UEFA had enlarged the finals tournament again from eight to 16 teams. It was one of the decisive factors in England winning host rights in the first place. A sideline of the political process later came back to haunt the Football Association, however. Part of the political trade-off was that England called a halt to their short-lived campaign to win host rights to the 1998 World Cup in favour of France.
When Euro 96’s success persuaded the FA to revive the World Cup bid for 2006 chairman Bert Millichip and Co found themselves outflanked by German opportunism – just as they had been pipped by the Germans on the pitch in the European Championship itself.
England drew 1–1 against Switzerland in the opening match before pulling themselves together with a dramatic 2-0 victory over old enemy Scotland (goals from Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne) and a high-class 4-1 defeat of Holland.
France topped Group B ahead of Spain though both finished the group undefeated but there was an abrupt end to Dennmark’s reign as European champions when Croatia and Portugal pipped them in Group D. Italy were other notable failures, in Group C, from which both Germans and Czechs qualified.
The quality of football faded in the knock‑out stages in which spot-kicks proved decisive for both England (against Spain) and France (against Holland). The Czechs surprisingly beat Portugal 1-0 while Germany triumphed 2-1 in a bad-tempered duel with Croatia.
Penalties were needed to resolve both the semi-finals with the Czechs pipping France after a dull 0‑0 draw at Old Trafford. However England v Germany provided a night of exciting intensity which a 76,000 crowd at Wembley and 26million domestic television viewers will never forget.
England secured a magnificent start, Shearer heading home in the third minute but the Germans soon levelled through their only fit striker, Stefan Kuntz. The drama rolled on into golden goal extra time when Darren Anderton struck a post and Kuntz had a headed effort disallowed.
Both sides converted their five spotkicks but Gareth Southgate, by pushing the next kick into the arms of keeper Andy Kopke, offered Andy Moller the chance to shoot Germany into the final.
Domestic euphoria might have been punctured like a toy balloon. Yet it said everything for the manner in which Euro 96 had gripped the public imagination that 73,611 turned out for the Final. The vast majority ‑ English fans converted into honorary Czechs for the night ‑ were celebrating when Patrick Berger fired home a 59th‑minute penalty.
Germany had lost to underdogs in the Final ‑ against Denmark ‑ four years earlier in Sweden and history appeared about to repeat itself. Then German coach Berti Vogts played his hidden ace, bringing on substitute centre‑forward Oliver Bierhoff. Within four minutes Bierhoff had headed the Germans level then, in the fourth minute of extra time, he fired home the Golden Goal.
The Czechs protested that Kuntz had been standing in an offside position but Italian referee Pierluigi Pairetto waved away their protests. An Italian linesman had proved a winner for Germany in the stadium where a Georgian had proved a loser in the World Cup 30 years earlier.
Unlike that World Cup, the hosts had not lifted the trophy. But they won just about everything else. Outgoing coach Terry Venables’ last duty was to accept the UEFA Fairplay trophy and centre-forward Alan Shearer was crowned the tournament’s five‑goal top scorer.