With Euro 2012 set to kick-off tomorrow, GMF takes a walk down memory lane at some of the great moments from the tournaments of yesteryear. In this latest edition, we recall the events from Euro 96, the year when football 'came home'.
What was going on in the world?
1996 saw Princess Diana officially divorce from ex-husband Prince Charles, as she lost her title of 'Royal Highness' in the process. Moreover, the UK was on alert following an outbreak of 'mad cow' disease which resulted in millions of cattle being slaughtered.
Elsewhere, Bill Clinton was voted into office for a second term as President of the United States of America, and the Atlanta games kicked off with Muhammad Ali igniting the Olympic cauldron.
Football's coming home. That's the slogan most commonly associated with Euro 96, not least thanks to the iconic summer soundtrack supplied by the Lightning Seeds, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner who together, sang England's official song 'Three Lions'.
England won the right to host the European Championships for the first time, fending off rival bids from Austria, Portugal and the Netherlands.
Eight stadiums were selected as venues for the competition, including Old Trafford, Anfield, Villa Park and Elland Road. Of course, the final was to be played at arguably the most famous ground of all, Wembley.
As hosts, England kicked-off Euro 96 with a game against the unfancied Switzerland in Group A. Terry Venables' side began slowly, stumbling to a 1-1 draw, with the game notable only for Alan Shearer's first international goal in 12 games. The Newcastle frontman ended up with 5 for the tournament, which proved to be enough to claim the golden boot.
From there, England went from strength-to-strength, comfortably beating Scotland 2-0 with Paul Gascoigne scoring a spectacular solo effort - with the equally impressive 'dentist chair' celebration to match. Then came what was arguably England's best result at a major finals since defeating West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.
The Three Lions put the Netherlands to the sword, with a crushing 4-1 victory enough to secure top spot in the group. Netherlands consolation goal through Patrick Kluivert proved to be decisive however, as it meant the Dutch snuck through on goal difference ahead of Scotland.
In Group B, France, Spain, Bulgaria and Romania battled it out in a bid to make the latter stages of the competition. But the French and the Spanish eventually came out on top, finishing in 1st and 2nd respectively. The group stages were particularly disappointing for World Cup quarter-finalists Romania, who lost all three games, scoring just once.
Group C was another close-fought affair, with a surprising outcome to boot. Newly formed Czech Republic progressed to the knockout stages after finishing in 2nd place, leaving Italy trailing in their wake as they could only muster up a 3rd place finish. The Italians had to beat eventual group winners Germany in their final game to progress, but the Germans put in a resilient defensive display that epitomised their tournament, as both sides played out a goalless draw.
And in Group D, Portugal ran out as group winners, beating Turkey (1-0) and Croatia (3-0), and drawing with defending champions Denmark. Denmark's disappointment was enhanced further, as they suffered a 3-0 defeat to Croatia who went on to pip them to 2nd spot, proving that the Danes were not so great after all.
In the latter stages, goals were few and far between. Fear of losing and nerves could have been to blame for just nine goals being shared across seven games, with four of the matches being decided on penalties.
England defeated Spain on spot-kicks after a goalless 90 minutes, whilst Germany beat outsiders Croatia 2-1. Elsewhere, Czech Republic continued to impress, beating Portugal with a solitary goal to win 1-0, with the clash between France and the Netherlands also going down to penalties. The French ran out eventual winners, beating their Dutch counterparts 5-4 on penalties.
In the semi-finals, there was yet more penalty heartache for England, as their Euro dreams were brought crashing down after an epic encounter. Their most fierce rivals, Germany, won 6-5 on penalties after playing out a 1-1 draw in 90 minutes, showing the kind of grit and determination that has become almost synonymous with German sides over the years.
Gareth Southgate was the unfortunate victim to fall foul of a missed spot-kick, as his tame effort was saved by Andreas Kopke in the German goal.
In the other semi-final, Czech Republic and France fought for their place in the Euro 96 final, but a relatively mundane affair was once again decided by penalties, with the Czechs eventually winning 6-5.
That meant Germany and Czech Republic would compete for the right to be called European Champions at Wembley Stadium. As the tournament's surprise package, the Czech's were not expected to win, and all the pressure was on the Germans.
Cue an upset, as Patrick Berger fired Czech Republic into the lead with a 59th minute penalty. But Germany are made of stern stuff, and their strength of character shone through as they drew level through Oliver Bierhoff's 73rd minute effort.
As the two teams couldn't be separated after 90 minutes, the game went to the now scrapped 'Golden Goal' ruling. Bierhoff wrote his name into the history books, as he became the first player to score a 'Golden Goal' in the competitions history, as his shot crept in to gift Germany the title for the first time as a unified country.
Moment of the tournament
When England defeated Spain on penalties, the relief was plain to see. England's Euro dream was alive and kicking, not to mention the fact that the host nation had finally won on spot-kicks. The euphoria on the face of Stuart Pearce as he converted from the spot is an iconic moment that lives long in the memory, and for a lot of people, will be their moment of the tournament.
Goal of the tournament
Davor Suker (90th min) Vs Denmark. 2-0 up and cruising to victory, the Danes threw everything at their opponents in a last-ditch bid to claw their way back into the tie. The kitchen sink wasn't enough, so legendary 'keeper Peter Schmeichel stepped forward, as he went up to attack a Denmark corner.
But it came to nothing and Croatia hit Denmark on the counter, leaving Schmeichel desperately scurrying back to his goal in an attempt to keep the scoreline down.
With his head down and his eyes on the prize, Suker pressed forward in a foot-race with Schmeichel. The great Dane retreated to his goal just in time, but Suker then produced one of the best finishes of the tournament.
From 25-yards out, he proceeded to lob Denmark's no.1, which is no mean feat given Schmeichel stands at a towering 6ft 3". The ball ended up in the back of the net to complete a resounding 3-0 victory for the Croats in the best possible fashion.
In turn, Suker fired his name into the history books after scoring one of the best goals to date in the European Championships.
Quote of the tournament
"I know there are far more important things in life than football, but if you cut me open and had a look inside right now it couldn't be a pretty sight. I don't know if I can sink any lower."
Scotland captain Gary McAllister on his crucial penalty miss against England.
Team of the tournament
Czech Republic. Nobody expected the Czechs to fare so well at Euro 96. Outsiders from the offset, their achievement of reaching the final was no mean feat, especially as they faced numerous hazards on their road to the final.
Player of the tournament
Matthias Sammer. The Germany international was the backbone on which their championship-winning campaign was built.
Sammer's performances throughout the competition drew comparisons to that of German legend Franz Beckenbauer, and his impressive displays led to the Dortmund midfielder eventually claiming the European Footballer of the Year gong for 1996.
Sammer combined stunning defensive prowess with some crucial contributions in attack, especially with the match-winning goal against Croatia in the quarter-finals.
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