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Southgate and Koeman, the glory and the drama of the 90s


The Dutch coach scored a goal that would eliminate England from the 1994 World Cup. Three years later, the England coach neutralized Bergkamp during a fabulous 4-1 at Wembley

Vaan Gaal and Koeman watching a practice in Barcelona.
Vaan Gaal and Koeman watching a practice in Barcelona.

Wembley shone with a unique spell that Tuesday night. "The atmosphere was incredible, with the colorful stands and the chants of our people. That day we thought we could win the Euros," recalled Alan Shearer. On June 18, 1996, English fans even cheered with the Swing Low Sweet Chariot, the anthem reserved for rugby at Twickenham. Many couldn't believe what they were seeing with such a display of play. With quick passes, a vertiginous style of football, and the double goals from Teddy Sheringham and Shearer, England annihilated the Netherlands 4-1, one of the favorites. Their only moment of doubt came just before halftime, after a defensive mistake. The rule that prevented passing the ball back to the goalkeeper with the feet had just been introduced in the tournament, so many defenders had not yet developed the automatism. Therefore, David Seaman had to correct against Dennis Bergkamp with the best save of the match. The teammate who had tried to pass him the ball with an erratic header was named Gareth Southgate.

At that time, the current England manager was a promising 26-year-old defender from Aston Villa, playing his sixth game with the national team. A week after his debut against Switzerland (2-0), where he played as a sweeper, Terry Venables entrusted him with the most delicate mission. Southgate was tasked with marking Bergkamp. His physical attributes suited the Arsenal forward better than those of Tony Adams, his mentor during his first season at Highbury. For over an hour, Southgate's intensity in every jump, in every contested ball, overwhelmed Bergkamp. The '10' only shone at the 79th minute, with a delightful assist to Patrick Kluivert. Without that goal, the Netherlands would have been eliminated in favor of Scotland due to goal difference.

"We have to admit that we were taught a lesson in every aspect," admitted Guus Hiddink, whose 3-4-3 formation was greatly weakened by the absences of Edgar Davids, sidelined due to constant disciplinary issues, and the injured Frank de Boer. "We were lucky to score one, because the match could have ended 5-0 or 6-0," acknowledged his brother Ronald. The talent of the Oranje, with four starters from the dominant Ajax team in the Champions League, couldn't withstand the onslaught unleashed by Venables. The build-up to the 3-0 goal, initiated by Steve McManaman and Paul Gascoigne, is still celebrated among analysts for Sheringham's unselfish pass to allow Shearer to beat Edwin van der Sar.

The thrashing was a sweet revenge for some veterans like Seaman, Adams, Shearer, or Paul Ince, who missed out on the 1994 World Cup after a tough 2-0 loss in Rotterdam. Ronald Koeman, scorer of a direct free-kick goal and spared from a red card despite a clear foul on David Platt, shared the spotlight with Graham Taylor. The English coach, heavily criticized in the press, had a peculiar conversation with the linesman: "I'm just telling your colleague that the referee has sent me off. Thank him for that, will you?"

The arrival of Venables, the coach who had led Barcelona to the European Cup final in 1986, was a turning point for the FA and its complex environment, always under historical pressure. In fact, after the mentioned 4-1 victory, bookmakers started to seriously consider England as title contenders. They had avoided France in the quarterfinals to continue their journey at Wembley, where they would condemn Spain after mistakes from Fernando Hierro and Miguel Ángel Nadal in the penalty shootout.

However, the joy from the penalty spot would run out against Germany, with a miss from Southgate in the sixth round, already in sudden death. It took 22 years, until March 2018, to see The Three Lions defeat the Dutch again. Interestingly, that 0-1 at the Amsterdam Arena, with Southgate at the helm, was Koeman's first match as the Dutch national team coach.