England play their first Euro 2016 game on Saturday, and the nation will be hoping they can put an end to 50 years of hurt.
Here are six pivotal moments from previous Euro campaigns, which, if we heed them, may just mean that this might be our year
Gazza goes for goal against Scotland
England’s Euro 96 campaign is bound up with so much nostalgia and emotion, even though we didn’t go all the way, it produced so many legendary moments. One such was Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland in the group stage at Wembley. England had only just narrowly avoided the Scots equalising from a penalty (thanks to an inspired save from David Seaman) and, from a free-kick after the corner, they went on the attack. With a few deft passes, the ball found Gazza, who flicked it over Colin Hendry and hammered it home, leaving the Scots dumbfounded and England 2-0 up. Bravo.
John Terry’s ‘Foot of God’ in Euro 2012
Football is all a matter of perspective, which is also to say that hindsight is a marvellous thing. In other words (and until touch-line technology makes the game that little bit more dull), in the heat of the moment, life and death decisions are left to the fallible. England has been on the wrong end of its fair share of injustices down the years, so it was (how do we put this?)... refreshing when John Terry (apparently) cleared the ball off the line in a 1-0 win against Ukraine. Perspective and hindsight didn’t matter. This was poetic justice. And we all need a little bit of that.
Alan Shearer beats The Netherlands
Alan Shearer scored two of England’s four (yes, count them) goals against Netherlands during Euro 96. This was England at its finest, showing sublime footwork and superlative teamwork. Superb play saw the Lions pretty much shred the Netherlands’ defence in a 4-1 win. Gascoigne set up the best strike, beating one defender and then drawing another before passing to Teddy Sheringham, who flicked the ball to Shearer to fire the ball past the goalkeeper at an impressive 77mph.
Wayne Rooney makes his mark at Euro 2004
Wayne Rooney was 10 years old when the likes of Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne were waving the flag for a nation, and although he trained with Gazza toward the end of his career, when the 18-year-old played in Euro 2004, he achieved near-legendary status himself, scoring four of the competition’s most memorable goals. Rooney struck twice against Switzerland, heading one and seeing a shot rebound off a post and into the net off the goalkeeper’s head, and two more against Croatia. He was rightly dubbed the discovery of the tournament.
Owen keeps the dream alive... for a little bit
Even though England went on to lose the game 6-5 on penalties, Michael Owen continued to prove one of the world’s top strikers against Portugal in 2004. His improvised flick finish on the turn put England ahead three minutes in, but Portugal levelled late on through Hélder Postiga’s header before Sol Campbell had a 90th-minute ‘goal’ controversially ruled out. Rui Costa put Portugal ahead in extra-time before Frank Lampard sent the match to a shootout, which went the way of the hosts, leaving England to go out of a major tournament on penalties for the fourth time.
...But let’s try to avoid a repeat of this
Football is cathartic, so when Gareth Southgate missed his penalty in the Euro 96 semi-finals, not only did he feel as though his world had caved in, but an entire legion of fans hung their heads and went home to kick the sofa and wallow in misery. It was the closest we’ve come to winning the tournament. It went down to the wire, with a penalty shootout against the old foe, Germany, which ended in a 5-5 draw and led to sudden death. After Southgate’s attempt was saved, the Germans still had their captain, Andy Moller, who made sure by netting the newly-adopted ‘golden goal.’