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Euro heroes - Hans van Breukelen

It was the moment that cemented Marco van Basten's place as a striker of world class talent, yet the most glorious moment in Dutch football history so nearly fell by the wayside in the knock-out stages of Euro'88.

The tournament is remembered for Van Basten's majestic hat-trick that destroyed England in the group stages and his stunning dipping volley that ignited a Final against a Soviet Union side who were the surprise package in a memorable month of action.

Yet as Dutch goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen reflects, he and his fellow heroes of 1988 could so easily have joined the vast list of players who have donned the famous tangerine shirts and failed to live up to their billing. 'We were struggling to find the goal we needed to make it through to the semi-finals in the game against Ireland,' he reflects of a tournament that featured eight teams in West Germany.

'Ireland had beaten England and got a draw against the Soviet Union, so a point against us would have been enough for them. I remember we missed many chances and then with less than 10 minutes to go, Wim Kieft's goal gave us the win. It could have ended for us then. After that, we knew the luck was with us and we had a chance to win the tournament.'

So many Dutch sides have flattered to deceive both before and after this tournament, but with so many stars in their ranks in 1988, it was felt that this was their moment to shine. In skipper Ruud Gullit, they had the outstanding attacking star in the world game and the likes of Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman and Jan Wouters were at the peak of their powers.

Van Breukelen picks out the semi-final victory against hosts as the defining moment of their campaign. 'But by far the most important game was the semi-final with West Germany in Hamburg,' he continues. 'It's hard to explain how much we wanted to beat the Germans.

'Fourteen years before, a fantastic Dutch side led by Johan Cruyff, were the favourites to beat the Germans in the World Cup but lost 2-1. For Dutch football fans, that was a painful memory and we desperately wanted to set the record straight. We felt we should have won that championship in 1974.

'Fortunately, we ran out 2-1 winners this time, with Van Basten scoring the decisive goal two minutes from time. We were all ecstatic after the game. Beating the Germans meant more to us than reaching the European Championship Final.'

They are words that prove it's not just the English who relish the slaying of a German football team and by the time Holland took to the field for the Final, it was very much a case of finish off the job. After Gullit opened the scoring mid-way through the first half, Van Basten's second half goal was of the variety that instantly entered the realms of 'wondergoal'.

'I don't think I ever saw a more spectacular effort than our second goal that afternoon, an amazing volley from an impossible angle,' continues the keeper who watched it all from the other end of the Munich's Olypiastadion.

'It was hardly a chance, more a half chance. Yet Van Basten managed to wrap his foot around the ball and we have all seen it on television so often since. It was the dip he got on the ball that beat the goalkeeper and at that moment, 2-0 ahead, we knew the title was ours.

'Of all the great Dutch teams who had tried over the years, we were the first to win a major title. We had a very strong side with a good mentality and also the right mix. We had the stars like Gullit, Van Basten, Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman and the unsung heroes like Van Aerle, Van Tiggelen, Wouters, Vanenburg and Erwin Koeman. A great balance and a great team.'

For Van Bruekelen, the triumph was the culmination of what has been a stunning year in his career. 'My club PSV won the Treble, the Dutch League and Cup and the European Cup when we beat Benfica on penalties in Stuttgart. Then, to top a great season, I played in goal for the Dutch side which won the European title.

'It was a season that could not have been more perfect and you can only dream about achieving so much in such a short space of time. To collect so many major medals in six weeks was incredible for me.'

There may be a few FC Porto players hoping to follow in the footsteps of Hans van Breukelen's footsteps in the next few weeks. With the domestic title and Champions League in the bag, a Portuguese triumph at Euro 2004 would cap a perfect campaign for the likes of Paulo Ferreira, Costinha and Deco.