#EUROMEMORIES: EURO 96 AND PAYING THE PENALTY
For most, this match will be remembered for a goal of extraordinary beauty. A sweeping, lighting quick counterattack ending with a world-class finish that ranks among the UEFA European Championship’s greatest ever goals. Paul Gascoigne’s matchwinner against Scotland at EURO 96 is indelibly etched in the memories of all who witnessed it, a goal delivered with all the skill and impudence of a truly mercurial talent.
There is another moment that lives on, certainly in the minds of the Tartan Army. A gut-wrenching split second where Scotland's momentum was shattered along with any real chance of progressing from the group stages.
This year, as the national team return to the EUROs for the first time since 1996 and we prepare for another meeting with England at Wembley, the old memories have come flooding back.
England were dreaming when the Scots headed south in 1996 to the strains of the summer anthem, ‘Three Lions’. They had a supremely gifted side which boasted some of the best strikers in the world at that time. They had ability in midfield, a formidable back four marshalled by a great goalkeeper and, with the home crowd behind them, a nation genuinely believed that not only football but the EUROs trophy ‘was coming home’.
The host nation were favourites in Group A but stumbled in a 1-1 draw in their first game against the Swiss and looked nervous in the next match against the Scots at Wembley. Craig Brown’s men had meanwhile drawn 0-0 in their opening game with Holland.
The first half was tight. Chances were few and far between and Scotland were growing in confidence, until Gary Neville crossed from the right and Alan Shearer headed home seven minutes into the second half. Another chance followed for England, with Andy Goram denying Teddy Sheringham’s header from point blank range with a brilliant one-handed stop, low to his right.
Scotland then began to gain momentum and at one point the travelling support screamed ‘GOAL’ as Gordon Durie, heavily bandaged after a clash of heads, rose at the back post, and nodded a John Collins cross towards the top corner. The Tartan Army believed that the ball crossed the line, but England keeper David Seaman managed to claw it away. The visitors began to grow in confidence and then Gary McAllister lifted a perfectly weighted long ball from inside Scotland’s own half, down the right channel and into the path of Stuart McCall. The little midfielder cut back a ball for the onrushing Durie, who was taken out by Tony Adams. The referee signalled for a penalty.
It was McAllister, a regular penalty taker for Leeds United who scored at least 32 spot kicks during a 19-year playing career, who stepped up to take. Even today, with the midfielder 17 years retired and in the dug-out as assistant manager at Rangers, you get the feeling he’ll still be having nightmares about this one. TV ‘psychic’ Uri Geller would later claim credit for what happened next, stating that he moved the ball with the power of his mind. What can’t be denied is that the ball did move, a near imperceptible wobble just as McAllister struck it. Seaman saved and the hearts of a nation sank like a stone.
The resulting corner came to nothing, and, with Scotland reeling, Seaman took a goal kick and sent the ball high up the park, where it was knocked down by Sheringham and into the path of Darren Anderton. He played it first time to Gascoigne on the edge of the box.
We all know what happened next. It was as incredible as it was heart-breaking. With his first touch Gazza flicked the ball up and over Colin Hendry and, with his second, rifled it home beyond Goram.There were 11 minutes to go when the ball hit the back of the net, but the game ended with this strike. The Scots, needing to score two to level and still winded from the penalty miss, could not recover. England’s celebrations after the final whistle showed relief as well as emotion.
Scotland still had a chance to progress in the final group match, against the Swiss and duly delivered, with Ally McCoist scoring a wonder strike to seal a 1-0 win. Even then there was heartbreak as Patrick Kluivert's consolation goal for Holland with 12 minutes to go in a 4-1 defeat to England was enough to send the Dutch through to the next round and Scotland out on goals scored. They had lost by the slenderest of margins, finishing level on four points with Holland and both teams having a goal difference of minus one.
The game on Friday evening may prove crucial to Scotland's hopes of progressing to the knock-out stages, with England already having 3 points in the bag from their opening match victory over Croatia.
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