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Euro classics: Marco van Basten 1988 super show stuns favourites



Ahead of Euro 2024, Sports Mole looks back on Marco van Basten’s scintillating displays for the Netherlands in the 1988 edition.

For a country that has contributed so much to football, and left such an indelible footprint on the global game, the Netherlands have won remarkably little silverware.

Their only major title is the 1988 Euros, where they stunned hosts and favourites Germany, a decade on from the swansong of their legendary ‘Total Football’ years.

The man chiefly responsible for Oranje’s triumph was Marco van Basten, who was one of the finest strikers to ever play the game, despite ultimately having a short-lived career.

Van Basten 1988: Rebounding from an early setback

The Dutch made a slow start to the 1988 European Championships, which was hosted just across the border in West Germany.

In Group C’s opener, the Dutch fell to a 1-0 defeat to the Soviet Union, with a 52nd minute goal from USSR winger Vasiliy Rats, despite the Dutch dominating long spells of the game.

Absent from the starting lineup in this game, though, was Van Basten. Manager Rinus Michels would not make that mistake again.

© Reuters

In the Dutch’s second group game, Michels unleashed van Basten alongside Ruud Gullit, the results devastated opponents England.

Van Basten’s first saw him turn Arsenal legend Tony Adams inside out on the turn before firing in with his left foot. His second was a cool finish across goal from a Gullit assist. Van Basten turned on the style to finish his hat-trick, adjusting his body at the last minute to fire in a volley from a ricocheting corner.

Despite Bryan Robson‘s goal, England were defeated 3-1, and the Clockwork Orange were ticking over nicely.

Settling old scores

Six days later, the Dutch faced off against West Germany in Hamburg, in a game about more than just football.

West Germany had defeated Johan Cruyff‘s free-flowing, total-footballing side in the final of the 1974 World Cup, and there was deep animosity between the two from the occupation of the Netherlands during World War Two.

When Frank Rijkaard brought down Jurgen Klinsmann just after half time, it looked as though German steel would triumph over Dutch silk once again, as Lothar Matthaus converted the subsequent penalty.

But feisty Dutch captain Ronald Koeman hammered home a spot kick of his own to level things 20 minutes later, after Van Basten had won a penalty.

And in the 88th minute, Van Basten made another ingenious run, in the blind spot of the tiring West German defence. With only a split second to pull the trigger, Van Basten coolly tucked the ball into the very corner of the net, ending West Germany’s hopes of a home triumph.

The Dutch were elated, and were not shy about expressing themselves. As such, Koeman performed one of the most infamous acts in European Championship history, when he mimed wiping his behind with the shirt of Olaf Thon in front of the apoplectic home support.

Writing his name into the history books

Netherlands' Marco Van Basten celebrates with Ruud Gullit after scoring in the Euro 1988 final on June 25, 1988© Reuters

Like all good stories, the Dutch’s triumph began how it ended, with a rematch of their opening game against the Soviet Union awaiting them in the final.

Backed by a vast army of supporters who had crossed the border, all clad in orange, the Dutch were almost caught cold by Hennadiy Lytovchenko‘s early effort, relying on a save from Hans van Breukelen.

But Van Basten did not stay quiet for long, assisting captain Gullit with a gravity-defying header back across goal. However, his contribution to this final is not remembered for that assist though, and with good reason.

In the 54th minute, a looping cross from left-winger Arnold Muhren reached Van Basten deep in the right of the penalty area, just a few metres from the touchline, and about ten away from the Soviet goal. An ordinary player would have hooked the ball back towards the onrushing Gullit, but instead, Van Basten decided to score one of the greatest goals of all time.

Van Basten hit the ball on an audacious full volley, with an impossible amount of top spin that looped the ball up and down over Rinat Dasaev and into the top left corner of the goal. The star striker’s teammates were awestruck and mobbed their number 12 in raucous celebrations, before going on to lift their nation’s first and only piece of silverware.

Who could follow in Van Basten’s footsteps at Euro 2024?

Marco van Basten pictured in January 2017© Reuters

Across football history, the Dutch have been known for their swashbuckling attacking football, with star-studded front-lines, but often underwhelming defences.

For example, the last Dutch golden generation of Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben had the likes of Bruno Martins-Indi and Joris Mathijsen at the back.

But in the last five years or so, the Dutch talent pool has totally flipped. They now possess an embarrassment of riches at the back, with towering captain Virgil van Dijk supported by the likes of Nathan Ake, Matthijs de Ligt, Micky van de Ven and Jurrien Timber, although the latter will not be present at Euro 2024.

In attack though, pickings are a little slimmer. Cody Gakpo, Donyell Malen and Wout Weghorst are not poor players, but are not in the same league as the likes of Dennis Bergkamp or Patrick Kluivert.

The two players that stand the best chance of firing the Dutch to glory from the front are Xavi Simons and Memphis Depay.

Simons has had another fine season on the continent, registering 19 goals and assists in his 32 appearances for RB Leipzig. A host of elite European clubs are circling around the versatile attacker, and a top Euros showing could help him make another step up.

Depay has not consistently hit the heights for his clubs since his explosive arrival at the 2014 World Cup, but he has never disappointed his nation. His 44 Oranje goals are only bettered by Van Persie’s 50.

Depay is a free agent after the expiry of his Atletico Madrid contract. If the now-30-year-old can come anywhere close to following in Van Basten’s footsteps, he could yet breathe new life into his stuttering club career.

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