Before the Italian Magic in 1990, there was a huge football festival in former West Germany where the finest from Europe came to prove their worth. The favourites were the former Soviet Union, West Germany and Italy. The Dutch came to Germany after fourteen and it was their first-ever involvement in a major event since the Euro 1980 in Italy. The Dutch football was never the same since the World Cup 1978. They missed the opportunities to feature in two consecutive World Cups and one Euro.

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The whole team was going through a transition period when Rinus Michels was appointed again for redemption.

In the early 80s, a bunch of talented youngsters came into Dutch football and gradually they grew into quality players, who could bring back the golden days of Holland.

Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman, Aaron Winter, Kyft, Hans van Breukelen and Marco van Basten had arrived and amomg them Gullit and Basten hogged the limelight more than anyone in West Germany.

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During Euro 1988 – Marco van Basten was at the height of his powers.

He had emerged at the peak of world football in 1988 when, recovering from a season-long injury, he lit up the European Championship. Alongside his Milan teammates Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard, Van Basten scored five goals for the Netherlands, including a memorable hat-trick against England and decisive strikes in the semi-final and the final, as the Dutch became European champions.

In the opening match against the Soviet Union – he could not start because of a fitness issue.

The Dutch lost by 1-0.

Ideal start for one of the favourites.

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“[Michels] chose Bosman because I was injured the entire season before. Bosman had already played a few games and did well, so there was no reason to change. Never change a winning team and Holland were winning. It was not a big problem for me to sit it out. I was not in good shape. I had no reason to think that I should be among the first XI. I was just watching and learning and waiting for the moment when I got my chance,” Van Basten said in an interview with UEFA.

The next encounter against England was a crucial and must-win situation for both.

England took the lead early and everyone thought, the Dutch might have the talent, but not the temperament to cut a satisfactory figure in the major events.

Well, the rest of the match was all about Marco van Basten who decimated the English defence and Peter Shilton by smashing a hat-trick.

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He said, “That was a very nice memory and a very important game for me, Holland and for my career. It was a game where everything changed. I had a difficult year with a lot of injury problems. From that moment everything changed and everything went positive. I scored three goals and we won an exciting match against England. Afterwards, the other matches were easier and everything went well.”

The victory over the Republic of Ireland helped the Dutch progress and in the semifinal, the brilliant Germans were the opponents at Hamburg – memories of 1974 were dished out only to weaken the spirit of the Dutch.

But the Dutch fought hard in a gritty contest and beat Germany – the revenge of 1974 was completed.

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“Both of us played hard. Sometimes he won, sometimes I won, but I think we always played with mutual respect: that is the most important thing in football, in the end. The game in Hamburg was a very special match for us because winning against Germany, especially in Germany, is not a thing that happens very often.”

“The press was writing that I was playing against [Kohler]. I was taking care of my team and he was doing his job in his team. I feel more that we as a team, Holland, were playing against Germany. The best thing was that after so many years of remembering the loss in ’74, Holland finally won a semi-final.”

The final was against the Soviet Union again, who beat Italy in the semifinal.

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The Soviets had a tremendous side led by Renat Dasayev and were the favourites, but the momentum was with the Dutch.

Ruud Gullit gave Holland the lead within 32 minutes and after the break came the most unbelievable moment not only in the history of Euro but in the history of football as well.

The match was 54 minutes old as Arnold Muhren’s speculative and overhit left-wing cross in fell from the sky, the isolated striker decided to have a go from the most difficult of angles and beat Dasayev.

With the Soviet defenders converging on him and faced with a deep, dropping ball, an impossible angle and a great goalkeeper in Dasayev, Van Basten needed all his stars to align – he scripted a sweetly-struck volley that he watched right onto his laces before it whizzed into the far corner at exactly the pace and trajectory needed to make the impossible possible.

It was jaw-dropping stuff – it was mind-blowing.

Holland had taken the lead by 2-0.

Van Basten said, “t was in the second half and I was a little tired. The ball came from Arnold Mühren and I was thinking, OK, I can stop it and do things with all these defensive players or I could do it the more easy way, take a risk and shoot. You know you need a lot of luck with a shot like that. Everything went well. It is one of those things that sometimes just happen. You try to do it, but you need so much luck and at that moment it was given to me, to do it at the right time.”

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I can tell a lot of stories, but it was just a fantastic feeling. I have to be happy and thankful that such a moment was given to me and to Holland. That was the moment where we could say: “It is 2-0, we can win this game.” But the excitement about the goal, I did not really understand it and what I did. You can also see that in my reaction. I am asking: “What is happening?”

At 2–0, Hans van Breukelen saved a penalty from Igor Belanov, a penalty that he had given away for bringing down Sergey Gotsmano – the Soviets could not come back and Holland lifted a major trophy for the first time in their story.

But that goal by Van Basten is still remembered.

“You cannot shoot from that angle,” said Ronald Koeman, as if it were somehow not too late for his teammate to change his mind and bring the ball down. “It really was too high,” agreed Frank Rijkaard. “He will do that another million times and still not score that goal,” laughed Ruud Gullit.


Whether it is the greatest volley in the history of football in a final or the volley of Zinedine Zidane in 2002 is the greatest – the debate would go on, but it seems, Van Basten might just beat Zidane.

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