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Euro look-backs: Dutch masters at Euro ’88

July 10, 2016



Ruud awakening: captained by Gullit and boasting both van Basten and Rijkaard in their ranks, the funky Dutch came to Euro ’88 full of promise – but would they at last prove to be tournament victors? 

Yes, we’re just hours away from it now, peeps; the biggest – and last – kick-off of Euro 2016. Yup, before this evening’s out, we’ll know whether the favourites, those French fancies spearheaded by the new Gallic superhero Antoine ‘The Griezmann’, have equalled the record of most Euro wins by any nation (that would be three) and also won a third major tournament on home soil, or whether the admittedly so far underwhelming Portuguese, led by their captain fantastic Cristiano Ronaldo, have managed to put the kybosh on what would have been a gigantic Parisian party.

And to get you in the mood for the main attraction across the continent tonight, why not indulge, er, me by casting your eyes down this blog post, the final offering in the short but hopefully sweet, soccer-friendly series of efforts reliving former glories, stories, victories, defeats and draws-resulting-in-dramatic-penalty-shoot-outs from football’s European Championships past.

And, should you be wondering just where the sun’s gone this weekend (almost certainly if you live in Blighty you will be), then this post may prove doubly fitting tonight, because with a decidedly Dutch theme, it promises to lend a very summery orange tan to, well, at least the few minutes it’ll take you to read it, sweeping you back to 28 years ago at Euro ’88, as it will, and the likes of Jack Charlton standing in the dug-out, the England team trying to dig themselves out of yet another hole, Rudi Völler’s disagreeable perm and Marco van Basten’s peerless volleying. On y va…?



When, where and who?

June 10-25 1988/ West Germany/ Participants were Denmark, England, Italy,
Netherlands, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Soviet Union and West Germany (hosts)


The champs



The runners-up

Soviet Union




The final

Netherlands 2 : 0 Soviet Union

Goals: Gullit 32 mins; van Basten 54 mins


The semi-finals

Netherlands 2 : 1 West Germany

Goals: Matthäus (pen) 55 mins (0 : 1); Koeman (pen) 74 mins (1 : 1); van Basten (88 mins) (2 : 1)


Soviet Union 2 : 0 Italy

Goals: Lytovchenko 58 mins (1 : 0); Protasov 82 mins (2 : 0)


The low-down

Revered as the tournament at which the Dutch finally made good on their totaalvoetbal promise, Euro ’88 is less well recalled for its opening match – perhaps because, book-ending the competition nicely, it was contested by the same two sides that met in the final, only with a reversed result. Yes, in this opening group fixture, the Netherlands lost to the USSR 1 : 0. And similarly forgotten in the mists of time is the fact that it was another side in that group whom were favourites not just to make it to the final, but lift the trophy come end the of the tournament –  England, believe it or not. Why’s this been forgotten? Well, probably because England endured surely their worst ever performance at a tournament this time out. And, yes, given recent tournament performances, you might conclude that’s saying something.

Much indeed was expected from a team blessed with the likes of Gary Lineker, Bryan Robson, John Barnes, Chris Waddle and Glenn Hoddle (not least because it looked stronger than that which had been narrowly knocked out by Maradona in Mexico’s World Cup two years before). Yet, in a now familiar tale, a side made up of superstar talent of the English game completely and utterly failed to live up to the hype – so much so it tasted defeat in every one of its group games. The biggest embarrassment came in an opening 1 : 0 loss to a qualifying-for-the-first-time-for-anything Republic of Ireland (see video above), jam-packed full of ‘lesser’ English-born/ based players as it was, thanks to a super looping header from Ray Houghton, a goal that’s understandably still look back on with enormous affection in the Emerald Isle. Mind you, given England endured 3 : 1 defeats in both their other matches, as to which 90 minutes of football was actually their worst here is a good question, when it comes down to it.

Anyway, enough of the failures of the Three Lions, for this tournament was the glorious triumph of the Oranje Leeuw, of course. And, following that opening loss to the Soviets, their team – led and driven by their terrifically talismanic, dreadlocked and moustachioed skipper Ruud Gullit (who’d both won the Ballon d’Or and been named World Footballer of the Year in 1987) – got their act together and finally cruised their way through the group and to the last four. They claimed a 1 : 0 victory against the plucky Irish (whom following a draw against the USSR, sadly couldn’t qualify for the next round, but had firmly established themselves on the international stage) and thoroughly dismantled the English via a splendid second-half hat-trick from the boot of striker extraordinaire Marco van Basten.

But the Dutch were just getting warmed up. For, in the semi they met their greatest foes, the West Germans, which for both nations then, was as a big a deal as they come. A repeat of the final of the 1974 World Cup (which had been snatched away from a dream of a Dutch side featuring Cruyff, Neeskens and co. by the supreme poaching of Der Bomber himself Gerd Müller), the Dutch desperately wanted revenge; the Germans, whom as in ’74 were hosts, wanted victory just as much – not least to recapture the European crown they’d won in 1980 but lost to the French in ’84. And, remarkably just like 14 years before, the tie ended 2 : 1 with the first two goals traded between the sides via the penalty spot.

The result was different this time, though; van Basten proved the hero with an opportunistic sliding shot that Müller would have been proud of to book his nation a place in the final and knock its huge rivals out. Admittedly, a low point was struck following the final whistle when Dutch defender (and scorer of their penalty) Ronald Koeman, in front of his side’s jubilant fans, used a swapped German shirt to simulate wiping his backside; however, to be fair, this provoked nothing like the furore generated by the antics of Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Völler when the teams met again in the World Cup two years later.

You might think that, after that semi, the final would disappoint. Not a chance of it. Having defeated Italy (whom were building towards the next World Cup which they’d host), the Soviet Union were, as mentioned, the somewhat surprise package awaiting there. And yet, although this would be the last big-time tournament tie in which the USSR would play a part (major change for Europe was just around the corner, of course), the Soviet krasnota couldn’t pull off a fairy-tale finale; for the Dutch oranjes flexed their muscles – first via a Gullit bullet header and then via one of the greatest goals ever scored thanks to that man van Basten (see video below) – and, at last, the ghosts of the 1970s near-misses were laid to rest. Not least for their coach Rinus Michels, the man who’d not only led them to oh-so almost glory back in ’74, but had also masterminded ‘Total Football’ in the first place.  At last then, Rinus – and his fellow countrymen – had enjoyed a rich summer to savour. And they’d clogged it to the Germans too.



Fantasy football, favourite son and feeling the Bern: Rinus Michels with the trophy (left), Marco van Basten wins the tournament’s best player and top striker awards (middle) and West German coach Franz Beckenbauer looks like he wants to hop away as he meets mascot Berni the rabbit (right) 


The most valuable player

Marco van Basten

Honourable mentions: Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard
and Jan Wouters (Netherlands); Lothar Matthäus (West Germany)


The top scorer

Marco van Basten ~ 5 goals


The turkeys



The unforgettable moment

It has to be – and is – that impudent and incredible near-sideways volleyed goal Marco van Basten netted in the final against the USSR to seal the Dutch their first (and, so far, only) major football title.


The abiding memory

If you’ve orange blood coursing through your veins, Euro ’88 is surely the greatest summer of football – nay, maybe of all sport – the world has ever witnessed. Featuring the AC Milan defence-midfield-attack axis that was the Rijkaard-Gullit-van Basten triumverate and kitted out in maybe the greatest soccer shirt ever to grace a game, the Dutch weren’t just worthy winners of this tournament they were truly glorious victors, putting right the ‘wrongs’ they – and possibly many purists of the football fraternity – had endured in 1974 and ’78. For the West Germans, though (whom also wore one of the best ever football kits), this was a rare contest to forget; failing to get to the final and beaten by bitter rivals. And for England? Well, nobody of an English persuasion ever really wants to think about, let alone mention Euro ’88. However, for both these nations’ teams, sunny times lay ahead and would be enjoyed very soon – in Italy in two summers’ time, in fact…






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