Top 5: England’s best ever Euros performances

With the opening game of Euro 2024 now just a week away, we are going to look back through England's best ever Euros performances.

Despite being such a huge footballing nation, this is only England's third successive European Championship appearance, with the Three Lions having failed to qualify under Steve McClaren for the 2008 edition.

In fact, that's their only absence from the Euro finals in the past nine editions, and they even broke new ground by reaching the Euro 2020 final three years ago. With England being current outright favourites, they are expected to go similarly deep into this summer's tournament.

England's best ever Euros performances
David Seaman was the hero for England vs Spain – Photo by Icon Sport

England's best ever Euros performances

Spain 0-0 England (2-4p) – 1996

England were up against it as they faced off against the stylish footballing nation of Spain. La Roja were on form in this specific encounter, having put the ball in the back of the net twice in the first half, only to see the linesman hold up his flag for offside, although their second one was wrongfully ruled out in hindsight.

As well as two offside goals, Pual Gascoigne was fortunate to not give away a second-half penalty for a clear collision. So, when it got to the dreaded penalty shootout, the players were ready to count their blessings and etch their name into history, atoning for their elimination by Germany in this cruellest of duels six years prior.

After the man who infamously burst into tears that night, Paul Gascoigne, netted to make it 4-2 and match point, Miguel Angel Nadal knew he had to score to keep Spain in the competition. The Beast of Barcelona struck right-footed with the expected force, but Seaman guessed correctly and sent his country through to the semi-finals.

Of course, as every England fan knows, there would be no fairytale in the next round. Once again the Three Lions were taken to penalties, but felt the bitter blow of defeat to Germany once again.

England vs Scotland 1996
Paul Gascoigne scored one of the most iconic English goals against Scotland in 1996 – Photo by Icon Sport

England 2-0 Scotland – 1996

England vs Scotland is the oldest rivalry in international football, and this game belonged to the Three Lions, who were looking to atone for a poor 1-1 opening night draw against Switzerland.

Just hours after an IRA bomb had rocked Manchester to its very core, Wembley would experience three explosions of emotion after 53 goalless and hard-fought minutes, as eventual top scorer Alan Shearer first smashed in a lead-giving goal for the Three Lions.

It was still far from easy though, as Scotland were awarded a penalty soon after. Gary McAllister stepped up, but was denied by Seaman as Wembley erupted again. But those two cheers were nothing compared to the one that greeted England's greatest Euro goal in living memory.

With a new lease of life after that let-off, England went straight down the other end. Paul Gascoigne received the ball inside Scotland's half, with his first touch being to flick it over Colin Hendry's head. Next, he volleyed home before the ball even hit the ground.

It's one of the most iconic goals in English footballing history, which also brought about an equally as special celebration of the ‘dentist's chair', where players sprayed water all over a supine, but jubilant Gascoigne.

England vs Germany Euro 2020
England recorded a memorable win against Germany at Euro 2020 – Photo by Icon Sport

England 2-0 Germany – 2020

Germany were a shadow of their former selves at Euro 2020, but were still an old rival whom England – more often than not – came up short against. The Three Lions breezed through their group and got the chance to welcome Germany to Wembley and avenge their past.

It was 0-0 at half time with both sides squandering good opportunities, and it was Die Mannschaft who would rue them in the second 45, when Raheem Sterling netted to put his country ahead in one of their biggest games of this century to date.

However, Sterling nearly turned villain by giving the ball away later on, allowing Germany to counter-attack, with Thomas Muller going through one-on-one. Time appeared to slow down, but the veteran international slipped his shot well wide of Jordan Pickford's post.

This was a sign that it could be England's time at last, and it certainly turned out to be, with captain Harry Kane rounding things off deep into the second half to create scenes rarely witnessed at the new Wembley.

An England win over Germany at a major tournament hadn't been seen since Euro 2000, when a Shearer goal was enough to see them get past Germany. They are currently unbeaten in four games against one of their biggest rivals.

Harry Kane scoring against Denmark at Euro 2020
Harry Kane scored the goal to book England a spot in the final of Euro 2020 – Photo by Icon Sport

England 2-1 Denmark – 2020

Playing at Wembley in a semi-final of a major tournament was always going to be an occasion for England fans, but they would have been fearing the worst after half an hour when Mikkel Damsgaard smashed home a stunning-long-range free-kick.

In that moment, Southgate would have likely seen a vision of his younger grey-shirted self slumped on the pitch, along with most of the older England fans, with history looking set to repeat itself 25 years on from their semi-final elimination to Germany.

But slump the England of 2021 did not, and Sterling unwittingly sparked the fightback, when he was found in the centre of the box on the stroke of half-time. In a desperate attempt to make an interception, captain Simon Kjaer slid the ball home into his own goal and got the home side level.

Denmark did enough to take the game into extra time, but they began to flag, as England got ever closer to the kill. Of course, there had to be spot-kick heartbreak first, as Kasper Schmeichel thwarted Harry Kane from the spot… but only for a moment, as Kane smashed home the rebound to put England into the final.

England vs Netherlands 1996
England advanced out of the group stages at Euro 1996 thanks to a win over the Netherlands – Photo by Icon Sport

England 4-1 Netherlands – 1996

This is still widely considered England's best-ever performance at a European Championship, having wiped the floor with a Netherlands side that boasted the likes of Frank De Boer, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert and Jaap Stam.

It was also sweet revenge for one of England's darkest moments of the 1990s, when a 2-0 defeat to the Dutch in October 1993 all but ruined England's chances of reaching the 1994 World Cup.

The changes made in the nearly one-thousand (979) days since then were all evident in this masterclass, as two goals each from Shearer and Teddy Sheringham was enough to put the Three Lions into a comfortable 4-0 lead, despite them only needing a draw to qualify out of the groups in 1996.

Kluivert's consolation was (and is) but a footnote, and ultimately, this is the greatest textbook example of how to come at bigger teams in games of huge consequence. For certain, it's one that Southgate himself will no doubt instil in his charges, with the England boss himself having played his part on the day.

Aaron is a multi-skilled sports content writer and media professional. He is a specialist in both Men's and Women's football, along with golf.