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Ruud Gullit
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Euros Classic Moments: Netherlands end trophy wait in 1988

Euro 1988 in West Germany was lit up by a sensational Dutch team who finally ended their country’s long wait for a tournament victory.

The Netherlands possessed an exceptional team in the 1970s, boasting the brilliance of Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep, Rob Rensenbrink, Ruud Krol and Arie Haan. 

Yet they never managed to win a trophy as they lost in the World Cup final in back-to-back tournaments in 1974 and 1978, while they finished third at Euro 1976.

All that was about to change, however, as the 1988 crop of players went one better in Germany.

Led by the influential Ruud Gullit, the likes of Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard, Jan Wouters and the imperious Marco van Basten would also go down in history as legends of Dutch football.

Defeat in first game and van Basten hat-trick

Rinus Michels’ side didn’t get off to the best of starts as they were beaten 1-0 by Soviet Union in their opening group game in Cologne.

Van Basten, who had endured an injury-hit season in his first season in Milan, started on the bench after making just 11 league appearances in 1987-88.

He had arrived at the San Siro as one of the brightest prospects in Europe after netting 154 goals in 174 appearances for Ajax.

But his performances over the next fortnight would propel van Basten to become one of the great international strikers.

The Netherlands faced England in their next game and van Basten scored a superb hat-trick to kickstart both his and his country’s tournament.

Despite the frontman’s heroics, the Dutch still had to rely on Wim Keift’s fortuitous late winner against Republic of Ireland to go through at the expense of their opponents.

Ruud Gullit

Semi-final comeback against Germany

The Netherlands finished second in their group, which meant a semi-final battle with hosts West Germany.

The two rivals had met 14 years earlier in the World Cup final, and the Dutch would seek their revenge in Hamburg.

West Germany had won two and drawn one in the group stage and they possessed a formidable line-up that was expected to fire their side to the final.

When captain Lothar Matthaus scored a penalty 10 minutes after half-time, the Netherlands had it all do, but they were made of stern stuff.

Gullit enjoyed one of his best games in a Dutch shirt as the influential skipper shrugged off the man-marking of Ulrich Borowka with ease.

The Netherlands had a penalty of their own in the 74th minute as van Basten was brought down by Jurgen Kohler, and Koeman stepped up to slot home the equaliser.

As the game headed for extra-time, van Basten got the better of Kohler again as he latched onto a through ball from Wouters and hooked an effort past the despairing dive of ‘keeper Eike Immel.

That volley against Soviet Union

Soviet Union were their opponents in the final, a side which had beaten the Netherlands in the group stage when van Basten was left out.

There was no chance of van Basten missing the final and it was his header that set up Gullit for the opener as his side led 1-0 at the interval.

Nine minutes after the break came one of the great moments in European Championship history.

Arnold Muhren’s looping cross from the left-wing appeared to have been over-hit with Gullit waiting centre of goal, as van Basten made his way over to the right side of the penalty area to keep the attack live.

But rather than look to find a Dutch player, he audaciously struck a powerful volley over the head of Rinay Dasayev from a tight angle and found the far corner.

It was sheer genius.

The Netherlands went on to see out the rest of the game and seal their first international trophy.

For van Basten, he would win the Ballon d’Or later in the year, before picking up the award twice more in 1989 and 1992.

Sadly, he played his last match just a year after his third triumph as his career was cut short with injury at the age of just 28.

But for the people of Netherlands, his and his teammates’ achievements at Euro 1988 will never be forgotten.

Euro 2024

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