Matchday 11 – Saturday, 22nd June 1996
SPAIN (0) 0
ENGLAND (0) 0
SPAIN: Zubizarreta; Nadal, Alkorta (Lopez), Abelardo; Belsue, Hierro, Amor, Manjarin (Caminero), Sergi; Kiko, Salinas (Alfonso)
ENGLAND: Seaman; G Neville, Adams, Southgate, Pearce; McManaman (Stone), Platt, Gascoigne, Anderton (Barmby); Shearer, Sheringham (Fowler)
ENGLAND: Shearer (scored), Platt (scored), Pearce (scored), Gascoigne (scored)
SPAIN: Hierro (missed), Amor (scored), Belsue (scored), Nadal (saved)
The competition was well and truly number one in the host country’s thoughts by now. After the sensational performance against the Dutch, this was the most eagerly awaited game in the country for 30 years. By now ‘that song’ was heard everywhere. The excitement was there for all to see.
“it’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming. Football’s coming home.
Three Lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming, thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming”
The England team finally clicked in the tournament for a whole game against the Netherlands, but just as we might have thought they’d cracked it, they were forced into a change. Paul Ince had possibly his best game for England last time out, but got booked and was suspended for this match. Venables plumped for David Platt, who’d come on as a sub against both Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Spain made three changes from the side that booked their place in the Quarter-Finals with a goal six minutes from time against Romania. Pizzi, Amavisca and Lopez were out. Belsue and Amor were both back in, having played the first game against Bulgaria. Amor it was, who scored that vital goal against Romania. Salinas was in for his first start, having only made a sub appearance against the French.
The atmosphere within Wembley was noisy, yet there was always an undercurrent of tension. A case of a crowd almost wanting to win a game too much. Alan Shearer, unsurprisingly, had the first shot on goal. He was on the left side of the area and a fierce shot was well saved by Zubizarreta.
Gradually Spain came into the game. Sergi came in from the left flank and fired a right-footed shot just wide of Seaman’s near post. England fans had begun the game believing there was no way their team could lose. Particularly against a Spanish side which had left it so late to qualify for this stage. But gradually you could sense the Spanish feed off the slight uncertainty in England’s play
This game seemed to encompass what had gone on before with England in this tournament, apart from the Dutch game. They created chances alright but every now and then their play was sloppy and let their opponents back in.
The crowd had a shock midway through the half when Gascoigne lost the ball in midfield and Kiko was played in. He turned the ball past Seaman only to see the linesman had raised his flag. Replays showed it was very, very close.
Within minutes England created another chance themselves. Gascoigne curled a free-kick from the left and Adams rose highest to head it, forcing Zubizarreta to stretch to tip it over.
This was how most of the game went. England in possession were confident and able to create things but every now and then the Spanish would pick them off. This only served to increase the tension. Then Spain had the ball in the net for a second time, and once again the officials came to England’s aid.
A slick passing move then gave Hierro a chance to shoot from long range. He miss-kicked it and it slid to Salinas who put the ball in the net. He was also adjudged offside and yet again the replays showed advantage could’ve been given to the attacker. Still no goals.
Manjarin was then sent clear but couldn’t keep his cool when Seaman came out of his area to close him down.
The first half ended goalless. Venables made no changes, but Clemente threw on Caminero and Alfonso for Salinas and Manjarin. Within a couple of minutes of the re-start, Gary Neville was booked for a lunge on Sergi. This meant he would miss the Semi-Final if England progressed. Alfonso then got booked too, for a theatrical dive.
England then had some of their best chances. A long throw on the right from Neville bounced all the way to the far post where Anderton nodded it back. Sheringham was free to hook it past the ‘keeper, but agonisingly it wouldn’t fall for him.
Neville was sent down the right. He cut back and played it to Shearer, whose cross found Anderton unmarked on the far side of the area. Anderton volleyed his shot but it went just wide.
Then, after a dramatic intervention from Adams to deny a chance for Spain, England countered with McManaman down the left. Gascoigne delivered the ball into the area where Shearer put the ball over when the goal was at his mercy. Drama at both ends.
No goals in 90 minutes and for the first time in an international tournament we had a new way of deciding knockout matches. The golden goal had been FIFA’s answer to the issue of trying to settle matches rather than the lottery of penalties. The rules were 30 minutes of extra time, but if either side scored during this period, they win. If neither side scored then penalties settle it.
As if the tension needed increasing.
First chance to England as Shearer played Gascoigne in on the right of the area. His shot was saved by Zubizarreta and cleared for a corner.
In the second period of extra time, Venables finally shuffled his pack. Fowler came on for Sheringham, with Stone and Barmby replacing the wide men, McManaman and Anderton.
Adams was now performing heroics at the back for the hosts. Where he’d mistimed a challenge against Gordon Durie earlier in the competition, he was pinpoint accurate against Kiko in this. Kiko, it was, who backheeled to put Alfonso in and it was Adams whose sliding challenge sent the ball bouncing wide.
But for all their efforts, neither side could break the stalemate and so penalties ensued. This was England’s first shoot-out since Turin 1990, and we all still remembered what happened that night.
One of the players from that night, Stuart Pearce, who’d missed their kick was now rousing the others to galvanise them towards victory.
Alan Shearer was up first for England, and as was customary he hit it with great confidence and power. England lead 1-0.
Spain’s great hope, Hierro, then stepped up. He hit his kick with as much power as Shearer but rattled it straight against the bar. Advantage England 1-0.
David Platt, who’d scored in Turin, sent his high and to the ‘keeper’s left and scored. England 2-0.
Barcelona’s Guillermo Amor was next for the visitors. He checked his run-up and rolled it to Seaman’s right. England now lead 2-1.
Now up stepped Pearce. He had to suffer the continual references to Turin for the past six years, and one wouldn’t have forgiven him for leaving it to others this time. But that wasn’t in Pearcey’s nature. He placed the ball on the spot, walked back, turned to look at the ‘keeper. Without waiting he ran up and thumped it to the ‘keeper’s left, right into the corner of the net. The ball hit the net with the power of a boxer punching a punchbag. All the pent-up aggression, the frustration, the heartache, all came out in one moment. Pearce turned to the crowd and berated those who doubted him. A mad Sex Pistols fan, Pearce appeared to mimic Johnny Rotten in challenging his audience to believe in themselves, him and his crew. With that one moment, the whole country was lifted. Great theatre. England lead 3-1.
Within this atmosphere, Zaragoza’s right-back Alberto Belsue stepped forward. In complete contrast to what the crowd had just witnessed, he passed his kick into the same corner as Pearce. England now lead 3-2.
As if to perfectly sense the public mood, Venables then sent Gascoigne up to follow Pearce. Gazza had his own heartache from Turin and although he could do little to banish that, he calmly sent Zubizarreta the wrong way. England were now perfect from four kicks. Crunch time for Spain.
Up stepped Miguel Angel Nadal. You could forgive him for cowing to this noise, but then he played for Barcelona so surely he’d experienced something similar?
He placed the ball, walked backwards failing to ever look confident. He hit his kick to Seaman’s left at a similar height to where McAllister had done a week before, and Seaman was delighted to find himself in exactly the right place to push the ball away.
England had won the shootout. Joy, ecstasy and all other similar adjectives came spewing from the stands and on the pitch. They could consider themselves lucky to have had two goals from Spain ruled out for offside. But you can’t do anything about calls from officials. England were through to the Semi-Finals and how the country celebrated.
For Spain, this had possibly been their best performance of the tournament. For the eternal underachievers, this was another one which passed them by. They were unlucky, perhaps a little hard-done-by, but ultimately they had chances to win the game and didn’t take them. When it came to the crunch of spot-kicks, they were defeated by a side which didn’t miss.
Could this tournament get any better?