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 Chumps: Kenny Sansom

When England were paired with the Republic of Ireland, many English fans were predicting a landslide victory. Irish manager Jack Charlton had assembled a garbled team of misfits with a mere trace of Irish heritage and England were banking on a comprehensive victory to kickstart their campaign in a tough group that also included the Soviet Union and Holland.

Of course that wasn’t to be. England started woefully and went behind to a header from Ray Houghton. You read that right; a header from Ray Houghton – the same Ray Houghton who is about 5’4″ on stilts. It wasn’t just the ignominy of losing, it was the manner in which England did it. This was the tournament of the swashbuckling Dutch, the flying Russians, the German machine, the classy Italians…and the bumbling English.

It was a goal straight out of Sunday League. A long, high, hopeful Irish ball from left to right looked to be meat and drink for Gary Stevens, only for Mark Wright (mullet and all) to come careering across and clatter his own team-mate. The ball fell for Tony Galvin to loop a cross into the box but there was little danger because veteran Kenny Sansom was there to clear the lines.

Now that moment that seems to haunt England at most major tournaments. The Dutch gave us total football, the Italians the concept of the sweeper, the Brazilians the wonder of attacking full backs; the English – the panicking punt back into your own penalty area.

Up the ball went into the Stuttgart air. It came down for that renowned Irishman John Aldridge to flick on; Sansom was back to get a challenge in (on a player his size no less), but no, Houghton rose (more like stooped) unchallenged to loop the slowest header in the world over Peter Shilton.

It was enough to give the Irish the victory and put England off to a bad start, which would only get worse. You would have shook your head in despair and turned the air blue if the winner had been scored in an under-sevens game, let alone an international tournament. Euro 88 remains one of the darkest spots in English football history.

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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 Chumps: Jürgen Klinsmann

The eyes of Europe were focused on West Germany’s prodigious young talent Jürgen Klinsmann as Euro 88 kicked off in his homeland and the VfB Stuttgart striker certainly made a lasting impression on the watching millions.

The-then reigning West German Young Player of the Year had not yet made an impact on the international stage but all that changed against bitter rivals the Dutch in the semi-finals of the 1988 tournament.

A ball into the edge of the area found Klinsmann, who turned and launched himself over the thigh of an Oranje defender with a triple Salchow, double somersault and belly flop finish for a dubious penalty, which was converted by Andreas Brehme (fresh off being swatted away by Bobby Mancini) and thus a career was born. Klinsmann would even take this ‘talent’ to a bigger stage and ‘earn’ his country the World Cup just two years later. All this being long before he wowed English fans by turning this art form into a celebration rather than a dirty, cheating technique.