In the 1980s the USSR had one of the strongest teams in the world. The coach as the Ukranian Valery Lobanovsky, who had led Dynamo Kiev to become the dominant team in the USSR, as well as winning two European titles. In 1986 he took over as national team coach. His squad for 1988 included eleven players from Dynamo Kiev. Most notably were Igor Belanov, European player of the year in 1986, the dangerous striker with a hammering kick Oleg Protasov, the strong defenders Anatoliy Demyanenko and Oleg Kutznezov, as well as the elegant midfielders Vasiliy Rats and Aleksader Zavarov. The captain of the team was the legendary goalkeeper Rinat Dasaeev from Spartak Moscow, widely considered to be the best in the world. It was an awesome and physically strong side that functioned like a smooth collective.
The Soviets had qualified in a difficult group ahead of East Germany and France. In the opening match of the Euro 1988 they faced the Netherlands. It was a strange match. The USSR dominated the midfield but the Dutch had many huge chances that were spectaculalry saved by an unpenetrable Dasaeev. In the end the USSR won on a goal by Vassiliy Rats. A tie with Ireland and a victory over England, gave them first spot in the group.
In the semi-final the USSR were stronger than Italy in every respect, and won 2-0. In the final they would face the team they beat in their opening match, the Netherlands.
The Dutch had grown during the tournament, and in spite of their opening defeat, they were favourites in the final.The had defeated England 3-1 and Ireland 1-0. In the semifinal they had defeated the home side of West Germany in a very dramatic match, and had all reason to be confident before the final. The stars of the team were AC Milan's star striker Marco Van Basten (who had scored the winner against West Germany), and the captain Ruud Gullit, also from AC Milan. They were complemented by a string of outstanding players: Zaragoza's Frank Riijkaard, PSV's Ronald Koeman, Barry Van Aerle and Gerald Vanenburg, as well as Mechelen's Erwin Koeman and Ajax's Jan Wouters.
After defeating West Germany the Dutch had avenged the ghost of the final of 1974. Now, there was a second (albeit smaller) ghost to avenge, as they would be playing at Olympiastadium in Munich, the same place they had lost that 1974 final.
Rinus Michels only made one change compared to the team that had faced the USSR in the first round: Erwin Koeman came on instead of John Van't Schip. The USSR was seriously weakened though, as two of their best defenders, Oleg Kuznetsov and Volodimir Bessonov, both from Dynamo Kiev, were both out on suspension. Instead, Litovchenko opted for a more massive and offensive midfield, but his change of Sergei Aleinikov, a midfielder, in place of Kuznetzov, seemed misplaced.
Despite this, the first 20 minutes of the match the Soviets seemed to be more comfortable on the pitch, and Litovchenko had a good chance to put the Soviets ahead that was saved by Van Breukelen. After half an hour the Dutch seemed more comfortable and Ruud Gullit had an excellent free kick that was well saved by Dassaev. In the following corner kick a return ball landed with Erwin Koeman, who crossed to the far post. Van Basten had been told to stay at the far post, where Aleinikov did not pull forward for the off-side trap. Van Basten headed the ball into Gullit, in front of goal, who headed hard and brought the Dutch ahead 1-0.
While a disappointment for the Soviets, they continued trying to go forward, and Igor Belanov had a huge chance in front of goal, but shot over the goalposts. The Soviets pushed forward in the second half. But ten minutes into the second half Marco Van Basten scored one of the most memorable and fantastic goals in European championship history. Arnold Muhren crossed from the left into the Soviet area. It was not a particularly good cross, sailing towards the back line. However, Marco Van Basten ruched towards it, and made the impossible shot: he first-timed the ball from a sharp angle, and the ball went spectacularly in behind a stunned Dassaev.
Igor Belanov had a shot on the post not long after, but it did not seem they would be able to score. When Van Breukelen saved a penalty by Belanov, correcting his mistake that gave the penalty, it seemed that on this day the USSR had it all against them.
The Netherlands won their first and highly deserved title with a team of fantastic players. The USSR had a great side but had been beaten by a better side. This was the last match the USSR, former champions, played in a European Championship: four years later the world would be changed, and the USSR would no longer exist.
Munich, 25th June 1988, Olympiastadium
Referee: Michel Vautrot, France
Netherlands: Hans van Breukelen; Berry van Aerle, Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman, Adri van Tiggelen, Gerald Vanenburg, Jan Wouters, Arnold Mühren, Erwin Koeman, Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit (c). Coach : Rinus Michels
USSR: Renat Dassaev (c); Anatoliy Demyanenko, Sergei Aleinikov, Vagiz Khidiyatullin, Vasiliy Rats, Hennadiy Litovchenko, Aleksander Zavarov, Alexei Mikhailichenko
1-0 Ruud Gullit (32)
2-0 Marco Van Basten (54)