A friendly invasion from five nations engulfed Merseyside in the unforgettable sporting summer of 1996.
Anfield became the home stadium for Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic in the UEFA Euro 96 football championships – and thousands of fans came along too.
Russians arrived by ship, while Italians drove overland and journeyed by air to support their team in Group C of the qualifying stages.
The fourth team in the group, Germany, played their games at Old Trafford. Although they would ultimately win the tournament, they never made it to Merseyside.
Later on, fans from Holland and France streamed into Liverpool for the quarter-final between the two countries at Anfield.
The opening match in Group C was a hard-fought battle between Italy and Russia on Tuesday June 11th watched by a crowd of 35,120.
Italy won 2-1 with two goals from striker Pierluigi Casiraghi in the 5th and 52nd minute. Midfielder Ilya Tsymbalar scored for Russia after 21 minutes.
In the meantime, Germany had beaten the Czech Republic 2-0 at Old Trafford.
Three days later, Italy were in action at Anfield again – this time against a talented Czech Republic side including the outstanding trio of defender Radoslav Latal, midfielder Karel Poborsky and attacker Pavel Kuka. All three made the team of the tournament.
The Czech Republic took the lead in the 5th minute with a goal from another gifted player, Pavel Nedved, but Italy equalized through striker Enrico Chiesa in the 18th minute.
The game was sealed with a goal from defensive midfielder Radek Bejbl in the 35th minute. The Czech Republic won 2-1.
In the meantime, Germany kept up their relentless progress by defeating Russia 3-0 in Manchester.
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 competition against group leaders Germany. The result was a 0-0 draw with Zola failing to convert a penalty.
Although Italy also had four points, they went out thanks to losing to the Czech Republic in their head-to-head match.
There would be one more game to play at Anfield – the quarter final between France and the Netherlands on June 22nd. Liverpool was awash with orange as the Dutch supporters arrived in the city along with the blue, white and red of the French.
Played in front of 37,465 spectators, the game was locked at 0-0 after extra time. But France won the penalty shoot-out 5-4 after Clarence Seedorf missed for Holland.
Away from Merseyside, home nation England were enjoying a brilliant run in the competition with three Liverpool players in the squad – midfielders Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp and striker Robbie Fowler.
Bootle-born McManaman played extensively and ended up in the team of the tournament. He was involved in three of England’s four goals in their landmark 4-1 victory over Holland in the group stages.
He was also shortlisted for the Most Valuable Player award behind the eventual winner, Germany’s Jurgen Klinsmann.
England’s Euro 96 ended at Wembley on June 26th when they were knocked out, once again, by Germany. With the match drawn at 1-1 after extra time, England lost 6-5 in the penalty shoot-out.
It could have been so different if Darren Anderton had converted McManaman’s cross in the final minutes of extra time instead of hitting the post with his shot.
Oddly enough, it was two Group C teams – West 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.
The Czech Republic’s goal came from a player who would go on to make a big impact for Liverpool in his own right – attacking midfielder Patrik Berger.
He spent seven years at Anfield from 1996 to 2003, scoring 28 goals in 148 league appearances for the Reds.
*Hundreds of pictures from an unforgettable decade are packed into Clive Hardy’s fascinating book Around Merseyside in the 1960s. It’s available at £9.99 plus postage and packaging.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or ring the hotline on 01928 503777.