The UEFA European Championship of 1988 hosted by West Germany was the 8th time the tournament had been staged. The first tournament was first held in 1960 and was won by France who defeated the Soviet Union in the final. As the years went on the tournament would evolve, an increased number of teams taking part meant the tournament could take on a more recognizable format for knockout tournament football. By the time the 1988 tournament arrived it already featured a host nation with the competing teams being drawn into groups with a knockout phase before the final. Sounds kind of obvious but in the early days of the competition competing teams would have to travel all over Europe before a host country would host the latter stages only. The Dutch took a twenty man squad to West Germany. Not surprisingly it was a very strong squad with only five of the squad playing their domestic football outside of The Netherlands.
Their two goalkeepers were Hans van Breukelen of PSV Eindhoven who had recently spent a couple of years keeping goal for English club Nottingham Forest, the other goalie was Joop Hiele of Feyenoord. Hiele spent his entire career playing in Holland spending thirteen years at Feyenoord of Rotterdam. Their defensive contingent consisted of Wilbert Suvrijn of Roda JC Kerkrade, Adri van Tiggelen of Belgian club Anderlecht, Wim Koevermans of Fortuna Sittard, Sjaak Troost of Feyenoord, Ronald Koeman of PSV Eindhoven and Berry van Aerle also of PSV. PSV Eindhoven supplied the Dutch squad with five players for the Euro’s of 1988.
Those five players had just enjoyed a brilliant end to the season after winning the European Cup. They arrived in West Germany on an incredible high ready to do it all again. The midfield of the squad was full of class talent and experience. They were Frank Rijkaard of Sporting Lisbon who was then on loan to Real Zaragoza, Rijkaard would soon join AC Milan and a few years later he would pick up a European Cup winner’s medal with Ajax of Amsterdam. The team captain was Ruud Gullit, an excellent midfielder and powerful header of the ball, a former PSV player who had been at AC Milan for about a season, he would taste European Cup glory a couple of years later with AC Milan.
Also in midfield was Hendrie Krüzen of the Blue and White Dragons of Dutch football, Den Bosch. Jan Wouters of Ajax Amsterdam, a highly thought of midfielder who would go on to have a successful career with many clubs including Glasgow Rangers. There was also Aron Winter and Arnold Mühren of Ajax. Upon his return to Dutch football with Ajax, Mühren had picked up a European Cup Winner’s Cup medal in 1987. Before that Mühren had enjoyed a successful time in England winning the UEFA Cup with Ipswich Town and a couple of FA Cups with Manchester United, in fact Arnold’s career was full of silverware, let’s not forget he had already picked up a clutch of winner’s medals earlier in his career with Ajax. The rest of midfield contingent consisted Gerald Vanenburg of PSV, John van ‘t Schip of Ajax and Erwin Koeman of Belgian club Mechelen, the brother of Ronald.
The Dutch forward line had some serious talent and not least was John Bosman. Bosman truly was a world class goal scorer having quite a career at both club and international level. He began his professional career at Ajax where he found the net over a hundred times, he also had a similar goal scoring record at Belgian club Anderlecht. A notable incident occurred in Bosman’s career during a qualifying game for the Euro’s of 1988 when The Netherlands hosted Cyprus at the De Kuip stadium, home of Feyenoord of Rotterdam. Quite early on in the game a homemade bomb was thrown onto the pitch, it was in fact by all intents and purposes an incendiary device inside a tennis ball; it landed and exploded near the Cyprus goal keeper Andreas Charitou who was stretched off, seemingly injured.
This lead the Cypriot players to leave the pitch, refusing to come back on to restart the game. However, after pressure from the Dutch players the referee managed to talk the Cyprus team back onto the field of play to resume the game. Anyway, the game finished with the Dutch winning the game 8 – 0 with Bosman scoring five of those goals which meant he had set a Dutch record for the national team; however not only did UEFA refuse to recognise this milestone but Europe’s footballing governing body awarded the game to Cyprus penciling in a 3 – 0 away win for the Cypriots. This decision meant that Greece would have an opportunity to qualify for the finals in West Germany, the Dutch appealed on the grounds that the Cypriot goal keeper wasn’t actually injured during the incident, despite him falling to the ground when it actually happened.
UEFA made the decision that a replay was in order, that game resulted in another stroll in the park for the Dutch, winning the game 4 – 0 with Bosman scoring a hat trick. Well, the Greeks weren’t happy at all, complaining in the strongest terms to UEFA. Their complaint fell on deaf ears. A disgruntled Greek FA decided to stick two fingers up to UEFA by moving the scheduled home qualifying game for Greece against The Netherlands to the much smaller stadium on the island of Rhodes, not only that the Greeks put out a much weakened side to play the Dutch, the Dutch won the game 3 – 0. Also in the forward line was Wim Kieft of PSV and last but certainly not least was Marco van Basten of AC Milan. Let’s be honest, Marco van Basten needs little introduction, a truly world class talent with a knack for the spectacular. As a young kid his first club was amateur side EDO in 1970, he then quickly moved on to UVV Utrecht, his home town club. In 1980 he moved to Utrechtse Sportvereniging Elinkwijk, however not long after the Amsterdam giants Ajax came knocking for van Basten’s signature which saw van Basten scoring a goal on his debut in a 5 – 0 victory over N.E.C. of Nijmegen.
Marco would prove an astute signing; scoring many goals for Ajax, from 1983 to 1986 he was top scorer in the Dutch league scoring a total of 117 goals in 112 matches, this excellent scoring form culminated in van Basten winning the European Golden Boot. The good times would keep on coming for van Basten; in 1987 he scored the winning goal for Ajax in the European Cup Winner’s Cup final in Athens against Lokomotive Leipzig of East Germany. Not surprisingly with van Basten being one of the hottest properties in world football Europe’s biggest clubs became very interested in his services, not long after that Cup Winner’s Cup victory he signed for AC Milan and would go on to enjoy more European glory with the Italian club.
Leading the Dutch squad to West Germany was manager Rinus Michels, the coach noted as being the man who is credited with inventing “total football”. Born in Amsterdam in 1928 his playing career began straight after the Second World War with Ajax in 1946. He was a striker and a very good one at that, in his debut for Ajax he scored five goals during an 8 – 3 victory over ADO Den Haag. Amateur football was the order of the day in Holland in those days, professional football wouldn’t happen in The Netherlands until 1954. However Dutch football was full of excellent footballers, Michels was one of those players. Michels would go on to play 264 games for Ajax, scoring 122 goals. Sadly for him he had to prematurely bring his playing career to an end following a back injury in 1958. 1960 saw Michels go into management for the first time in his home city of Amsterdam with Jeugd Organisatie Sportclub Watergraafsmeer. He was there for four years, in ’64 he moved to Amsterdamsche Football Club Door Wilskracht Sterk.
After a brief spell there Michels was recruited by Ajax. After being installed as Ajax boss he led them to title after title in Dutch football. Michels brought four Eredivisie titles to Ajax as well as three KNVB Cups, a UEFA Intertoto Cup and ultimately the European cup. He would then go on to manage Barcelona, again bringing silverware to the Spanish club which included the Inter City Fairs Cup in 1971 after beating Leeds United in the final. He would also win a DFB Pokal Cup as manager of German club FC Cologne. His first stint as the manager of the Dutch national side was in 1974 when he took them to the world cup, then held in West Germany. The Netherlands finished as runners up to the host nation, after that Michels would go onto manage Ajax once again. He would also go onto have spells with Barcelona once again. In 1979 he went to America to manage LA Aztecs in the North American Soccer League. He then went to Germany to manage the Billy Goats of German football, FC Cologne, and as already mentioned won the DFB Pokal Cup (the German FA Cup). He then went back to manage The Netherlands in 1984.
So, 1988 and the European Championship. Despite making two world cup finals in 1974 and in 1978, the Dutch had yet to win any silverware at international level. Assisting Michels as his number two was Nol de Ruiter, himself an experienced coach and like van Basten, a native of Utrecht. The Dutch were drawn into Group B along with England, the Soviet Union and the Republic of Ireland. The Netherlands played their first game against the Soviet Union at the Müngersdorfer stadium (now known as the RheinEnergie Stadion), Michels would have felt at home there but it was the Soviets who finished the game with the smiles as they won the game by a goal to nil. The Soviet goal scored by the Dinamo Kiev midfielder Vasiliy Rats not long after the start of the second half, a well struck effort into the left corner of the Dutch net. A disappointing opening game for the Dutch, especially seeing as they had hit the post, a well headed ball by van Basten with only minutes left of the game, unlucky not to go in.
Three days later the Dutch had travelled the forty four miles to Düsseldorf to face Bobby Robson’s England. The match was played at the home of Fortuna Düsseldorf, the Rheinstadion. Marco van Basten was the star of the show. The first goal came about after a comedy of errors from England in possession of the ball. Gary Stevens had the ball taken from him by Ruud Gullit, after that van Basten went passed Tony Adams as though Adams wasn’t there, van Basten was challenged by Stevens keen to get the ball back, under the momentum of the challenge the ball sped past Peter Shilton, not a great moment for Shilton and England during Shilton’s 100th international as England goalie. It wasn’t all bad for Robson’s mean, there were a few England players up for it, particularly Bryan Robson. The England team captain was more than taking the fight to the Dutch in midfield. Indeed it was Robson who leveled the game shortly after the start of the second half. Unfortunately for England this was the Orangemen’s game. Robson would suffer a shoulder injury and wasn’t able to continue. A further two goals by van Basten within the space of five minutes towards the end of the match meant van Basten had scored another hat trick and also those three goals by van Basten was the first hat trick scored against England since 1959.
A few days later the Dutch were in Gelsenkirchen for their final match of Group B against the Republic of Ireland managed by Jack Charlton, at the Parkstadion. Jack’s boys gave the Dutch a good game, it was close match. Paul McGrath had hit the Dutch goal post after a strong header. The match was decided by probably the luckiest goal ever scored The Netherlands. During a Dutch foray into the final third a cross was made into the Irish eighteen yard box. Paul McGrath, having a brilliant game for the Republic headed the ball out, it went straight to Ronal Koeman who volleyed the ball back into pitch, bouncing back up it met the head of Wim Kieft whose glancing header found the Irish net. With two wins and a draw the Soviet Union topped the group, The Netherlands finished in second place on four points, England and the Republic were going home. The Netherlands were through to the semifinal stage against closest rivals and host country, West Germany. So it was off to Hamburg for the Dutch and to the Volksparkstadion, home ground of S.V. Hamburg. This game was a repeat of the 1974 world cup final. Excitement and tension snowballed quickly in the run up to the game. That defeat at the Olympiastadion in the world cup final of ’74 was still fresh in the memory of many Dutch people, particularly the Dutch number one goalie Hans van Breukelen who had watched that final as a seventeen year old youth…
“It was one of my motivations in ’88 not to lose again. I think the whole team had that kind of feeling. We have to beat them this time.” Hans van Breukelen
The first half went pretty much without incident, a close game with neither team willing to commit themselves that much. The second half had plenty of incident, it was a second half that would get increasingly bad tempered as the game wore on with arguments between the two sets of opposing players, including the odd off the ball incident. It was West Germany who took the lead in the 55th minute. Jürgen Klinsmann making a run into the Dutch eighteen yard area was judged to have been fouled by Frank Rijkaard. To be honest it looked dubious to say the least. Klinsmann would go onto to gain a reputation as a bit of a diver and here again it looked as though he had dived following a not particularly strong challenge from Rijkaard, the ref gave the Germans a penalty. Lothar Matthäus found the Dutch net, it was 1 – 0 West Germany. That goal stung the Dutch into action as they raised the tempo of their game. In the 74th minute it was the turn of the Dutch to be given a dubious decision after van Basten went down easily under the challenge of Jürgen Kohler of FC Cologne. Ronald Koeman stepped up and converted, it was 1 – 1 with about fifteen minutes to go, it was anyone’s game.
With only a couple of minutes of normal time remaining up popped the player of the tournament Marco van Basten to slide the ball past Eike Immel in the German goal, the game finished West Germany 1 The Netherlands 2. The Dutch had gained sweet revenge for that world cup final defeat back in 1974 and in the Germans back yard too, very nice. In the other semifinal the Soviets had made short work of Italy with a 2 – 0 victory, the final would be a repeat of the opening game of Group B for both teams.
The final took place at the Olympiastadion in Munich only three days after the West Germany v The Netherlands semifinal, the Soviets having an extra day to prepare for the final. The Soviets took to the field in Munich with eight players from Dinamo Kiev, managed by eastern European football legend Valeriy Lobanovskyi. The Dutch fans outnumbered the Soviet fans by some distance, the Dutch players must have thought they were playing in Amsterdam, it really felt like a home fixture for the Dutch. Everywhere you looked in the stadium in Munich there was the Dutch tricolour flag of red white and blue. More bad news for the Soviets was that their much respected defender Oleg Kouznetsov was out injured. When Michels got wind of this he applied his team accordingly which meant van Basten was to stay up field as much as possible. It was a tactic that would pay off extremely well.
It was the Soviets who had the first real chance of scoring in the game when Sergiy Litovchenko shot meekly straight van Breukelen. A yard either side with a tad more power behind it and the Soviets could well have been one nil up. However a shot like that was never going to trouble the experienced Dutch goalie. The Dutch made the Soviets pay for that error when only about two minutes later team captain Ruud Gullit put his team ahead on the half hour mark after Erwin Koeman had put the ball back in after he had put in his corner. The ball found van Basten who headed it on to Gullit, Gullit’s header found the Soviet net at the far post, 1 – 0 to The Netherlands. About twenty minutes later after a careless ball from Alexandre Zavarov, Adri van Tiggelen intercepted the ball and passed to Mühren out on the left. Mühren playing his last ever game for The Netherlands crossed in the ball that allowed Marco van Basten to score one of the best goals ever seen.
Marco van Basten, from such a tight angle had virtually no room for error, put in a fantastic volleyed effort past Rinat Dasayev in the Soviet goal. It was game set and match to the Dutch. The Soviets would be given a penalty a few minutes later but it was saved by van Breukelen, it just wasn’t the Soviets day. Rinus Michels had delivered The Netherlands its first major trophy, a beaming Ruud Gullit lifting the trophy high into the air. The late 1980’s was a great time for Dutch football, its domestic teams were winning European silverware and its national team was crowned the best team in Europe.