Tournament History: Euro 1988 (West Germany)

As the participating teams prepare for Euro 2008, recounts preceding editions of the tournament. Panos Bletsos recalls Euro '88, which saw the Netherlands win their first and only major international trophy...

Venues: Olympiastadion (Munich), Volksparkstadion (Hamburg), Parkstadion (Gelsenkirchen), Müngersdorfer Stadion (Cologne), Rheinstadion (Düsseldorf), Niedersachsenstadion (Hannover), Waldstadion (Frankfurt), Neckarstadion (Stuttgart). 

Date: June 10th to 25 th, 1988 

Participating teams (8): Denmark, Italy, Spain, West Germany (hosts), Netherlands, Soviet Union, England and Ireland (first final phase appearance).  

Goals scored: 34 (2,27 per game). 

Topscorer: Marco van Basten (Netherlands, 5 goals).  


Group A 

West Germany-Italy  1-1

Denmark-Spain   2-3

West Germany-Denmark  2-0

Italy-Spain    1-0

West Germany-Spain  2-0 

Italy-Denmark   2-0

Group B 

England-Ireland   0-1

Netherlands Soviet Union 0-1

England-Netherlands  1-3

Ireland-Soviet Union   1-1

England-Soviet Union  1-3

Ireland-Netherlands  0-1 


West Germany-Netherlands 1-2

Italy-Soviet Union   0-2 


Netherlands-Soviet Union 2-0  

Brief summary 

In Group A host country West Germany, beaten World Cup finalists in Mexico ’86, and Italy comfortably qualified for the semi-finals. The opening match between them ended in a 1-1 draw, with goals from Roberto Mancini and Andy Brehme within three minutes. Once again Spain failed to deliver on the big stage, despite winning their opener, while the Danes failed to pick up a single point. 

Group B was far more exciting. Ireland beat rivals England in their first match 1-0, thanks to a spectacular early strike by Liverpool star Ray Houghton, while the Soviet Union grabbed a 1-0 victory against the Dutch. It would be all too different the next time those two would meet. 

The opening day results meant that England versus the Netherlands was to be a make-or-break clash. Oranje coach Rinus Michels opted for Marco van Basten upfront and he didn’t regret it. The Milan star duly delivered and his hat-trick all but sent the English home (3-1).  

However, since Ireland and the Soviet Union played out a 1-1 draw, the Dutch had to beat the Boys in Green too in order to reach the semis. And they did, that famous 82nd–minute Wim Kieft header earned them a vital 1-0 victory.  

In the last four, the Soviet Union eased past an uninspired Italy 2-0, while the Netherlands recorded a historic 2-1 victory over their perennial rivals and host country West Germany. And they finally won their first piece of silverware by beating the Soviets 2-0. A feat they have yet to repeat until now.  

Key match: West Germany-Netherlands 1-2  

On the 21st of June, 1988, the Dutch finally had their long-awaited revenge on the West Germans for two painful World Cup defeats, including the one in the 1974 final. At Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion, now transformed into the HSH Nordbank Arena, the Oranje stunned the hosts 2-1.  

In the first half both teams looked very nervous and there were a couple of on-field bust-ups between players. Franz Beckenbauer’s men finally took the lead in the 55th minute, when Romanian referee Ioan Igna awarded them a penalty for a Frank Rijkaard foul on Jürgen Klinsmann. Lothar Matthäus stepped up, 1-0.  

With sixteen minutes to go, Jürgen Kohler and Van Basten both went for the ball inside the West German box. Kohler barely made contact, Van Basten went down rather easily and Igna decided to hand the Dutch the ultimate chance to equalise. Ronald Koeman had no problem beating goalkeeper Eike Immel, 1-1.  

And the semi-final was decided on the 88th minute. Midfield general Jan Wouters picked up the ball in the West German half and passed it on to Van Basten, man-marked by Kohler throughout the match. A slow, but well-placed shot in the right bottom corner was enough to do the trick and stun the home-crowd, 1-2. The Dutch had finally found the cure for their deep wounds of old.  

West Germany: Immel, Herget (Pflügler), Kohler, Borowka, Brehme, Matthäus, Rolff, Thon, Mill (Littbarski), Klinsmann, Völler.  

Coach: Franz Beckenbauer 

Netherlands: Van Breukelen, Van Aerle, R.Koeman, Rijkaard, Van Tiggelen, Wouters, Arnold Mühren (Kieft), Vanenburg, Erw.Koeman (Suvrijn), Gullit, Van Basten. 

Coach: Rinus Michels 

Final: Netherlands-Soviet Union 2-0 

After having beaten West Germany in the semi-final, the Netherlands had to play against the Soviet Union for the second time in the tournament. Fourteen years after the Dutch ‘dream team’ of Johan Cruijff was beaten by West Germany 2-1 in the Olympiastadion of Munich, this time the Dutch were able to win a final in the same venue.  

Thirty-three minutes inside the game Netherlands took the lead with a smashing header from captain Ruud Gullit. And then, the 54th minute of the final would produce one of the most memorable moments of football history. Arnold Mühren’s ball seemed too long for Van Basten. However, the Milan superstar decided to take Mühren’s cross on the volley. From an almost impossible angle he beat Rinat Dasayev, perhaps the world’s best goalkeeper at the time. Given also its importance, that Van Basten goal is still considered today as one of the most beautiful goals ever scored. 

Shortly after it had become 2-0, Hans van Breukelen committed a careless foul in his own penalty area leaving French ref Michel Vautrot with no choice but to award a penalty. But the PSV Eindhoven custodian immediately made amends by saving Igor Belanov’s penalty-kick. After that the Soviets effectively threw in a towel and the 25th of June became a reference point in Dutch football history.  

Netherlands: Van Breukelen, Van Aerle, R.Koeman, Rijkaard, Van Tiggelen, Wouters, Arn.Mühren, Vanenburg, Erw.Koeman, Gullit, Van Basten. 

Coach: Rinus Michels 

Soviet Union: Dasayev, Khidiyatulin, Demyanenko, Aleinikov, Rats, Mikhailichenko, Litovchenko, Zavarov (Baltacha), Gotsmanov, Belanov, Protasov (Pasulko). 

Coach: Valeri Lobanovsky 

Player of the tournament: Marco van Basten (Netherlands) 

Surprisingly enough, the Dutch striker established himself on the international stage as late as at Euro ‘88. Van Basten had just ended a rather low-key season with Milan, having only played in eleven games because of injury.  

At the start of the final phase Michels preferred the Ajax forward Johnny Bosman above ‘San Marco’, so Van Basten had to start on the bench in the first game against the Soviet Union. After the Dutch went down 1-0 against Valeri Lobanovsky’s team Michels decided to give Van Basten a chance in the crucial group game against England. Van Basten put on a stunning performance and those three goals turned the tide around for himself and the squad as a whole. 

After their lucky 1-0 win against Ireland, the Oranje had to play host country West Germany in the semi-finals. Van Basten was man-marked by German defender Jürgen Kohler during the entire game. However, the Dutch striker played a decisive role in that historic 2-1 victory. He won the penalty which Ronald Koeman converted for the equalizer and then scored the winner himself with a brilliant move, which neutralized both his marker and the goalkeeper with only two minutes left on the clock.  

In the final against the Soviet Union the world enjoyed one of the greatest goals ever scored - and Van Basten was responsible. Nine minutes after the break and with the Dutch 1-0 up, Arnold Mühren sent in a long cross from the left to Van Basten. The Ajax icon was already 37 at the time and this was certainly not the best cross he had produced. But Van Basten decided to ride his luck and hit the ball directly on the volley from an almost impossible angle. The ball went in like a rocket above Rinat Dasayev, leaving the Soviet goalkeeper totally helpless. One of the most beautiful chapters of football history was written at that very moment.