England 4-1 Netherlands at Euro 96: “It gets better and better and better”

England 4-1 Netherlands at Euro 96: “It gets better and better and better”

This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE

When Austrian referee Gerd Grabher blew for full-time, it was one of those rarest of occasions in international football when fans of the winning team just wanted to play on some more.

Terry Venables’ England had gone into this final group fixture level on points and goal difference with Guus Hiddink’s latest incarnation of Dutch masters. Both teams needed a win to be sure of progression to the knockout stages, and either could fall foul of the Scots or Swiss playing in the other game, should either win by a sufficiently decent margin.

In the past, such circumstances had seen England players wilt under pressure. Not on this day, though. Today, the Three Lions roared and by the end of the game more than 75,000 fans in Wembley stadium were belting out the anthem ‘Football’s Coming Home’ because, after a performance like that, we could all believe it now.

Venables had selected his usual 4-4-2 line-up. Seaman was in goal, yet to beaten other than by Türkyilmaz’s late penalty in the opening game, behind the backline of Neville, Adams, Southgate and Pearce. With McManaman and Anderton on the flanks, the centre of midfield had the fire and ice Gascoigne and Ince.

Turandot it wasn’t, and plenty would sleep contentedly on this night, ‘loving’ the way Teddy Sheringham was there to prompt and probe for Shearer, whose goal-a-game strike rate in the tournament had dispelled all memories of his earlier international drought. 

Facing them, Hiddink’s 4-3-3 looked both experienced and progressive, and any front line boasting the names of Bergkamp and Cruyff – although this was the son, rather than Johan – would always look dangerous. Couple that with the threat of the emerging Patrick Kluivert coming from the bench and there was plenty for Venables to be concerned about.

This game, however, wasn’t about the Dutch threat; it would go down in the history of England greatest triumphs as the day when football’s very own SAS proved that ‘who dares wins’.

The game had started pretty evenly, but with 20 minutes on the clock, all that would change. Anderton broke down the left as support chased to join in and the Orange-shirted Dutch funnelled back to cover. Ince was cool as a cucumber in the centre of the field, and as he collected Anderton’s pass, he cleverly dragged it past Danny Blind with his back foot.

Bewildered, Blind’s attempted tackle was a yard away from the ball and merely served to trip Ince. “Penalty!” Screamed the crowd and millions watching on television. “Ja”, conformed Grabher. Blind lowered his head. Shearer put the ball in the net. It was no less than England deserved. At the break, the lead was intact, but more would follow.

Five minutes into the second period, an England blitz of three goals in ten minutes blew the Dutch away. First, a Sheringham header from Gascoigne’s corner defeated both Van der Sar and the collection of defenders apparently pointlessly trying to defend the goal line. Then the magic of Gascoigne flared into life again.

What ‘could have been’ for a brief moment became ‘what is’ as he cut in from the left, beat one, and drew another before playing off to Sheringham. The Tottenham forward always seemed to have more time than so many other players in tight areas. He used that quality here, coolly feigning to shoot, then angling his foot to set up Shearer. Boom! Back of the net: 3-0. Done and dusted.

To cap it off, an Anderton shot was deflected causing Van der Sar to palm the ball out. In came Sheringham to complete the rout. Commentating, Martin Tyler confirmed what all England fans were feeling. “It gets better and better and better.” Sure, the Dutch would get a late goal, but who cared? Not England. Actually, Scotland did as it cost them a chance of progress.

So, we’re off to the quarter-finals now and whoever England face, they’ll be worried after this display. Three games from glory, England are on the march. Football’s definitely coming home.

By Gary Thacker @All_Blue_Daze

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