Euro Champs: Marco Van Basten

In my eyes there has never been a better out-and-out striker in my lifetime than Marco Van Basten and it is his performances at Euro 88 that went a long way to cementing that opinion in my mind.

Despite the fact that England got taught a football lesson by the Dutch in the group stages, the football fan inside you could not help but marvel as Van Basten ruthlessly dissected the English defence and plundered a hat-trick of the highest quality.

Van Basten wasn’t finished there; scoring a dramatic last-minute winner against rivals West Germany in the semi-finals, after winning a penalty for the Oranje earlier in the game.

That set up a final tie against a USSR side who had beaten Holland earlier in the tournament. It was going to take something special to topple Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s men and Van Basten certainly came up with a goal that to this day remains arguably the greatest of all-time.

Ruud Gullit’s header had given the Dutch a first half lead but they knew from their earlier encounter with the Soviets that more than one goal would be needed to make certain of the victory.

Enter Van Basten, who had drifted to the far right-hand side of the box as Arnold Muhren advanced down the left. The striker peeled into space as Muhren launched an ambitious cross-field ball to his team-mate. I still shake my head at disbelief in what happened next. From an overly acute angle, Van Basten caught the ball full on the volley and sent it crashing back across Rinat Dasayev and into the far corner.

It was a stunningly stupendous goal, fit to win any football match and became known in playgrounds across the world as ‘doing a Van Basten’ and for that alone, Marco Van Basten, the archetypal predator, deserves his place in the Euro Champs list.

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Euro Champs: Ronnie Whelan

If Ray Houghton’s winning header against bitter rivals England wasn’t enough for Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland side then Houghton’s Liverpool team-mate Ronnie Whelan went one better with a stupendous strike against the Soviet Union.

It all came from a goal out of the Stoke City play-book. Big Mick McCarthy launched, and I mean propelled a long throw from level with the 18-yard box, despite some shameful gamesmanship from the Russian defender stood directly in the Celtic defender’s path.

Nonetheless the ball travelled a full 50 yards through the air and Whelan, who hadn’t score a goal of this quality since the 1983 League Cup Final, watched it intently.

The ball dropped and the Liverpool man flung himself backwards, fully off the ground and connected with a sumptious volley that flew into the top corner and remains one of the European Championship’s best-ever goals.

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Euro Champs: Bryan Robson

It was one of those rare occasions in English international football history – Bryan Robson managed to keep both his shoulders in their sockets for the duration of a competitive fixture.

Truth be told, Captain Marvel was the only Englishman to come out of this 3-1 spanking by a Marco Van Basten-inspired Dutch with any credibility whatsoever, putting in a spirited performance as he tried to drag his team-mates to a modicum of respectability against a far superior opponent.

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Euro Champs: Roberto Mancini

Yes, the same Roberto Mancini who prowls the touchline at the Etihad, omnipresent in his blue and white scarf, telling anyone who would listen that Manchester City have no chance of winning the Premier League.

Before he rolled up at Leicester City and won a barrow-load of managerial honours with an Inter Milan side that were streets ahead of their rivals in Serie A because of the match-fixing scandal, Mancini was actually one of Europe’s premier attacking midfielder players and was the heartbeat of a Sampdoria side that were amongst the continent’s frontrunners in the late-80s/early 90s.

And did Mancini ever show that class in the opening game of Euro 88, silencing hosts West Germany with a well-taken goal. It was the Italian’s celebration that lived long in the memory though; a wide-eyed, slaloming run to the touchline that looked like he had been overtaken by the spirit of Marco Tardelli, even going so far as to swat West German defender Andreas Brehme out of the way in hilarious fashion.

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