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.

Continue reading

Euro Chumps: Ronald Koeman

The Dutch side of 1988 was one brimming with talent; easily one of the best sides in European Championship history.

But in typical Dutch fashion they had to tarnish that accolade with pure petulance and it should come as no surprise that it was one of the most petulant players of all.

Defender Ronald Koeman wasn’t your typical bruising centre half. Not blessed with tremendous height or much pace, Koeman relied on a GPS-like sense of positioning, a clever football brain and a range of passing that was akin to that of championship golfer on the driving range. Add to that an unerring accuracy from set pieces; Koeman boasted a goal record of one in every four games from centre half – and you can see why he was such an important part of this glittering Dutch side.

But whilst Messrs. Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard were doing their best to light up the tournament, Koeman was trying his best to uphold that Dutch tradition of bringing of the game into disrepute.

Fresh off being left in the dust by England’s Bryan Robson, Koeman went one better in the semi-final against archrivals West Germany. After Van Basten netted a last-gasp winner to send the Dutch through to the final and the hosts spiralling out. As is tradition, the two teams swapped shirts at the final whistle with Koeman receiving Olaf Thon’s.

And to show his gratitude, Koeman proceeded to simulate wiping his backside with the West German midfielder’s top, right in front of the home supporters. This would be the equivalent to Ally McCoist wiping his nose with Gary Lineker’s top in front of a packed Wembley. Regrettably, it wouldn’t be Koeman’s last misdemeanour on the big stage.

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.

Continue reading