Euro 2012: Players of Past Tournaments: Paul Gascoigne – 1996

Nation: England

European Championships: Euro 96, England

Perhaps the last time England were genuine contenders at a major tournament came on home soil at Euro 96. The squad contained a number of experienced pros, such as Tony Adams, Paul Ince and David Platt, and the potent strike-force of the competition’s top-scorer Alan Shearer paired with Teddy Sheringham. But there was one player who captured the imagination more than any other – the enigmatic Paul Gascoigne.

The midfielder was never far away from controversy in his career, but arrived at Euro 96 in good form on the back of a successful debut season at Rangers that saw the Ibrox club claim the domestic treble. Despite some criticism of Gascoigne, the England manager Terry Venables installed him as a central figure in his plans for the European Championships. He didn’t disappoint.

After drawing with Switzerland in the opening fixture, England went into their next game against Scotland needing a result. Wembley was the stage for one of English football’s most memorable moments when, just a minute after a David Seaman penalty save, the irrepressible Gascoigne produced a sublime piece of skill to illuminate and ignite England’s tournament.

Darren Anderton fed the ball into Gascoigne, who stunned Colin Hendry with a chip over his head with his first touch before volleying into the bottom corner with his second. The famous celebration that followed referenced the controversy around a drunken night that saw Gascoigne, Sheringham and Steve McManaman photographed drinking in a dentist’s chair, and a first class plane cabin destroyed. The cheeky celebration and touch of magic that preceded it encapsulated Paul Gascoigne.

In the final group came the former Newcastle, Tottenham and Lazio man helped inspire England to an emphatic 4-1 victory over the Netherlands, in one of English football’s more proud moments. In the quarter-final stage against Spain, following a 0-0 draw, Gascoigne scored the decisive penalty which made the score 4-2 in the shootout, and enabled Seaman to make a save that took England into the next round.

Against the Germans in the semi-final, Gascoigne produced another moment that will forever be etched onto the memory of England’s fans. In extra-time, with the golden goal rule in force, Gascoigne stretched for Alan Shearer’s centre, but the studs of his left boot agonisingly scraped the ball as it passed him by. A clean connection would have brought a final against the Czech Republic, and the opportunity to end thirty years of hurt, rather than the resulting defeat on penalties.

Despite the heartbreak and more tears, Gascoigne provided a much needed injection of entertainment into a tournament that was criticised for its lack of goals and excitement. If only he had managed to convert the golden chance in the semi-final, he would have been granted his desire of playing in a major international final. Victory would have provided his career with the recognition it is perhaps lacking.

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