A Cup of Nations: Euro 96
Football Comes Home
The 8th of June 1996 was to see ‘Football Come Home’ with the arrival of England’s biggest tournament for 30 years, since winning the World Cup of 1966, for the holding of the European Nations finals. This, the 10th edition was the biggest ever, not only in size, but also in the quality of the participating teams; in a tournament second only in prestige to the World Cup finals.
In keeping with the tradition of the competition England as the hosts would kick-off the tournament. The game at Wembley stadium, the spiritual home of football, was with World Cup finalists of 1994 Switzerland. The home team had been preparing relentlessly for over 2 years for this day since the appointment of a new supremo Terry Venables; the undoubted choice of the people at the time who on the conclusion of these finals was to handover the leadership to the equally popular Glenn Hoddle.
The country’s form in this two-year period had been mixed, of course winning more than they had lost, but drawing more than its fair share.
England’s past performance at the European finals had been nothing short of abysmal. Since 1980, spanning three tournaments, they failed to proceed beyond the first stage on each occasion, winning just once against a poor Spanish team in Naples 1980 through goals from Brooking and Woodcock. The 1-1 draw with Belgium in Turin was followed by a 1-0 defeat to the hosts Italy. The 1984 tournament saw no improvement with elimination at the hands of a fine Danish team in the qualifying rounds. When they did return to competition results were even worse at the finals of 1988 and 1992 crashing out at the first stage, this after having performed impeccably in the original qualifying groups. They tumbled to three successive defeats in Germany 1988, the most humiliating a 1-0 loss at the hands of outsiders Republic of Ireland, whom qualified for its first tournament ever. Marco Van Basten’s crushing treble smashed them into bits after the score had been locked at 1-1 before the Soviet Union completed their misery with another 3-1 defeat. Being one of the favourites at Sweden 92 proved deceiving with the team undone by the brilliance of Tomas Brolin. This followed tame 0-0 draws with Denmark and France. Nineteen-sixty-four resulted in an exit at the first stage after not even entering in 1960. The nation’s best ever performance was at the 1964 championships with a third-place finish achieved – Sir Alf Ramsey’s team defeating the Soviet Union 2-0 in Rome. Quarter-final defeat was the outcome in Yugoslavia (1972) whilst 1976 was to prove just as fruitless as the first two appearances.
The Venables reign got off to a flying start with two Wembley victories over Denmark and then Greece. The first was a 1-0 victory over the then current European Champs Denmark with Captain David Platt netting the winner. The 94 World Cup finalists Greece, the first qualifier of those finals, then crashed under a welter of FIVE Wembley goals as England’s following 4 games of that year brought sides to the home of football that had participated in America.
A jam-packed Norwegian defensive unit held on for a scoreless draw before Alan Shearer showed his great potency with a double strike in the 2-0 defeat of the United States side that had inflicted a replica scoreline defeat a year earlier on the English. This was during Graham Taylor’s reign of abuse. The game with Romania saw them outplayed for a lot of the match in a 1-1 draw with Robert Lee wiping out IIie Dumitrescu’s opener.
Africa’s most populous nation Nigeria ‘THE SUPER EAGLES’ arrived with a band of 5,000 fans, this for its first visit to the world’s greatest football arena – arriving full of hope. It was the seventh time that England played opposition to African opponents, a sequence that still was yet to end in defeat. For Nigeria, physically powerful, skilled, robust and full of individual brilliance, it was to be their first game since the traumatizing loss to Italy four months earlier at the 1994 finals of America.
In a game the away side practically dominated possession Rashidi Yekini missed two sitters, while Okocha, who dazzled the Wembley crowd with a superb array of skills, was a yard-off close on goal. This was all before poor marking enabled David Platt, in his 50th International to head his 24th national goal. England’s following contest was not until March 95, a match in Dublin with the Irish Republic to fall foul of violent crowd behaviour that led to the abandonment of the game. A game with South American opponents Uruguay brought a night of pure frustration with the Uruguayans to survive several scares, none so more than when Andrew ‘king’ Cole sent a close-range header onto the crossbar. The following 3 games came by way of the Umbro cup, a mini tournament, involving European, Asian, and South American opposition. Having made fine strides of recent at international level Japan almost caused the biggest upset in the Venables reign with a 1-1 draw on the famous Wembley turf. But a handball offence in the final minute led to the culprit’s dismissal presenting captain Platt with the opportunity of a penalty winner to deny a spirited Asian challenge. The team then demonstrated its powers of recovery after coming back from 2-0 and 3-1 down to force a 3-3 draw with a powerful Swedish team. Two goals in the final two minutes from Platt – who else – and Darren Anderton saved the blushes of a proud nation. Brazil proved to be much more superior and class opponents with the home side succumbing to a comprehensive 3-1 loss, this after full-back Le Saux had shot his team ahead with a fine strike. England would again fail to defeat South American opposition when Colombia, the nearly men in football played out a fine and entertaining 0-0 draw. It was the home side’s finest display for a while, with a spectacular ‘Scorpion-Kick’ invented by extrovert Rene Higuita the Colombian keeper to be the highlight of the occasion. The good work did not hold-up with the depressing blank in Oslo – no surprise! Goals finally flowed a month later thanks to the influence of Steve Stone – whom had a fine season with Nottingham Forest – scoring one and setting up the other for Edward Sheringham. Stone’s Forest colleague Stuart Pearce put England on level terms after they had fallen behind. Portugal proved more testing and earned a creditable 1-1 draw, this after Stone, starting his first full match fired the home side in front. Winning ways were restored with the single goal Wembley victory over Bulgaria, Sheringham contriving with Lesley Ferdinand to score the only goal. England’s fourth Wembley blank of the Venables reign came with the visit of the highly-fancied but very negative on the night Croatians who seemed to take its first visit to the Mecca of football like a complete holiday. Hungary, as poor as any Hungarian team of recent years fell easily in the home side’s following test with Anderton (2) and Platt bringing joy on a wet day. The finishing touches of England’s long campaign came with the controversial trip to face China and a Hong Kong select. The 3-0 victory in Beijing was good enough, but the single goal scored by Ferdinand in the Hong Kong victory was not enough to curb viscous attacks from the English press, this amidst the uncovering of some unruly behaviour from the English players on an aircraft returning home.
As ever the final selection of the 22-man squad brought its usual share of surprises, not least the sensational AXING of Dennis Wise and Peter Beardsley from the original choice of 27 players. Andrew Cole, a goal-machine, who unfairly according to some (England managers) had now perfected the art of missing open goals, never really got a sustained run or had any hope of making it. Stanley Collymore, the most expensive British player ever whom started his new career at Liverpool slowly before finding some form, also was in that category. Venables was to prefer Edward Sheringham, who after months of uncertainty had fully justified his inclusion. Some felt his selection owed more to him being an alleged favourite drinking partner of the manager. Alan Shearer, a proven goal-getter at club level with around 130 goals in four seasons was a player of high regard and was the first striker to score 100 goals in the Premiership. However, the man entrusted with filling in the boots of Gary Lineker (England’s 2nd all-time great goalscorer with 48 goals) had so far been a complete FAILURE on the International stage, scoring five goals in 23 outings; seemingly unable to come to terms with the close-marking of a higher standard of football. He knew DELIVERANCE at this tournament was imperative, this after Venables had shown continued faith in him. Other fine strikers had been discarded in much shorter time periods. Given the correct ammunition this goal-machine had the capability of firing the bullets needed to take the nation to victory. Waiting for him to slip-up was Lesley Ferdinand, Newcastle United’s most able goalscorer last season and were he called upon he could prove an effective replacement. The third main goal-getter in the squad was Robbie Fowler, hailed as’ The greatest talent since Paul Gascoigne.’ He was a young lad playing well beyond his age of 21, scoring 36 the last season, many of which were spectacular efforts. After having endured the most tiring second half to the season, Nicholas Barmby with two goals in China did enough to win a place in squad. Matthew Le Tissier and Ian Wright had long since been discarded.
Of the midfield; Venables picked what was pretty much expected with Platt, a player of importance to the side, Paul Gascoigne, a man with the ability to decide a game on his own, along with Ince to be the main three. Ince had only recently made a comeback to the International stage following a long fall-out with Venables that led to him being overlooked; this after he had decided against joining the team for the Umbro cup. Perhaps Ince thought himself as being irreplaceable – he wasn’t and was seemingly punished by a man-in-charge that had shown increased tendencies in wanting to keep the team ‘PURE’ if you know what I mean? Come on Tel-Boy ‘own-up’ The defence caused the greater concern for Venners with Mark Wright, just back from a very long layoff, dropping out of the squad due to injury, as did Gary Pallister a possible definite starter. Severe injury also took away Graham Le Saux and Robert Jones. Steve Howey, a former striker, and Gareth Southgate seized upon the opportunity, as did Sol Campbell. Desmond Walker, at one time the undisputed best defender in the country had long been discarded. It followed a disastrous one-year spell in Italy coupled with two inept performances against Holland and Norway that hastened an end to his international career. Goalkeepers Tim Flowers and Ian Walker were expected to compete as the understudies to David Seaman, the man in possession of the No.1 jersey in goal. Darren Anderton beat-off injury to take his place, as did Jamie Redknapp. Perhaps the only concern was that the side did not possess any natural left-winged player with Jason Wilcox, after being involved against Hungary discarded. Perhaps Terry would put his faith in the exciting Steve Mcmanaman? One wondered why Ian Woan of Forest, whom had a splendid season with his team, was overlooked. But his club captain Stuart Pearce took his place, probably as the starting left-back, this after it looked like that he had also been discarded by Venables.
Appearing at the finals for the first time ever Switzerland stated that they had not come to roll over for England. They had one of the worst records of any finalists, crashing out at every qualifying stage. Its closest taste of near qualification came on route to Sweden 1992 with failure to win in Bucharest resulting in Scotland’s progression.
Roy Hodgson, the man whom guided them through the last World Cup and through to these finals, was now coach of Inter Milan, having been sacked, this to the great annoyance of his loyal following. The Swiss FA did not grant his request of wanting to guide the team on a part-time basis, instead opting for Portuguese Artur Jorge, acclaimed ‘one of the finest coaches in Portugal’ once the national team coach in a successful unbeaten spell before taking Porto to a European cup victory.
As in the World Cup qualifying rounds of 94 the Swiss started the campaign well, beginning with a stunning victory over World Cup semi-finalists and group favourites Sweden – 4-2 the scoreline. The home side came back twice from behind to draw level before Sforza’s goals in the 79th and 80th minute gave the Swiss the win. The good work continued with two more wins, the first at home to Iceland 1-0 with Bickel grabbing the all-important winner before a mere 15,800 crowd. Command of the group was taken with the 2-1 win in Istanbul over Turkey with Koller and Bickel giving the away side a 2-0 lead in just 16 minutes before they held out for the 2-1 win. Galatasaray’s Turkish-born striker Turkyilmaz, now at Grasshoppers Zurich, requested to be omitted from the squad for fear of contributing to the downfall of his homeland. Depleted by injuries the Swiss dropped its first points of the campaign, Subiat’s two goals in the last 18 minutes cancelling out Hungary’s two goals in the 51st and 70th minute. The visit of Turkey brought Switzerland down with a bump as the visitor’s extracted full revenge for the earlier home defeat by achieving an identical scoreline victory. For an overconfident Swiss team missing Knup, Subiat and Chapuisat, it proved to be their worst run under Hodgson, failing to win in 5 games that included two friendly defeats. Marc Hottiger’s goal was not enough to save them from defeat at the hands of the underrated Turks. The crucial tie in Gothenburg resulted in the elimination of group favourites Sweden as Switzerland held out for a creditable 0-0 draw – this after the 2-0 victory in Iceland had been achieved with the home side suffering their first defeat in five matches. Qualification was confirmed in the final game in Zurich with the easy disposal of Hungary. The 3-0 victory made them the first qualifiers of the tournament bar England, their record consisting of 5 wins, two draws and a single defeat.
Switzerland brought more a less the side that had performed admirably in 1994, the only controversy would surround the banishment of favourites, Adrian Knup and Alain Sutter by the new coach who experienced problems in winning over fans that had loved Roy Hodgson. Hottiger, Chapuisat, Sforza and Turkyilmaz were the ones that the nation would look towards. Its build-up had been nothing to shout about – a 1-1 draw with Luxembourg and one win over Wales. Two defeats were suffered, one in Vienna and at home to the Czech Republic 2-1.
For the Great-British nation the occasion was to bring huge nervous excitement with an end to come for the hype, speculation and preparation. This was an event the people had waited for 2 years in coming with expectation very high from a hopeful public. A 76,000 sell-out crowd packed to see an enjoyable colourful opening ceremony as conditions, not as hot as the previous day, became perfect for football.
For the hosts at an insulting 7/1, former captain David Platt and current top-scorer with 27 goals – as predicted – started on the bench. In his quest for the glory and the championship Venables opted for a formation with two wingers; Mcmanaman and Anderton the men in form. It was hoped that they could supply the crosses for Shearer in a forward line of strikers that had scored 13 times with a total of 55-caps – a true lack of International goal-getters. The selection, that including 7 men that had never played at a major tournament, had the look of a fine balance throughout the team. Ince and Gascoigne took their places in the middle while Tony Adams, a captain for Arsenal at 21, took the armband in a team full of leaders; Pearce, Ince…etc. The back four consisted of Gary Neville at right-back with Southgate, whom had come on heaps and bounds since his move from Palace to Aston Villa, partnering Adams. Pearce on the left completed the untried defensive unit while Sheringham, as expected, partnered Alan Shearer. The big question asked by many was could Paul Gascoigne, footballer of the year in Scotland, lead his nation to glory? His ability was unquestionable, just his application, attitude and stamina. Had he finally matured? England, with an 11-3 win ratio over Switzerland (and two draws) really needed to be patient. If not, they could possibly lose this tie to the Swiss, not expected by the British public to spoil the party. Surely they would not roll over as easily as they had seven months earlier? They warned the English to forget about that result. For the underdogs it was not only to be a test of character, but also ability. With Knup and Sutter out of the squad and Chapuisat not selected to start, responsibility fell heavily on the shoulders of Ciriaco Sforza – known as the Quarterback – described by the great Johan Cruyff as the best attacking midfielder in Europe. Also expected in carrying the challenge to England was Kubilay Turkyilmaz, this as Alain Geiger, winning his 111th cap (looking to overtake the all-time record of 117 set by Heinz-Hermann) was sure to be of some importance within the defence; especially with Marc Hottiger suspended.
An afternoon of great early promise was to turn sour for the host nation as the so-called no-hoper Switzerland spoiled England’s homecoming with a well-merited share of the spoils. This followed a disjointed and disappointing display by the home boys with the result a huge let down to a nation that had expected no-less than outright victory. Fear of losing, tiredness and failure to hold onto the ball produced the best kind of results for the other group opponents. The only bonus would come with the end of Alan Shearer’s goalscoring nightmare on the international stage.
In what was Terry Venables 20th game in charge England expectedly breezed swiftly into attack with Mcmanaman showing his pace on the flanks. In the early moments of the contest Anderson had seen his shot into the ground bounce high towards the top corner with Pascolo required to get across lively. However it was to be the hosts that were to come under the earliest scrutiny as the defence showed signs of insecurity with Southgate forced into a life-saving clearance after the speed of Turkyilmaz exposed Adams. He was required to make a second similar clearance from the same man as Pearce, through a long-range effort, brought the hosts its finest moment. It was certainly Steve Mcmanaman who was to be the English livewire, with there a buzz of anticipation each time he touched the ball. Sebastian Jeanneret, a newcomer at full-back was unable to come to terms with his speed and trickery and was lucky to get away unpunished with what was a deliberate tug of the Liverpool man’s shirt – after he had got clear. On the whole, the home side were comfortable without being electrifying. Sforza, up until now second-best in the head-to-head with Gascoigne, with his first effort failed to keep a well-struck shot under the bar. His keeper Pascolo then kept the nation on terms with two saves, firstly denying Mcmanaman’s low effort before Gary Neville’s tremendous drive was turned over for a corner. The young full-back then received the game’s first card following a tackle from behind. Eventually the home side’s prayers were answered on 22 minutes with 37-goal machine Shearer repaying Venables’s everlasting faith by shooting the nation ahead; finally to end his 21-month goal-drought of 12 games and 1,088 minutes. The sweet ball played in by Ince, took out four Swiss defenders, picking out Shearer’s whose powerful drive was clipped just inside the post. At first there seemed a hint of offside, but replays proved beyond doubt that he was level with Vega with Sheringham, if anyone the man being off. Shearer almost took advantage of his new found confidence by heading-in number two on 36 minutes, from Pearce’s whipped cross. The header downwards perhaps should have at the very least hit the target. Four minutes later England thought that they had been punished for that miss with the underside of the bar coming to the rescue after Marco Grassi virtually 2-yards-out failed to direct the ball-in with his outstretched left-leg. This was after Turkyilmaz’s had out-witted Pearce before whipping in the ball across goal. He was Switzerland’s sharpest and only threat. Yvan Quentin, ‘The Assassin’ not one to mess with was almost made to pay for a scrap with Shearer that not only earned him a yellow card but also the free-kick against his team to almost result in the second goal. Sheringham had two bites on goal before he was strangely blown for offside. His first was the best chance after having got into space unmarked on the far post. The second, a downward header close-in came off the legs of Pascolo before failing to get his foot around the ball when to his surprise it came back to him. Unable to contend efficiently with the set-pieces the Swiss looked to have a GREATER MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB HIGHER THAN THAT OF THEIR OWN ALPS. Half-time arrived with no more scoring. Not vintage but bearable from the home side against slow-paced and punchless in attack opposition without its three stars of the last World Cup. But it was no walkover.
Incident appeared very early into the second half as Vega, a big strong Spanish born player, showed his range with an outrageous shot from distance not too far off target. Shearer, with one object in mind when he received possession saw his low drive cause the keeper to scramble without hitting the target. Meaningless sparring followed until Shearer decided to have another POP on goal 20-yards-out. Look what a goal can do for one! The Swiss, though gaining more of the ball, still looked ragged and sloppy, failing still to test a well-protected Seaman. Switzerland’s fans shouted for Chapuisat. A second goal would surely calm the nerves and tension evident within the stands. Play was brought to a standstill when Gary Neville was in need of treatment, his brother Phil warmed-up in hope of a call; even if it was at the expense of a loved relation. With a perfectly timed sliding challenge, Pearce kept out Grassi as he looked set for an effort on goal – proof that a threat was still there from the away side. Gascoigne and Mcmanaman seemed no longer to exert any great influence on events as the entire side failed to find the rhythm and shape of the first-half. A flurry of substitution activity occurred in a three minute spell that saw the Swiss prayers answered for Stephane Chapuisat – sure to add to the threat for England as they played with three out-and-out strikers. Bonvin was the man replaced as Koller took over from Geiger. England also made its own double with Stone, who played the foremost major role in the defeat of the Swiss in 95, and Barmby, coming on for Sheringham, so disappointing, and surprisingly Mcmanaman. Without doubt it should have been Anderton, whom had been well off his game today as his touch, awareness and confidence seemed to have deserted him. Mcmanaman’s departure was not popular with the crowd as Anderton, whose fitness had been suspect, moved to the left while Stone moved to his usual right-side and Barmby naturally into Sheringham’s position. Teddy had played his worst game since the 1993 fiasco in Norway. Eighteen minutes remained as the Swiss enjoyed their finest spell of the match, confidence reaching its peak as its fans by far were making the greater noise; the home supporters remaining silent and filled with apprehension. The England team needed to pull itself together, seemingly now suffering from the effects of tiredness and poor passing – lacking the ability of being able to hold the ball. As an attacking force they looked spent as they sought to hold on for the narrowest of victories. The midfield work-rate of Ince and Gascoigne had deteriorated considerably which led to Venables bringing on Platt in the place of Mr Gascoigne. The two newly arrived Englishmen, Barmby and Stone contrived for the killer second with the former whipping the ball in superbly for Stone coming-in at the far post. The defender just managed to get in front of him to deny the attempt as a yellow card was soon deservedly flashed at Tony Adams, caught out many a time today. This was for an assault on Johann Vogel whom had spun superbly away from the captain. A free-kick on the edge was awarded as Wembley held its breath. After the effort had been beaten out the same man saw his curled effort miss by mere inches. The home fans tried to rally its troops, now on their last legs. Fatefully, the Swiss grabbed its deserved equaliser by way of penalty decision eight minutes from time against Stuart Pearce. This followed the poor defensive header from Southgate with Marco Grassi’s drive going upwards to hit the raised hand of the Forest defender in a ball-to-hand incident. The official 6-yards away showed no hesitation and perhaps harshly awarded the penalty for Switzerland. As against Germany 6 years earlier Pearce held his head in despair. Kubilay Turkyilmaz with a low effort nonchalantly dispatched the ball along the ground past the helpless David Seaman. Grassi’s tussle with the anonymous Ince was to almost lead to a yellow card for him with the offended Inter Milan midfielder to then see his fine strike – heading for the top corner – pushed out by Pascolo. With final flurries upfield the Swiss, sensing that they could win it perhaps, looked the most threatening with a crucial near post block from Seaman on time denying Grassi and preventing TOTAL DISASTER. This after Chapuisat had turned young Neville inside out. It was to be the match’s final fling.
The second game of Group A matched Holland and Scotland for a repeat of the opening clash of the 1992 finals of Sweden. Current form suggested this would be a ‘banker-win’ for the Dutch, but history suggested otherwise with it not to be so easy.
Probably in terms of natural ability Holland may have possessed the most talented team at the finals, man-to-man – not that talent alone was enough to win honours. It was a team dominated by the players and influence of the great Ajax of Amsterdam team that amassed trophy after trophy in the past few seasons. In fact at club level they had conquered world football.
Holland’s greatest triumph came some 8 years previous in Germany for its first and only tournament win. Goals from the nation’s two greatest talents since Johan Cruyff – Marco Van Basten, a student of the great Cruyff – and Ruud Gullit, at the time Europe’s best player inflicting defeat on the former Soviet Union 2-0 in Munich. It was a match that witnessed one of the finest goals ever scored in football this after the Dutch had survived a penalty miss from Igor Belanov. Since that memorable day the great Van Basten had been lost to injury at 30-years of age. He was not only the world’s greatest striker at the time but a hero with the fans of the AC Milan. Gullit still played and was recently appointed the player-manager of English club Chelsea. The finals of 88 had begun all so depressingly with the single goal defeat at the hands of the Soviets, this after dominating the game. However, in the ‘Game of Death’ clash with England they came up trumps thanks to Van Basten’s thrilling hat-trick that spoiled Peter Shilton’s 100th cap. Van Basten had begun the tournament on the bench with Johnny Bosman preferred, and he even threatened to go home following his disappointment at not starting. Wim Kieft, The final group match saw Wim Kieft score the life-saving winner seven minutes from time to deny the Republic of Ireland a semi-final clash with the hosts, the former West Germany. In that duel the Dutch were a goal behind following a diabolically given penalty decision against Frank Rijkaard – the diving Jurgen Klinsmann flinging himself to the ground. Lothar Matthaus converted the kick before Ronald Koeman drew the team level from the spot – after Kohler brought down Van Basten – who was to go on and drive the winner with barely 90 seconds remaining. The side, full of greatness had an array of very talented players…Frank Rijkaard, Gullit, Vanenberg, Muhren, Van Basten, Kieft, and Erwin Koeman etc.
Having failed miserably at the 1990 World Cup of Italy – Germany extracting revenge for their home defeat of 1988 – the Dutch came good at the Swedish finals of 1992. They totally outplayed the Germans for a revenge 3-1 victory with Bergkamp, Rijkaard and Robert Witschge scoring the goals in what was a devastating performance. The Dutch had struggled to a 1-0 win over Scotland with Bergkamp to volley the winner eight minutes from time before the C.I.S (former Soviet Union) under tremendous pressure throughout somehow held on for a scoreless draw. They went into the semi-final clash with the Denmark super over-confident and subsequently got STUNG as the Danes, coming from nowhere, produced the performance of the finals. It was a display of courage, guts and nerve holding the very strongly fancied Dutch to a 2-2 scoring draw before winning the penalty shoot-out. Marco Van Basten OF ALL PEOPLE missed the decisive kick. Until its 1988 victory Holland had the reputation of being the nearly men and the best team never to win a major honour – following World Cup final defeats in 74 and 78.
Holland’s record pre-88 wasn’t so good, failing to qualify in 1984 following a first round exit at the finals of Italy in 1980. They lost the game of the finals 3-2 to West Germany after being three goals down to a Klaus Alloffs treble. A win over Greece was the highlight before being held by Czechoslovakia 1-1. A third place finish in Yugoslavia 76 proved a better outcome after the Czechs had overcome them in the semi-final clash. After not entering in 1960 (the first ever finals) 1968 and 72 would result in first round qualifying exits.
The qualifying campaign this time round was to be a traumatising experience for the Dutch whom started with the convincing hammering of Luxembourg by four goals to zero. Three goals in the last 25 minutes from Ronald de Doer (2) and Wim Jonk added to Bryan Roy’s opener. Two draws followed in the months of October and November 94 against the groups two other main boys, Norway and the Czech Republic. The first was a fine 1-1 draw in Oslo with Bryan Roy seeing his 22nd minute opener cancelled out in the second period. The Czech Republic proved more stubborn in Rotterdam – in the presence of 45,000 fans – and gained a creditable scoreless draw when it so easily could have been more. Winning ways returned with a second hammering of Luxembourg by one goal better than in the previous clash; Bryan Roy and Jonk among the scorers again. The good work continued with the trouncing of Malta soon to follow with three goals in the last quarter confirming an emphatic 4-0 victory after Seedorf opened the scoring on 38 minutes. However, everything turned sour in the cities of Prague and Minsk. The group favourites got the complete run-around against a rampant Czech team that had fallen behind to Wim Jonk’s opener in just 7-minutes. A 3-1 defeat was the damming result for the Dutch. It got worse…much much MUCH worse some six weeks later with a DISASTER in Belarus, a 1-0 defeat the shocking scoreline as the Dutch believed it had put them out. Indeed, they were seven minutes away from certain elimination in the return fixture in Rotterdam some three months later in front of a mere 17,000 spectators. This was until Yuri Mulder saved the nation with the priceless winner in a side containing six changes from the fiasco in Minsk. A conclusive victory was required in Malta against a team still without a win, especially with Norway the group leaders slipping up in Prague. The Dutch encountered a first-half of pure frustration in which they could have found themselves behind. Normality returned for the second-period with a dazzling treble from Marc Overmars in a 13-minute spell setting the Dutch up for a comfortable 4-0 victory. Crunch time arrived with the final day clash against Norway in Rotterdam. Nothing but a win would keep them in the tournament, especially with it expected that the Czech team would easily dispose of Luxembourg. Holland went into the match 3 points behind and without the suspended Patrick Kluivert. His former Ajax teammate Clarence Seedorf, by way of a lucky goal, gave the home side the lead in a tense and tight match. They suffered nervous moments as Norway could have come back, but goals in the final four minutes through Mulder (86) and Overmars (89) sent Norway, five minutes away from qualification months earlier, tumbling out on goal-difference.
By way of a play-off clash with the Republic of Ireland would Holland get the chance of a passage into the finals of 1996 – through the back door. They had encountered the Irish at major tournaments in 88, 90, and 94, and still yet to lose. Liverpool’s Anfield stadium was covered in a sea of green and orange as 35,000 fans packed its way into the stadium – 24,000 Irish, 11,000 Dutch. Holland, with only the one defeat in 15 matches, were playing a team that had gifted away their chance of qualification some six months earlier with some catastrophic defeats and draws, having looked dead-on certainties for most of the campaign. The Dutch team contained 10 players originally or presently from Ajax, Helder, the only one to have a poor match, the player without any Ajax connection. They started in tremendous fashion looking very comfortable, moving and combining well, passing with great fluidity. Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Dennis Bergkamp were the most dominant players on the pitch. Bergkamp s effort dragged along the ground crashed off the post in just 8 minutes with his free-kick to then narrowly curl over. It seemed all too much for the Irish whom had lost only 16 games in Jack Charlton’s 92-game reign. Just when it looked like the Irish had finally settled Holland went ahead…deservedly so after Sheridan lost possession. Davids played the final ball for Kluivert to give a clinical finish for a majestic goal – drilling low into the corner from just outside the area. Bergkamp missed the chance for a second as Irwin’s wickedly swung-in corner saw the ball headed off the line by Reiziger, Mcgrath seeing his final header fall wide. With the keeper sprawling on the floor and in no position to make a save, the merest of touches would have brought about the equaliser. Edgar Davids, a minute after the break almost added a second after cutting inside before seeing his effort a yard-off. Ireland, totally unable to hold the ball, continually used the tactic of hit and hope.
The second started more promising for them as they made strides back into the contest, however with Townsend forced off by injury it could not be sustained. Tony Cascarino in full thrust on the 6-yard box was then a connection away from putting the Irish nation level. Superb saves from Irish keeper Kelly kept the team still in the match; the slightest of touches from his fingertips deflecting Kluivert’s power-header onto the crossbar. A misplaced pass then enabled Kluivert and Seedorf to break swiftly, Kelly denying the latter’s low drive with an amazing save deflected over the bar. Only a mistake now by the Dutch could let the Irish back in who were to need all of its indomitable spirit to overcome this bewitching. It would be all over with just a few minutes remaining, signalling the end not only for Ireland but also for the reign of its leader and many older members. With the Irish stretched Kluivert chipped expertly and delightfully over Kelly. The young Dutchman showed a great composure as he waited to pick his moment. The only disappointment was that Danny Blind, the only man with real experience on the pitch, was to miss the first match of the finals after he had received his second caution of the qualifying campaign. The stadium ringed a farewell for Charlton. On this display the Dutch looked an even finer outfit than that of the 1992 side in Sweden. While not up they’re yet with the team of 88, the potential was there as they played with a class and style like the Denmark team of 1986. The display made the Dutch the new favourites as its odds of 16/1 went down dramatically.
The build-up saw their game with Belgium cancelled due to heavy rain. They were due to meet the Belgians in the forthcoming World Cup qualifying rounds for the 1998 finals in France. Suffering a 0-1 home loss to Germany meant the Dutch were overtaken in the stakes as favourites with Bergkamp missing a spot-kick as many of the Ajax team were to be absentees. Some of their players had played over 65 matches that season in League, Champions league and domestic cup football. Winning habits resumed with relatively easy wins over China 2-0 and 3-1.
Of the squad nine came from Ajax, Ronald and Frankie De Boer, (lost to injury) Danny Blind, Winston Bogarde, Kluivert, Hoekstra, Van-der Sar, Michael Reiziger and Edgar Davids. Clarence Seedorf played his part in Ajax’s European cup winning team before joining Sampdoria. He was soon due to move to Real Madrid. Dennis Bergkamp, Holland’s main star of the 1994 World Cup, was again the man the Dutch nation would look to. But unlike 94, when he stood out, the burden was to be shared with a fine bunch of players that added potential to the side. New goalscoring sensation Patrick Kluivert, only 19, and scorer of the winning European cup goal was the man hailed as the successor to Marco Van Basten. It was thought of in many quarters that he possessed the ability to become the world’s premier striker. At the same age, he was better than what Marco was, but it would take many many years to surpass Van Basten’s overall greatness. Included from the last World Cup was Aron Winter, now with Inter after moving from Lazio recently. He was a product of the Ajax set up back in 1992. Gaston Taument, scorer of the winning goal in the slender 2-1 World Cup victory over Saudi Arabia, also got in. Another significant inclusion was that of Jordi Cruyff, the son of the great Johan. Wim Jonk, prominent in the opening qualifying games was one of the casualties that failed to make the squad; as was Bryan Roy whom had played himself out of contention with some gutless performances for his club Nottingham Forest. This followed a blinding first season. Out also went Glen Helder while Marc Overmars, a fixture in the Dutch team was lost to injury.
Scotland, perhaps the least fancied team of the group, had only ever reached the finals on one occasion 4 years earlier when they tumbled to defeats against today’s opponents Holland before crashing unluckily to Germany 2-0. Its best performance came in the final match defeating the C.I.S 3-0, thus ending their qualification prospects. 1968 to 1988 resulted in five consecutive first round qualifying group exits – they had not entered in 1960 or 64.
They had been placed in European qualifying Group 8, along with two sides Russia and Greece that competed at the 1994 World Cup finals, though be it miserably. Encouraging early signs were shown following two opening victories from the ties against Finland (2-0) in Helsinki and at home to the Faroe Islands who got walloped 5-1 at Glasgow’s Hampden Park Stadium. John Collins (2), McGinlay, Mckinlay and Booth completed the rout. In front of 31,254 fans in Glasgow Scott Booth gave his nation the lead over group favourites Russia, however, Radchenko, a poor performer at the America finals spoiled the party with an equaliser soon after. Further points, three in fact were dropped in Athens as the Tartan Army fell to a disputed penalty. Scotland themselves had their own penalty claims dismissed after John Spencer was tripped with inside the penalty box. Five points dropped became seven, but the two points dropped came by way of a creditable scoreless draw in Moscow; the visiting team holding out under some titanic pressure put on its goal. Ground was made with consecutive 2-0 away victories in San Marino and then the Faroe Islands. But the crunch was to come with the visits of Greece and then Finland to Glasgow. The first match saw Greece playing as if they were the home team as Scotland rode its luck which continued with the only goal of the game from Ally McCoist – whom had just made an entrance as a substitute. The single goal victory was repeated for the visit of Finland ending interest for Jari Litmanen – a true World-Class player in an average outfit. Scotland’s fifth consecutive win confirmed its qualification, San Marino succumbing 5-0 in the Scottish capital with five different players to find themselves on the score-sheet that included an injury time own goal. Scotland reached the finals with 5 points to spare over Greece, trailing the group winners Russia by 3 points.
The build-up for Scotland was to be less impressive losing three matches after Australia (1-0) had been beaten. They lost to Denmark (0-2), Colombia (0-1) and then the United States (2-1). With the exception of Gary McAllister the team perhaps, according to the experts, did not possess another recognised top-top class player. Coach Craig Brown, one of the most likeable and genuine men in football, based the team’s tactics on hardwork and a collective spirit. Perhaps not being expected to do well could work in the Scots favour? But the question asked was where would the ammunition and bullets be fired from?
In a sea of orange and blue the fans of Holland and Scotland packed out Aston Villa’s Villa-Park Stadium in what promised to be a momentous occasion. With England failing to inflict misery on Switzerland – in what was an anti-climactic opener – one of these two nations looked to take a grip on the section. Holland, the second favourites were below strength for this repeat of the 1992 opener. Marc Overmars and the unsung Frank De Boer were already out of the finals with Danny Blind, due to suspension not able to participate with Johan De Kock brought in to take over. Teenage sensation Patrick Kluivert failed to attain sufficient levels of fitness to lead the attack as Dennis Bergkamp was instructed to take the lead upfield. It was a team that included four Ajax men present and past with one of its old-boys Edgar Davids employed just in front of the three-man defence. Jordi Cruyff also started. Having been selected to play for their Under-21’s he turned down the opportunity to play for Spain. Gaston Taument, a surprise choice would play on the right side. Scotland, written off by the football world, and placed alongside Turkey as the rank-outsiders saw today as their best chance to beat the Dutch. They arrived as one of the least fancied Scotland teams of all-time. Many felt that they would even fail to gain a point let alone score. One unkind observer stated that there would be more chance of finding Elvis and Marilyn Monroe shacked up in a bedsit in Rotherham than Scotland qualifying for the second stage. Nobody but Nobody outside the Scotland camp gave them an earthling of succeeding, but Craig Brown, who came with a cautious optimism, was able to pick from a full-strength squad; playing a 4-4-2 for the first time in three years. What this Scottish squad lacked in star men was made up in pride and determination. As forecast, Andy Goram, out for 16 months after declining to play against Greece due to personal problems, got the nod over a rejuvenated Jim Leighton whom had kept six clean sheets in the final set of qualifying games. The players, the Scottish fans looked to were Colin Hendry in defence, Gary McAllister in midfield and a two-year goalless Gordon Durie in attack. He was a man that had scored five in 28 games – a record worse than Alan Shearer’s for England. The records showed 5 wins each and two draws, the Scots losing the last contest. Scotland, in its last three opening tournament matches had lost by single goal defeats; the first in 86 to Denmark then in 90 to Costa Rica before Holland in 92.
The heroics of Andy Goram, good fortune, aided by the qualities of collective spirit, organisation and determination were to give the bravehearts of Scotland the point they deserved against one of the most formidable opposition at the finals
For Scotland the occasion began in a bundle of nerves with the Dutch to exert all influence, instantly settling into its usual pattern of attack – its opponents pinned back into submission. It was an opening that saw Tommy Boyd overturn Taument for the 31st award of a card at the finals in just the fifth game. Within a minute a superb low reaction save produced by Goram, the best of the finals, kept Scotland in the match and on level terms; this from Seedorf’s close range drive. It was a save to justify Goram’s inclusion with Taument from the rebound, only 6-yards-out to drive over. It did not stop there for Scotland with John Collins, on a move from Celtic to Monaco to get away with something that Stuart Pearce was unable to when he cleared the danger off his goalline; this with the use of his left-arm. This offence looked blatant whereas Pearce’s SIN was purely accidental. Luckily, the referee with his back to the incident was unsighted. Surely under this barrage of pressure the Scots would eventually collapse? To stay in the game (just 10 minutes had passed) a definite foothold was required, but Scotland proved in Russia that they could survive and withstand a cosh of attacks. Utilising its precise passing, Holland were in total control and making fine use of the width of the pitch – Bergkamp looking comfortable in the main striker position. Scotland were finally able to relieve some pressure from the quarter mark, confidence to take a lift after Boyd saw his crack on goal beaten out by some unorthodox keeping from Van der Sar. McAllister, making a fine run from midfield into space to within side the Dutch area, then saw his weak effort roll into the grasp of the Dutch keeper. The Leeds supremo perhaps could have taken it slightly further. Again it was the Dutch with Bergkamp, after outpacing Colin Calderwood, to almost steer his nation in front. The ball touched over the head of Goram ended with possession lost as he attempted to cut inside on goal. Twenty minutes, up stepped McAllister for the best free-kick effort on goal at these finals, forcing a fully stretched Van der Sar into touching the accurate curled attempt over the top with the use of his outstretched right-arm. Scotland looked far more settled now as they held onto the ball more effectively. But the threat from the corner returned with only the perfect sliding challenge from birthday boy Stuart McCall keeping out De Kock from sweeping Holland in front. From the resulting corner Bergkamp saw his shot blocked off the line before the ball was scrambled away by Scotland’s heavy posse of defenders. The final quarter was to be Scotland’s most trouble free period, but still nothing had been seen of its strikers Booth and Durie.
John Spencer, perhaps surprised at not being included from the start made an appearance for the second, this as a replacement for Scott Booth. Coincidently Spencer was still to score for his country and with his first contribution set up McAllister for a strike on goal – an effort off power but no accuracy. The newly arrived substitute did no better four minutes later with his effort. It was a period in which the Scots, playing with a fresh aggression, matched the Dutch, now continually hustled. Now in the thick of things Spencer was then denied a clear run on goal by the last ditch touch from De Kock – just before Holland’s best chance of the period arrived. Clarence Seedorf in acres of space saw his downward header, from Taument’s superb delivery bounce down and over the top – a sitter miss from just 6-yards-out. Stewart Mckimme had his hands on his heart when Winston Bogarde fell under his scrutiny, but the referee, well on his game dismissed penalty appeals. It looked more clear-cut just after the hour when Mckimme brought Jordi Cruyff, speeding past the Scotsman near the byline, to a halt – Holland again turned down a spot-kick. Patrick Kluivert, troubled by his knee and restricted to substitute appearances of late, finally made his entrance at the expense of Taument forcing Bergkamp to relocate to the wing. Had Durie shown more composure, instead of wild finishing, then Scotland may have ended up with greater reward. It did little to dampen the fine Villa Park mood in a game that at present did not have the look of an obvious winner. Aron Winter, the most capped player in the current Dutch squad, came on in place of Ronald de Boer with Holland soon to have its finest period of pressure for a while; Scotland’s Tartan-Army to fall into silence. The period in which the Dutch scored 4 years ago passed with no signs of Scotland wilting under constant pressure from one of the world’s finest attacking teams. Colin Hendry, a tower of strength in defence, headed off the line when the ball was sent back on goal from Winter. Craig Burley, who had bad memories of this pitch last season, came on to replace Stewart Mckimmie and as the tension increased, Kluivert with a diving header was inches away from a connection. When the ball came to Seedorf it seemed certain that a goal would finally come for Holland’s supporters, but his shot heading into the net took a heavy deflection over the bar. Pressure did not cease as balls were continually pumped into Scotland’s defence, its fans and players wanting to hear the final whistle. Winter wildly send an effort over the top as did Davids, Scottish whistles to become loud cheers two minutes and 48 seconds into injury time.