Long before Covid regulations on foreign travel, a friendly invasion from six nations engulfed Manchester in the unforgettable sporting summer of 1996.
Old Trafford was home to the national teams of Germany, Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic in the UEFA Euro 96 football championships – as well as their thousands of fans.
Russians sailed into Merseyside by ship, while Italians and Germans drove overland and journeyed by air to cheer on their team in Group C of the qualifying stages.
Later on, supporters from France and Croatia streamed into Manchester for the quarter-finals and semi-finals fought out at Old Trafford before the final at Wembley on June 30th.
The opening match in Group C on June 9th was a 2-0 victory for Germany over the Czech Republic. It was a prophetic clash as the paths of the two sides would cross later in the tournament.
A crowd of 37,300 at Old Trafford saw goals from Christian Ziege and Andreas Moller defeat a talented Czech team including future Manchester United winger Karel Poborsky.
Over at Anfield, Italy beat Russia 2-1 on June 11th with goals from striker Pierluigi Casiraghi in the 5th and 52nd minute. Midfielder Ilya Tsymbalar replied for Russia.
Three days later, Italy were in action at Anfield again – this time against the Czech Republic. The trio of Poborksy, defender Radoslav Latal and attacker Pavel Kuka were outstanding. It was no surprise that all three made the team of the tournament.
The game ended in a 2-1 defeat for Italy. It was time to start taking the Czech Republic seriously.
Germany continued their relentless progress by defeating Russia 3-0 at Old Trafford on June 16th with two goals from Jurgen Klinsmann and one from Matthias Sammer.
The final group game at Anfield on June 19th was a thrilling 3-3 draw between Russia and the Czech Republic, who finished on four points.
At the same time, over at Old Trafford, Italy were fighting to stay in the tournament against group leaders Germany. The result was a 0-0 draw with Chelsea’s Gianfranco Zola failing to convert a penalty.
Although Italy also finished on four points, they went out thanks to losing to the Czech Republic in their head-to-head match.
Old Trafford then hosted the quarter-final between Germany and Croatia on June 23rd. Germany won 2-1 with a penalty from Klinsmann and a further goal from Sammer. Davor Suker was on target for Croatia.
Manchester’s final involvement in Euro 96 was the semi-final between France and the Czech Republic at Old Trafford. A crowd of 43,877 saw the match end at 0-0 after extra time with the Czech side reaching the final thanks to penalty shoot-out.
Away from the North West, home nation England under manager Terry Venables were enjoying a brilliant run with two Manchester United players in the squad – Phil and Gary Neville.
Defender Gary was England’s youngest first-choice player during his debut tournament. He played in every game until being suspended due to collecting two yellow cards in separate matches.
United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel also featured strongly for Denmark. The Danes left the competition after drawing 1-1 with Portugal, losing 3-0 to Croatia and beating Turkey 3-0.
England started their group matches by drawing 1-1 with Switzerland and then defeating Scotland 2-0 at Wembley.
Paul Gascoigne’s sublime goal, where he lobbed Scots defender Colin Hendry before slotting the ball past ‘keeper Andy Goram, lives on in the memory.
England’s final group match was the landmark 4-1 victory over Holland which sent the whole nation into raptures. Future Manchester United player Teddy Sheringham scored twice with the other two goals coming from Alan Shearer.
A rare penalty shoot-out triumph against Spain in the quarter-finals saw England through to the semi-final against old foes Germany at Wembley on June 26th.
A goal by Shearer in the third minute was cancelled out by Stefan Kuntz 13 minutes later – and the match went to extra time and then penalties. England lost the shoot-out 6-5.
It could have been so different had Darren Anderton converted Steve McManaman’s cross in the final minutes of extra time instead of hitting the post.
So it was two Group C teams – Germany and the Czech Republic – who contested the final at Wembley on June 30th.
Germany won 2-1 thanks to a golden goal from Oliver Bierhoff in extra time.
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