The Dutch team of the 1970s were the envy of all. Johan Cruyff and his team played the brand of ‘Total Football’ that would go on to inspire generations to come in the Netherlands and across the world. They reached two successive finals of the FIFA World Cup in 1974 and 1978, the latter without Cruyff. In this time, he had also led his nation in making their European Championship debut in the 1976 edition and finishing third.
— The Antique Football (@AntiqueFootball) June 3, 2015
By the time Euro 1988 rolled around, Cruyff was long gone. The Netherlands team had not participated in the 1984 edition as well, so there was extra pressure on this team to perform well and keep the legacy of the 70s era going. Luckily, they had one of the best trios football has ever seen to help them, in the form of Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, and Marco van Basten.
Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit. What a trio! pic.twitter.com/EQUq4cW4V5
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) January 1, 2019
Led by legendary coach Rinus Michels, they would make it all the way to the final against Soviet Union, where van Basten would cement his place in Dutch folklore. But before that, let’s go back to the start.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Marco van Basten was undoubtedly the most talented and gifted of the trio. Recipient of three Balon D’Ors, including in 1988 where the Dutch trio formed the top three, the striker was already a league and European trophy winner with Ajax before his switch to AC Milan in 1988. He was one of the most prolific marksman in the world then, with 152 goals in 172 games for the Dutch giants across all competitions.
Marco van Basten @ Ajax
152 Goals pic.twitter.com/EvWIjkxfhU
— My Greatest 11 (@MyGreatest11) April 3, 2021
Coming into Euro 1988, the 23-year-old van Basten was the youngest of the trio and the onus was on him to lead his national team to the glory many believed was long overdue. The group-stage pitted them against Soviet Union, Ireland and England. Their first match was a morale-sapping shutout loss to the Soviets which really put the pressure on the Dutch again.
Enter van Basten. The second match against England saw him score a hat-trick in a much-needed 3-1 win for Oranje, as they kept their qualification hopes alive. They ended their group-stage campaign with a 1-0 win over Ireland, with the winning goal by Wim Kieft in the 82nd minute.
Looks like the end of the match at the Rheinstadion of Düsseldorf, 15 June 1988, Holland 3 England 1. Who is that kid in yellow shirt asking for Gullit's autograph and how did he get there? And so quickly! #Euro1988 #NEDvENG #RuudGullit pic.twitter.com/ZjQaoqkVdk
— Juha Tamminen (@TamminenJuha) August 1, 2020
The Dutch qualified second from their group, setting up a mouth-watering semi-final clash against West Germany featuring the likes of Lotthar Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Rudi Voller.
Keen to avenge their Euro 1980 loss to Die Mannschaft which prevented them from qualifying for the knockouts, the Dutch seemed to be heading the same way again as they trailed to a Matthaus goal till the 73rd minute. Then it was all the Oranje show, as current Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman equalised with a penalty of his own, before van Basten popped up with a 88th-minute winner to break German hearts.
— Riekelt Houtkooper (@rhhoutkooper) March 22, 2020
The Soviet Union stood between them and a maiden international trophy. The Dutch were desperate to not repeat their mistakes from the earlier meeting, and captain Ruud Gullit opened the scoring in the 34th minute. That’s how the teams went in at half-time. After that, it was the van Basten show, and what a show it was.
Marco van Basten, Euro '88 pic.twitter.com/THfjs2QYDK
— LearnEnglishThroughFootball (@LETFootball) September 21, 2018
Moving the ball fast up field, Gullit found midfielder Arnold Muhren on the left wing whose looping cross into the penalty box sailed over the players in the box as van Basten came charging into the right of the box. From an almost impossible angle, van Basten hit a running first-time half-volley that sailed over goalkeeper Rinat Dasayev to nestle in the net. The camera panned to Rinus Michels and other coaches who could not believe what had just happened.
The crowd of more than 62,000 went wild as the Dutch took a 2-0 lead they were never likely to relinquish. Oranje goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen saved a Soviet penalty later on as Netherlands finally won their first trophy after years of anguish.
VAN BASTEN’S TOURNAMENT
Van Basten ended the tournament as the top goalscorer with five goals, was named the Best Player of the tournament as well as appearing in the UEFA Team of the Tournament. He later went on to have an immensely successful career at AC Milan, in fact all three of the trio found much success in Italy over the years.
On this day in 1988, Holland became European Champions after beating Soviet Union with 2-0 thanks to goals from Ruud Gullit & Marco van Basten. A historical day in the history of Dutch football.
Oh man, how I dream of experiencing this. Even if it’s only once in my life. 😍🙏 pic.twitter.com/CtGpp3N6zg
— 𝐀𝐅𝐂 𝐀𝐉𝐀𝐗 💎 (@TheEuropeanLad) June 25, 2020
But in regards with Euro 1988 and what it did for the narrative surrounding the Oranje at the time, it will always be remembered as Marco van Basten’s tournament where he cemented Netherlands’ potency as worthy champions.