Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro ’88 (West Germany)

Following an epic Maradona inspired World Cup in 1986 the world looked forward to another European Championships that would hopefully be as memorable as the previous occasion in France. West Germany were finally awarded the tournament after looking to host on numerous occasions with the same format of two groups of four, semi finals and then the final. 15 games in eight venues. There would be funny wigs, face paint and banter in the Rhineland this time around and fans couldn’t wait.

The West German team were also clear favourites. Now captained by the tough as nails Lothar Matthaus and coached by Franz Beckenbauer, they had been finalists in the past two World Cups and now had even more stars in its line up such as the two Jurgens (Klinsmann and Kohler). A team to be beyond feared on their home patch.

The mascot this time around was Berni who was a grey rabbit dressed in a German coloured football kit. Would the tournament be happy and Bugs Bunny like for the hosts or dark, depressing and something like Watership Down if they didn’t win it all.


There were a couple of surprising outcomes in qualifying. Defending champions France were on the downhill slide with ageing stars and another heartbreaking World Cup and were horrible in their group only winning one match. This would be the only time a defending champions would never qualify for the next Euros to defend their title. Holland, a resurgent Italy and England were back in after qualifying along with 1986 semi finalists Spain and Denmark. England had made the quarter finals of the World Cup only be denied by some ‘memorable’ goals from Maradona so would fancy their chances with Lineker, Hoddle and Waddle et al in the squad. The only question on England was how they would cope without the British bulldog defender defender Terry Butcher. The Dutch had put together a mesmerising team thanks to their prolific club youth system that included names like Gullitt, Van Basten, Koeman, Rijkaard and Winter all coached by the inventor of ‘total football’ Rinus Michels. They failed to lose a game in qualifying but most wondered which way they would blow it again rather than if they could win the whole thing.

Another side on the slide like France was Belgium who were coming to end of a golden era and were denied another trip to the Euros by a team just entering their brave new world; The Republic of Ireland. The Irish had never qualified for a major tournament but thanks to Jack Charlton and his ambitious recruiting project through Irish grandmothers and their passports he managed to convince a host of players to done the green and form an efficient team that wasn’t exactly easy on the eye for the football aficionado but it worked.


In GROUP A the hosts were paired up with Italy, Spain and Denmark. The opener in Dusseldorf was a tight affair with Italy fast and physical shutting down any German player on the ball. It was the visitors who went ahead on 52 minutes when Roberto Mancini scored his first goal for Italy after Roberto Donadoni pounced on a defensive error. Minutes later the wonderful Inter Milan left back Andreas Brehme equalised for West Germany with a deflected shot from one his powerful free kicks. 1-1 it stayed. In the other opening match Spain won a seesawing game against Denmark 3-2.

In the second lot of games West Germany found their rhythm and won easily against Denmark 2-0 to knock their northern neighbours out. Italy pretty much did that to Spain with their 1-0 win. In the final games in this group West Germany ensured their qualification with help from Rudi Voller who scored a brace in a 2-0 win against Spain. Italy did what they had to do in the other match beating the Danes 2-0. The giants were through to the semi finals.

In an intriguing GROUP B the Dutch would be up against the fancied Soviets with Ireland and England making it political as well as sporting. England would play the Irish in the first game in Stuttgart and would be intriguing on a host of so many levels that it could result in a thesis. England were heavy favourites but Charlton (born in Newcastle, UK) knew how to win against the odds. This Irish side thrived on it. Within minutes of the start of the game Ireland were up 1-0 when Ray Houghton (born in Glasgow) looped in a header after the inexperienced and Butcher-less defence let the ball bounce a blocked shot from Irish striker John Aldridge (born in Liverpool).

It took England until the second half to recover from going behind with Lineker especially sloth-like but still managed to have some chances that were all saved by the always defiant Packie Bonner (actually born in Ireland). England heaped on the pressure with stars like Beardsley and Barnes having chances but the Irish held on to win 1-0 in a massive shock and a wonderful debut in a major tournament for the boys in Green. In the other opening game of this group it seemed the Dutch would do their usual crash and burn in a tough opener going down to the strong Soviet Union side 1-0.

In the second round of games Ireland again impressed going ahead in the first half through Liverpool legend Ron Whelan (actually born in Ireland) before Protasov earned the Soviets a draw. Protasov, like others, was part of the huge Ukrainian contingent in this side coach by Valeri Lobanovski, a great of the game and someone that looked like he’d always keel over at any second. In the other match the English and Dutch were desperate to avoid another loss and elimination after poor openings. Two massive bottlers trying to bottle the least. It was England who went to the script and fell apart with Marco Van Basten showing his brilliance with a hatrick in a 3-1 win. A young Tony Adams was thrown in to the side for England with Butcher out and was completely at sea as the Dutch clicked just like they had done in qualifying.

In the final games for this group all Ireland needed as a draw against Holland to be through to the semi finals which would be something similar the witchcraft if it were to happen. They held the group in their hands and Gelsenkirchen in the bright sunshine looked a picture with the green and orange scattered around the massive stadium. ‘Saint Jack’ sent out the ‘Irish’ to defend deeply and deny the Dutch any chance to use their flair to get a win like they had done against the English. From a corner the legendary Paul McGrath (born in Ireland) headed at goal strongly but the ball hit the upright then a defender before a scramble saw the keeper collect and a golden chance went begging. The Irish tactics almost worked with the Dutch now not going through their talisman captain Gullit and going the long ball hitting and hoping. With eight minutes to go a long cross from the right saw Kieft head to the ball and it eeked past Bonner in to the back of the net to send the Dutch through. Relief and celebration from the players and the army of fans behind the goal. In the other game the Soviets picked apart England 3-1 to top the group and avoid West Germany. The Irish went home heads held high, the English with their tails between their legs and Robson threatening to resign. An epic group like it promised to be.


It wouldn’t get any easier for the Dutch with the first semi to between them and West Germany in Hamburg. West Germany had had an extra days rest, would have a fervent support behind them and hadn’t lost to the Dutch since 1956 bullying their neighbours in to submission. Apart from that they also were in decent form. Beckenbauer tried to tag Gullit out of the game instructing Ulrich Borowka to follow him wherever he went but Gullit found a way to find space, to deny possession to the hosts and to frustrate. No one could find a chance in the first half and was 0-0 at the break.

Some 10 minutes in to the second half Klinsmann collected the ball and launched in to the area trying to dart around Rikaard and sucking in the Dutch defender to foul him and give away a penalty which he promptly did. 50% dive 50% momentum 100% Klinsmann. The captain Matthues just snuck the penalty past the keeper to make it 1-0. Dutch heads would not drop despite the scoreline with the previous losses to Germany over the years resonating in their heads and dominated possession desperate to get it even again. On 74 minutes a wonderful pass saw Van Basten through on goal dancing around two defenders lumbering over tackles with his gangly legs making him look like a new born giraffe. Kohler put in the wrong tackle, fouled Van Basten and a penalty was given. The erstwhile PSV sweeper Ronald Koeman would be given to task to take the penalty and finished it well. 1-1 and the block of 2000 or so in orange at one end of the pitch breathed again.

The game seemed to be heading for extra time. The Dutch were the better side over 90 minutes but just again couldn’t do the job done like they had in so many other situations. It would take another defence splitting pass to unlock the German defence and that is what happened with minutes left. Wouters had just that extra second on the ball before Matthues could close him down and sent a perfectly weighed pass along the ground to Van Basten who timed his run brilliantly managing to sneak a right footed shot away that got past his marker and the keeper to slide in at the far post. A sublime finish and even Van Basten himself wheeled away with a look of not quite believing he’d just scored all over his face. West Germany were desperate to make it 2-2 lunging forward in the final couple of minutes but all they could managed was a scuffed shot from Brehme. 2-1 at full time and the Dutch had done it somehow making it in to their first European Final along with defeating their bitter rivals for the first time in decades having some small revenge for the 1974 Cup Final and other sporting atrocities. Surely even the most pessimistic fan believed they could do it now. There was trouble after the game between some fans too with the West Germans looked like they had been hosed with stale milk. It was Watership Down for Berni. Bright Eyes in full effect.

With the drama of the first semi it was almost forgotten about there would be another match. The Soviet Union against an Italian side blooding and preparing for hosting the World Cup in 1990.In a tight first half a brilliant save denied Italy before the Soviets turned the screws. On the hour another Ukranian (Lytovchenko) scored a wonderful goal finishing it off 2-0 with Protasov scoring another. The Soviets were through to the final against the sentimental favourites.


As well as their loss to the Soviets in the opening game (without Van Basten) the Dutch were keen to not focus on the their past failures but the 1988 European Championships Final would be played at the scene of probably their greatest failure back in 1974, the Olympiastadion in Munich. Fans poured over the border somehow getting tickets, probably a lot of them were attained from the locals not wanting to go to final without the West Germans in it. There was so much to play for for both sides. The Soviets had been in three finals but only won once in 1960. This would be their fourth final and would have to do it without a key defender Volodymyr Bezsonov who was another Ukrainian and suspended.

In front a crowd that was more like a game in Amsterdam with the amount of Dutch fans the nerves of both sides were apparent but amid the sprayed passes and timid tactics the Soviets forced two good saves out of Van Breukelen. Gullit struggled to make an impact but he had a free kick tipped over the crossbar. The Dutch eventually settled and won another corner on the half hour. The initial corner taken by Koeman was cleared but only in a half arsed manner. The ball came back to Koeman and his second cross was a lot more dangerous finding the head of Van Basten who knocked it down to an unmarked Gullit who had beat the offside trap and headed in easily. 1-0! The Dutch were a little loose after going ahead but an excellent chance to the Soviets couldn’t be taken after some desperate defending and it was 1-0 at half time.

In the early stages of the second half the Dutch were still not able to control the game despite leading. The Soviets kept possession and looked for ways past Koeman and Rijkaard who were stoic at the back. Time ticked away and they held on, the atmosphere tense. Then on 54 minutes the Dutch broke and Arnold Muhren (in his farewell match) had the ball on the left. He sent a cross to the far post that was awful and Van Basten would have to work hard to control such an errant pass. Van Basten, dead on his feet for most of the game it seemed, sized the cross up and from an impossible angle for the goal got a right boot on to the ball. The shot looped in a way of physics that would even baffle Dr Karl getting over the keeper and hitting the back of the net. 2-0 and one of the great goals seen in International Football. The Dutch finally had their break.

As us Australians know though 2-0 can be a very dangerous scoreline in this sport. The Soviets still kept coming and had a shot hit the upright minutes after that seemingly knocked the mental stuffing out of them. The Dutch held on playing keep off and watching the clock slowly tick down agonisingly before one final twist. After a blocked shot by the Soviets the ball was heading for a corner but Van Breukelen dashed to collect like a dog let off a leash down a park. In the process of his recklessness he managed to get the ball but also bundle over a Soviet player. Penalty and an awful error. Belanov would taken the penalty that was low, strong and to the right but Van Breukelen made up for his brainfart making a wonderful save and the Dutch were home 2-0.

For anyone who has seen their team go through a hilariously cruel and barren run of years and even decades between successes you could identify with this side. They had finally not shat the bed and were Champions of Europe and in the backyard of their arch rivals no less. Gullit and his team walked up those same steps in the Munich stadium that their 1974 counterparts had done but it wouldn’t be to collect runner up medals, it would be to lift a trophy. It was also a moment of redemption for the coach Michels with the mastercoach finally coming good. After the game he was hoisted on to the shoulders of the players with a smile finally emanating from his face even if it may have been a wry one. For the Soviets luck or lack of it played a massive part in not winning a second title and at least having a 2-2 record in the big one. A sad end to a powerful side and with the collapse of their attempt at a socialist utopia this would be the last side to grace the International scene as the Soviet Union.

Another more than memorable installment of the Euros with a goal in the final that will resonate through the years to come.

CHAMPIONS – Holland (1st Title)

RUNNER UP – Soviet Union

GOLDEN BOOT – Marco Van Basten. 5 Goals. The Ajax Academy product was a revelation at this tournament mirroring his form for club side AC Milan that in the end won him the title of European Footballer of the year. All of his goals were vital including his wondergoal in the final. Unfortunately at the age of 24 this would be the last time he would truly shine on the big stage for his country. An ankle injury that never disappeared would see Van Basten spend large periods of time on the sidelines in between small spurts of brilliance for AC Milan including two European Cup wins and golden boots in Serie A. By 31 he was done as a player and announced his retirement after not playing one game in two years. Seen as probably the greatest player in history to be denied by injuries and there have been a few.

SACRED COW – Valeri Lobanovskyi. The coach of the Soviet Union also coached his beloved Dynamo Kiev and whenever in one of his three stints coaching both sides pretty much filled the teams with the same players to wonderful success. A brilliant Belgium side denied him in 1986 and luck against the Dutch in this tournament but he was seen as one of the best of his generation. Perestroika destroyed his side by 1990 and quit in disgust when his side failed at Italia ’90. He also got Dynamo Kiev to ‘do a Leicester’ in the Champions League making the semi finals in 1999. Lobanovskyi died after a stroke in 2002 aged only 63 but perhaps looked 20 years old than that.

DUNCE HATS – England. After making the World Cup quarter finals in 1986 with Gary Lineker winning the golden boot they went to this championship as a fancied prospect. Hoddle, Waddle, Barnes, McMahon, Robson, Shilton, Hately and I could go on but they couldn’t find a way past Ireland despite a heap of chances then were taken to the cleaners by Van Basten in the second game eliminating them. It was said later Lineker was suffering from a virus but some key injuries also meant England were heading home early. Bobby Robson offered to resign but was kept on and with the help of Gazza came within a penalty shootout of a World Cup Final in Italy two years later.



About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.


  1. James Grapsas says

    Great article! Thanks Dennis for putting this together.

    In relation to the qualifiers for Euro 1988, I would like to add that Scotland’s 1-0 win over Bulgaria at Sofia in November 1987 extinguished Bulgaria’s qualification hopes and enabled Ireland to qualify.

    Hearts (and later Airdrieonians) stalwart Gary Mackay debuted as a substitute in this match and scored the winner with a few minutes left. It was Gordon Durie’s first match as well.

  2. nice read, nice to reminisce
    Jeevan (born in England to Punjabi parents)

Leave a Comment