Netherlands 2-0 USSR at Euro 88: Michels’ glory, Van Basten’s majesty and Gullit’s immortality

Netherlands 2-0 USSR at Euro 88: Michels’ glory, Van Basten’s majesty and Gullit’s immortality

This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE

The final of the European Championship not only produced a winning team that had come so close to international success so many times over the recent years, but will be celebrated for one of the football’s most memorable goals to win a tournament.

In the same stadium where the dreams of Totaalvoetbal had been destroyed 14 years earlier, this time, Rinus Michels left the stadium a winner. For once, the Dutch hadn’t let themselves down when it mattered most.

This final always promised to be closer than many were suggesting. Sure, Oranje had performed well, and their line-up was full of stars from the top clubs of the continent. Many had forgotten, however, that in the opening group fixtures, a thunderous shot from distance by Vasyl Rats meant that the USSR had put Michels’ team to the sword.

This would be the last time that the footballing world would see kits emblazoned with that CCCP lettering. With no less than eight players from Dynamo Kyiv, this team weren’t going go gently into that good night.

Both teams had come to the final in good form. After recovering from that opening day defeat, Marco van Basten was restored to the line-up and fired on all cylinders. His three goals destroyed England, and although the single-goal victory over the Irish looked narrow, it was a poor reflection of the game. Beating the Germans in the semi-final would have been sweet revenge, and sent them into the final on a high.

If the Soviets’ progress had been less newsworthy, it was no less impressive, and their semi-final victory over Italy was particularly noteworthy. Going into the final, however, while the Dutch could confidently name a team unchanged from semi-final success, the USSR had a more than a few problems. 

Igor Belanov was doubtful following an injury, missing the semi-final, while Bezsonov was unfit. As a result, the great Valeriy Lobanovskyi had to shuffle his pack. Gambling, he played the less than fit Belanov, allowing Aleinikov to drop back into defence. The other headache was the unfortunate absence of Oleh Kuznetsov.

Harshly cautioned inside two minutes of the semi-final against the Azzurri, an earlier yellow card from way back in the qualifiers meant a suspension for the next game. He was out of the final. Demyanenko was brought in to replace him as Lobanovskyi went back to his preferred 4-4-2 formation, ditching the 4-5-1.

For the first half-hour or so, little happened as the teams shadow-boxed, offering respect to each other in equal measure, but there was too much talent among the players on the pitch for there not to be goals. Just past the half-hour mark, Erwin Koeman floated a corner in from the right, but the ball was headed clear and the Soviets pushed to offer Rinat Dasayev some space.

The ball fell back out to Koeman, though, who crossed to the far side of the penalty area. Van Basten could see the ball coming from a way off, but knew having been driven from goal by the advancing Soviet defence and having to stretch for contact, any attempt on goal would be folly. Instead, he decided to head back across goal.  

Ruud Gullit had read his AC Milan teammate’s intention and ran forward to meet the ball with the power of a firmly hit shot. The Dutch captain’s dreadlocks flew in all directions as Dasayev was undone by the ferocity of the header. The Dutch were ahead. 

The USSR were far from beaten, though, and, at the break, the lead remained slender. The goal had been a rare break in a game dominated by defences. It would take something particularly special to prise another goal out of the encounter, and that’s exactly what we got ten minutes after the restart. 

Dasayev had already superbly denied a Gullit free-kick – but the next threat precluded any intervention. An error by Zavarov squandered possession and Adri van Tiggelen plundered the ball, feeding Arnold Mühren. Now back in the Netherlands with Ajax after his time with Ipswich and Manchester United in England, this would be the midfielder’s last game for his country. That he had a part to play in such a sensational goal would assure him a place in the memory of all fans.

His cross into the box seemed to be well overhit, not least because it was. Again, Van Basten watched the ball’s transit through the area, his eyes never wavering from its sight. It found his right foot almost on the apex of penalty area and goal line, surely too tight an angle to shoot, a cross his best option. But no. As the ball detonated on his right foot, it powerfully arrowed to goal with top-spin bringing it down over Dasayev’s head. 

Dasayev staggered like a punch-drunk boxer, while the rest of the world marvelled at the sheer audacity of the strike. Should the goalkeeper have saved it? Are you serious? No-one expected the shot. No-one could have saved it, and only one man could have scored it.

Still the USSR weren’t done. First Belanov struck a post. Then, a couple of minutes later, Gotsmanov chased a seemingly lost cause in the Netherlands area. Unable to resist some sort of impulsive drive, goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen pursued and launched a clumsy challenge. French referee Michel Vautrot pointed to the spot.

Belanov hammered low and left, but the goalkeeper had guessed correctly. The ball ran away, and so did Soviet aspirations. After so many near misses, the Netherlands had picked up a major trophy.  

By Gary Thacker @All_Blue_Daze

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