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The Greatest Comeback: Stuart Pearce’s penalty or Lasse Viren at the Olympics?

| 04.06.2020

Who will win in today’s vote?

It’s Day Two in our Greatest Comeback poll and today it’s football against athletics as two more contenders enter the fray.

Stuart Pearce’s redemption at Euro ’96 is going up against Lasse Viren, who defied the odds to triumph at the 1972 Olympics.

But who will make it into the last eight? That’s where we need your help.

Greatest Comeback 2

Stuart Pearce’s penalty at Euro ‘96

Stuart PearceEngland fans of a certain age don’t need reminding of Italia ’90. After creeping through the group stages, cagey wins over Belgium and Cameroon set up a mouth-watering semi-final tie with West Germany.

120 minutes of football later, the pair couldn’t be separated and England faced the prospect of a penalty shootout, knowing even if they won they’d be without suspended talisman Paul Gascoigne.

But it wasn’t to be as England missed two penalties to crash out of the competition. Chris Waddle missed the deciding spot-kick in what would be his last tournament appearance for England.

But Stuart Pearce, the other player to miss, was just three years into his international career and it would be another six before he’d be able to redeem himself.

England failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1994 and Pearce lost his place in the side when Terry Venables took charge. But an injury to Graeme Le Saux gave ‘Psycho’ a lifeline and he was called up to the squad for the home Euros in 1996.

Once again England reached the knockout stage where they met Spain. A goalless draw at Wembley set up a penalty shootout and the entire country held its breath, desperate for history not to repeat itself.

Alan Shearer and David Platt buried their spot-kicks and, not wanting to hide after his World Cup heartbreak and looking to make amends, Pearce stepped up.

The 34-year-old left-back rifled the ball past Andoni Zubizarreta, who dived the right way, and Pearce’s passionate release of emotion in celebration has become one of English football’s most iconic images.England went on to win the shootout to set up another semi-final and another round of penalties with Germany, in which Pearce scored again to put the past behind him.

But the fairy tale wasn’t to be as they ultimately lost the shootout. It was Gareth Southgate who missed the deciding kick this time, but the defender more than made up for it by guiding England to their first semi-final since 1996 as manager at the 2018 World Cup.

Lasse Viren at the 1972 Olympics

Lasse Viren

Just under a quarter of a century earlier, Lasse Viren was making headlines at the Munich Olympics.

The Fin’s name may not be as recognisable as his opponent to British fans, but his achievement speaks for itself.

Viren enjoyed a successful summer in Munich, becoming just the fourth person in history to win gold in both the 5,000m and 10,000m.

But it was the longer race that came first and was the one that caused him the most trouble.

Viren started the race strongly, staying within the leading pack, but a tumble during the 12th lap put his medal chances in jeopardy.

Following a tangle of legs with fellow athlete Emiel Puttemans, Viren fell to the ground and also caused Mohamed Gammoudi to trip.

But his winning mentality was evident as he picked himself up and made it his mission to get back in contention.

Viren lost around 20 metres on the leaders following his fall but less than 150 metres later, he was back in among the front pack. Then, with just one-and-a-half laps remaining, he embarked on an extraordinary bolt to the end, with Puttemans the only competitor with enough left in the tank to keep up.

Despite the chase, Viren held on to win in 27:38:40, a time which is still the record at the Olympiastadion.

And to prove it wasn’t a fluke, the gold medallist raced home to win the 5,000m a week later.

Cast your vote

So there you have it. Our next two contenders for the Greatest Comeback. But who’s was more impressive? Let us know in our poll on Twitter.

View the latest sports odds.

All odds and markets correct as of date of publication.



Harry Howes

Having previously worked on national newspapers, Harry is an experienced writer who is obsessed with all things football and Wilfried Zaha, even naming his cat after the future Ballon d’Or winner.