion and made allowances. Bayern Munich's Mehmet Scholl, renewing Uefa Cup rivalry with Stuart Pearce, was similarly forgiven.
Barely 15 minutes had gone but it was already a better contest than the afternoon semi-final. Then it stepped up another gear as Germany equalised. Moller, under pressure from Gascoigne on the edge of the England area, squeezed a reverse pass to Helmer on the left. As Southgate appealed for offside the big centre-half turned sweetly and drove the ball across goal. First to react was Kuntz, sliding in ahead of Pearce at the far post to score. It was his first goal since 7 September 1994, the same day Shearer's infamous drought had started. This was Kuntz's 16th game since and his delight was evident.
England struggled to come to terms with the goal and, for a while, the Germans were in the ascendant. But England ended the half stronger and twice went close to scoring. In a move familiar to White Hart Lane regulars Anderton pulled a corner back to Sheringham who, having found space, drove first time for goal. But barring the way was Reuter who cleared off the line. Then, from an Anderton cross, Shearer headed just past the far post.
The second period was tighter, Ince and Helmer shot over and Gascoigne twice almost opened Germany up but, almost inevitably, the match went into extra time. In other games the "golden goal" has led to sterility but England roared forward and within two minutes McManaman had crossed from the byline and Anderton, under pressure from Kopke, hit the post. As Kopke turned, the rebound flew into his arms.
Seaman then tipped a Moller shot over, Kuntz had his goal disallowed and Gascoigne was inches away from toe-poking in a Shearer cross. Nerves frayed. Finally, after Ziege had gone close one last time there came the dreaded penalty-shoot-out.
Shearer, Platt, the courageous Pearce, Gascoigne and Sheringham all scored. So did their German counterparts. Then Southgate slid his too slow and too low to Kopke's right. The nation looked to Seaman again but he had no heroics left. Moller - who knew his final had already gone - stepped up and blasted the ball into the roof of the net.
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