Almost 24 million people watched the penalty shoot-out climax of England's Euro 2004 game against Portugal, with a record average of 20.7m for the match.
A record BBC soccer audience witnessed England's disappointment
Some 23.9m tuned in from 2215-2230BST, according to unofficial figures.
The 20.7m game average - from the first whistle to the conclusion - was the highest average for a BBC football broadcast since records began in 1981.
Other matches have had higher audiences - but they have either been on just ITV or split between BBC One and ITV.
More than four-fifths of all TV viewers watched the dramatic end to the quarter-final game live on BBC One, which Portugal won on penalties.
SOCCER AUDIENCES SINCE 1981
World Cup 90: England vs Germany - 26.2m (BBC One & ITV)
Euro 96: England vs Germany - 23.8m (BBC One & ITV)
World Cup 98: England vs Argentina - 23.8m (ITV)
Euro 2004: England vs Portugal - 20.7m (BBC One, unofficial figures)
Figures are match averages. Source: BBC
Viewing figures based on BBC research showed that an average of 19.3m tuned into Match of the Day between 1930 and 2245 BST, peaking at 23.9m.
Figures for the duration of the match itself, from 1945 to 2230, showed an average audience of 20.7m.
The figures do not include those who watched the game in pubs or clubs.
England's 1990 World Cup semi-final defeat against Germany was seen by 26.2m - split between BBC One and ITV.
The Euro 1996 clash Germany - on BBC One and ITV - and the 1998 World Cup clash with Argentina, shown solely on ITV, both had averages of 23.8m.