England

England 4-1 Netherlands: The Three Lions' greatest ever performance

Ross Jackson
Shearer was at his best as England tore the Netherlands apart
Shearer was at his best as England tore the Netherlands apart / Stu Forster/Getty Images
facebooktwitterreddit

"It gets better and better and better!"

Martin Tyler

England have got a nasty habit of making us all believe they've got a genuine chance of success at international tournaments.

Whether it be a thumping victory in the friendly prior to heading off to said tournament or a comprehensive march through qualifying, it doesn't take much for us to start dreaming.

Euro 96 was very different.

Teddy Sheringham celebrates bagging his brace against the Netherlands
Teddy Sheringham celebrates bagging his brace against the Netherlands / Getty Images/Getty Images

As the host country there would be no qualifying procession and the FA seemingly daren't pit the Three Lions against decent opposition in a friendly at the risk of bursting the feel-good factor the home tournament had brought.

After years of misery following Euro 92's abysmal showing, and failure to even qualify for the 1994 World Cup, Euro 96 was supposed to represent a fresh start - it didn't quite go to plan.

Terry Venables' side kicked off with a turgid draw with Switzerland and while a 2-0 win over Scotland helped to boost the spirits of a nation, the backlash following Paul Gascoigne's 'dentist chair' celebration dominated the back and front pages.

The Three Lions headed into their final group game against the Netherlands knowing defeat would spell the end of both their hopes, and the hopes of a nation.

The clash was billed as the rigid, pragmatic, uninspiring 4-4-2 of England against the fluid, exciting, at times mesmerising 4-3-3 of the Netherlands - again it didn't quite go to plan.

Paul Gascoigne and the England team were criticised for their dentist chair celebration
Paul Gascoigne and the England team were criticised for their dentist chair celebration / Stu Forster/Getty Images

Venables' side were absolutely unplayable on that fabled evening at Wembley, taking the game to the Dutch and leaving Bergkamp, Seedorf and co. almost dizzy at the whirlwind of emotion that had hit them from both the home crowd and the England players.

Despite Alan Shearer's third goal in three games opening the scoring, there was tension in the air of the national stadium at half-time. Guus Hiddink's side had barely managed to get a foothold in the game in the first half and there was almost an acceptance among the England fans that the second period couldn't go as smoothly as the first.

They were right in a way - it went 100 times better.

England flew out of the traps once again and three goals in five second-half minutes sent the Wembley crowd into ecstasy, with Shearer doubling his account for the afternoon and Teddy Sheringham matching his partner in crime with a superb brace.

It was all smiles for the England team
It was all smiles for the England team / Clive Mason/Getty Images

This was no normal Netherlands side the Three Lions had swept aside with consummate ease, this was a side strewn with world-class players - a large proportion of whom had mere weeks beforehand had come within a penalty shootout of being crowned champions of Europe at club level with Ajax.

England were hardly a team of no-hopers, though the sight of individuals from Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa blowing away one of the most feared sides in international football was enough to bring a tear to the eye of any Englishman.

Hiddink's men hit back with a late consolation goal as Bergkamp managed to leave Tony Adams' back pocket for the first time in 78 minutes, before producing a sublime piece of skill to allow Patrick Kluivert the opportunity to slot home.

For the first time that evening you could actually hear yourself think as the England fans finally stopped screaming their side to victory for a brief second, though the pause lasted little more than 30 seconds.

Nothing was going to dampen their spirits. On paper it may have been 'just three points' but in reality the win represented so much more than that.

There was no holding England back against the Dutch
There was no holding England back against the Dutch / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The flair of Gascoigne, the clinical finishing of Shearer and Sheringham, the wing wizardry of Steve McManaman and the sublime defending of Adams - England's display had everything those in attendance would have expected to see on the evening, the difference was they'd expected to see the aforementioned attacking brilliance from the Dutch.

This wasn't a win - it was a statement of intent. Six years on from their last decent showing at a major tournament, England fans finally had a team they could be proud to follow again.

And that's what makes England's 4-1 demolition of the Netherlands the greatest Three Lions performance of all time.


facebooktwitterreddit