On this day 21 years ago, the England team did something that would today be deemed pure fantasy – win a penalty shootout at a major international tournament.
Indeed, Euro 1996 was the official start of England’s dual-decade spanning curse, instigated by a certain Gareth Southgate’s infamous choke against Germany, but the Three Lions’ penalty record during the competition was actually incredibly impressive, scoring ten of eleven. Southgate was unfortunate enough to make himself the solitary red cross, ushering an era that has seen England eliminated from five of the last ten international tournaments they’ve been involved in via penalty shootout.
Four of those penalties at Euro 1996 were scored in the quarter-finals against a typically underachieving Spain side. But who were the heroes who won England’s last penalty shootout, how did they do it and where are they now? Let’s take a look.
Getting England off to the best part possible was Alan Shearer, with a typical rifle into the roof of Andoni Zubizarreta’s net, the kind of strike that lifted the spirits of and eased the pressure on the three team-mates to follow him in the penalty shootout.
That kind of strike came to define a career that saw Shearer become the Premier League’s all-time record goalscorer with a staggering 260 goals, the majority scored for his beloved Newcastle, and one of just eight players to score more than 30 goals for the Three Lions. Of said players to receive over 50 caps, Shearer has the third-best strike-rate after Jimmy Greaves and Gary Lineker – 0.48 goals per game.
Nowadays, Shearer is still on our TV screens, but as Match of the Day’s resident pundit. After some questionable performances during the dark ‘terrible, terrible, terrible’ days of Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson’s final few seasons in the punditry hot seats, when Shearer’s analysis career began, the Newcastle legend has slowly but surely grown into the role, proving to be a solid pair of hands. He’s still regarded by many as the greatest striker in Premier League history.
A somewhat underrated player in the history of England midfielders, David Platt probably belonged in the wrong era. He ghosted in and out of games but was notorious for his trademark late runs into the box, a characteristic that proved so prolific at club and international level that he became one of the few English players of the last 30 years to be a hit abroad, notching up 31 goals across four seasons with Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria.
He was also one of the last few England players to consistently produce at major tournaments; most famously his last-minute winner against Belgium at the 1990 World Cup, alongside the second strike in England’s shootout victory over Spain – the kind of powerful finish with instep you’d expect from a one-time Serie A man.
Fast forward to present day and Platt has slipped off the radar somewhat, excepting the vogue cosmetic surgery of anybody involved in the beautiful game these days – a hair transplant in 2016. Much of that (his absence, not his hair) is a consequence of the former Arsenal midfielder’s inability to transition his underrated quality to the world of management.
Although he served as a coach at Manchester City as they won their first Premier League title, management spells with Sampdoria, Nottingham Forest and England U21s produced a combined win rate of just 27%. He briefly took the helm at Pune City in the Indian Premier League in 2015, but parted company after just eight games.
‘Pyscho’ Pearce took the unusual step of calming his team-mates’ nerves before the penalty shootout by shouting at them with the ferociousness and stare of a man killing his way from behind enemy lines in the Vietnam jungle. But that was Pearcey for you and despite his reputation as a shin-shattering tackler, he was a decent footballer as well and an incredibly accomplished penalty taker, the predominant source of his 107 career goals.
His penalty against Spain was amongst his most impressive conversions, drilling the ball left-footed into the opposing bottom corner of the net to give the goalkeeper no chance whatsoever, whilst his explosive reaction, screaming towards the partisan Wembley crowd, is still one of the England national team’s most iconic images of the modern era.
Pearce’s post-playing career has taken a variety of twists and turns, not least including managing Nottingham Forest three times, twice as caretaker, the last stint coming in 2014 but lasting just 32 games under much-maligned owner Fawaz Al Hasawi. He also managed the England U21s, like Platt, for the best part of seven years and Team GB’s one-off football team at the London 2012 Olympics.
In between, Pearce has gained a reputation as a pundit of particularly dishevelled attire, often resembling a door-to-door salesman whose lack of commission has forced him to buy his clothes from a charity shop. But I guess that’s all part of the punk image Pearce still adheres to at the not-so-live-fast-die-young age of 55.
Could there be a more fitting player to score the final goal in England’s last penalty shootout victory than Gazza? The greatest England player of his generation and the Three Lions’ greatest hope of glory for a succession of international tournaments. In the same competition that saw him score the most sensational of goals against old rivals Scotland, famously flicking the ball over a defender before hammering it home, Gazza applied the finishing touches to England’s penalty shootout win over Spain – albeit also requiring a final save from David Seaman – by calmly and accurately passing the ball into the bottom left corner.
As we know, Gazza has since become English football’s archetypal tortured genius, one of the best players England has ever produced yet shackled by his inner demons, leading to a near-lethal dependence on drink and drugs. At this point, he’s been inducted into rehab, on some occasions involuntarily, eight times and had a similar amount of brushes with the law. He hasn’t worked in football since 2005 either, something that has clearly left an unfillable hole in his life.
This isn’t the place or the time to reap through Gazza’s highs, lows and indiscretions, although the stories of incredibly generosity, laughter and kindness must always be remembered with as much conviction as the tales of notoriety.
But the former Tottenham and Rangers midfielder checked into rehab again earlier this year and although he’s since admitted he’s still not completely alcohol free, he has looked much healthier in recent appearances on Good Morning Britain and at the 2017 Fa Cup final.