Euro 96: The Best Players
1. Matthias Sammer, Germany
One of few players to be described as "the new Beckenbauer", Sammer reached the pinnacle of his career in 1996. He secured back-to-back Bundesliga triumphs and won the Ballon d’Or. His next challenge was to lead an underwhelming German team through the European Championships on their fierce rivals' turf. But as he later told FourFourTwo, "We didn't have the best team. What we had was a great team spirit. We knew there wouldn’t be many more tournaments for most of us – we had, let’s say, a mature team – so we were determined to overcome any problems."
Sammer scored the opener against Russia and the quarter-final winner against Croatia before settling calmly into a more defensive role for the semi-final and final against Czech Rebublic, he climbed the famous Wembley steps victorious, deservedly being named UEFA's Player of the Tournament. As FourFourTwo advised new England boss Glenn Hoddle after the tournament: "Don't try to model the team on an English version of Matthias Sammer. At least, not until we've developed one." The search goes on.
2. Davor Suker, Croatia
Croatia made quite a splash in their first tournament, reaching the quarter-finals before going out 2-1 to eventual champions Germany. Their goalscorer that day was Davor Suker, finishing off his brilliant drag-back around goalkeeper Andreas Kopke to impetuously equalise Jurgen Kilnsmann's penalty – and to add to the two goals he'd scored in the groups against Denmark.
The second (at 3'45" in this compilation) will live long in the memory: with the desperate Danes pushing Peter Schmeichel forward for a late corner, Croatia break at pace and find Suker in space. A breathtaking first touch takes him clear, and although Schmeichel gets back in time, he needn't have bothered: Suker's stunning chip sails clear over him and drops perfectly into the goal. Croatia went on to reach the World Cup semi-finals and Suker became their all-time top scorer, but this was the moment that made the world – and not just Schmeichel – look up and watch in wonder.
3. Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria
Bulgaria had bustled to the semi-finals at USA 94, and at Euro 96 much was expected of their star player, who moved from Parma to Barcelona that summer. The mercurial forward was one of only a handful of genuinely star players on show in England that summer, and thankfully he shone as brightly as any of them, despite looking as if he was permanently ready for an argument.
He had plenty of reason to look miffed: Bulgaria could only come third in their group, behind Spain and France. However, it wasn't for the lack of trying by Stoichkov: he scored in all three of their games, and had this brilliantly taken, perfectly legitimate goal chalked off in the opener against Spain. No wonder he looked ready to rumble.
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4. Alan Shearer, England
Strange as it seems now, Shearer's place was under serious questioning coming into Euro 96. He hadn't scored in 12 games for Blackburn and 13 for England, stretching back two years. But manager Terry Venables stuck with him. "There was no doubt in my mind he should play, because he’s the sort who can win a game," Venables later told FourFourTwo. "He was, quite simply, a goalscorer. You can never leave a player like that out, and he proved me right."
Indeed, Shearer justified his manager's faith within 22 minutes of the opener against Switzerland. He also opened the scoring against Scotland, the Netherlands (against whom he bagged a brace) and Germany, carrying him to the Golden Boot. England went out on penalties, as they do, but not because of Shearer: in both England's penalty shoot-outs he went first and scored. Of course.
5. Karel Poborsky, Czech Republic
Being the first 16-team European Championship finals, Euro 96 introduced a host of new names, including six new countries (including the Czech Republic). Of all the new faces, the extravagantly-maned bonce of Poborsky was perhaps the most eye-catching – and not just for his wavy, Carlos Puyol meets My Little Pony barnet. Presumably Alex Ferguson didn't sign him a month after Euro 96 to pick up grooming tips. A clever, skilful right-winger, Poborsky caught the eye in an inventive Czech team who got better as the tournament went on, and their most memorable moment came with Poborsky's quarter-final winner against Portugal (at 0'45" in this compilation).
Receiving the ball in the inside-left position about 40 yards out, Poborsky drives towards the goal and beats four players, albeit as much through luck as judgement (there's a particularly fortuitous ricochet). However, there's nothing jammy about his finish - a glorious 20-yard scoop of unusually high amplitude which kisses the clouds before dropping into the goal. Sadly for Karel's club career, he was directly competing with a young David Beckham, and didn't last long at Old Trafford – certainly not as long as the memory of this goal.