UEFA Euro 2020

The story of England's Euro 96 semi-final defeat to Germany

Matt O'Connor-Simpson
England's efforts ultimately ended in defeat
England's efforts ultimately ended in defeat / Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

No football match sums up the glorious failure trope of English history better than the Three Lions' defeat to Germany in the semi-finals of Euro 1996.

Steeped in symbolism and filled to the brim with iconic heart-wrenching moments, the match was one of the key turning points in transforming the English game into the global box office smash it is today.

Prior to the semi-finals the entire nation had gone down with a severe bout of football fever but the fans' relationship with the team was fractious going into Euro 96. Fuelled by a tabloid media at the peak of their powers and some dentist chair inspired drinking during a pre-tournament trip to Hong Kong, the pressure was on to perform in front of the home crowd.

Things did not start particularly well, with the hosts stumbling to a 1-1 draw in the opening game against Switzerland. That was followed by that 2-0 win over Scotland - we won't waste words describing it here as you have no doubt seen the highlights hundreds of times - which kickstarted England's tournament into gear.

The greatest post-1966 Three Lions performance since at a tournament followed, with Terry Venables' charges dismantling Total Football in a memorable 4-1 win.

In the quarter-finals Spain were defeated on penalties following a 0-0 draw in normal time. The shootout had an iconic moment of its own, with Stuart Pearce - who missed the decisive spot kick in the 1990 World Cup semis - smashing home from 12-yards and celebrating like a man possessed. For the first time, 'It's Coming Home' rang out in genuine belief as opposed to blind hope after the Spain victory.

In order to reach the final England would have to defeat an old rival. Germany had been impressive in the tournament up to that point, topping Group C with ease before beating a strong Croatia side 2-1 in the last eight.

Die Mannschaft were also favourites going into the competition but in the early exchanges England, buoyed by a raucous home crowd, looked much better. With less than three minutes on the clock Paul Ince stung Andreas Kopke's palms with a fierce drive. From the resulting corner, Alan Shearer would send Wembley, no, the whole of England into meltdown, powering home a header to put his side 1-0 up.

Alan Shearer (number 9) scores for England
SHEAAAAAREEERRRR / Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

13 minutes later the Germans struck back. Thomas Helmer was the architect, rolling a delicious ball into the corridor of uncertainty that Stefan Kuntz smashed past a stricken David Seaman.

After this explosive start chance were at a premium. Teddy Sheringham went closest for England, having a snapshot blocked from a corner, while Helmer fired just over from outside the box. With the scores level at 1-1 extra time beckoned.

Additional periods are usually dull affairs. Not this one, though. First Darren Anderton struck the post. Venebles' reaction said it all, with the Three Lions boss collapsing in on himself on the bench, cradling his head in his hands.

England's heartbreak did not stop there either. With time swiftly running out Shearer managed to roll the ball across goal. Time seemed to slowed to a crawl as Paul Gascoigne, stretched, stretched and then stretched some more...but could not quite slide the ball into the empty net.

Paul Gascoigne
Gascoigne went agonisingly close / Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Gascoigne had been magic during the entire tournament and it would have been fitting that he booked England's place in the final. However, like so many Three Lions stars before and since, his journey would end in glorious failure.

England's inability to get the job done in extra time set up a tense finale on penalties. The first 10 spot kicks were all dispatched, sending things to sudden death. Gareth Southgate, a coach's dream who had forced his way into England's backline just before the tournament, stepped up - and missed.

Andreas Moller then emphatically blasted home to send Germany through at England's expense, once again.

The 120+ minutes may have ended in disaster but the drama it had provided afforded the game a special place in English footballing folklore. Despite the arrival of the 'Golden Generation' soon after Euro 96, England have never come closer to reaching a major tournament final since.

Due to this, the team that went so close to bringing football coming home have been elevated to legendary status in popular consciousness.