Ever since I witnessed Holland win their first ever international title in 1988, being a fan of the Oranje has been nothing but heartbreaks and bitter disappointments. With the Oranje not being part of the 24 teams playing this summer in France for the European Championship, let’s revisit their previous disappointments in this tournament since 1988, starting with Euro 1992. 

  • By Ibrahim Ayyub
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92 euroThe Lead-Up:

After their disappointing performance and early elimination from World Cup 1990 by eventual World Cup champions Germany, Leo Beenhakker was out as Oranje manager and Rinus Michels, the man who coached them to glory in 1988, was back at the helm. Holland qualified to defend their title in Sweden as European champions. They battled Portugal to win their group which also consisted of Greece, Finland and Malta with Marco van Basten leading the way with 8 goals. This tournament also saw Holland switch from Adidas to Lotto as their kit maker.
Sweden were the host for the 1992 edition. Back then, only eight teams qualified. Holland’s opponents in Group B were Scotland, CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) who were the Soviet Union when they qualified but were going through their “Wind of Change”, and none other than the defending World Cup champions, and Holland’s arch enemy, Germany.

The core of the successful 1988 team was part of this 1992 team. We got to witness the fantastic trio of van Basten, Ruud Gullit, and Frank Rijkaard together again along with the outstanding Ronald Koeman in the back and Hans van Breukelen in goal. This was also the tournament debut for the future stars of the Oranje such as Dennis Bergkamp, and Frank de Boer.

Holland kicked off their Group B with a 1-0 win over Scotland with Bergkamp scoring and introducing himself to the world. Holland then faced CIS and played to a scoreless draw. Holland ended the group stage with a memorable 3-1 win over Germany with Rijkaard and Rob Witschge giving the Oranje a 2-0 lead after 15 minutes before Jürgen Klinsmann scored one for the Germans in the second half. However, Bergkamp scored the insurance goal in the second half to ensure the Oranje finished as group leader while the Germans finished second.

Germany would meet host Sweden in the Semi-Finals and defeat them 3-2 to qualify for the final, while Oranje would face Denmark in the other Semi-Final. Denmark did not qualify for this tournament after finishing second to Yugoslavia in their qualifying group. However, Yugoslavia were suspended from the tournament just 10 days before it started because of UN sanctions stemming from the Yugoslav wars. Denmark’s players arrived from their vacation and finished second behind Sweden and ahead of France and England in their group.

92 netheThe Heartbreak:

It did not matter if some thought Denmark did not belong; the Danes were now in the Semi-Finals and came to play. They were dangerous from the opening whistle as both sides exchanged dangerous counter attacks with van Breukelen coming to his team’s rescue while Peter Schmeichel faced a tame shot from Bryon Roy. Denmark surprised everyone when they scored in the 5th minute. Brian Laudrup got past Koeman and then whipped in a cross, over van Breukelen who couldn’t intercept the ball, for the unmarked Henrik Larsen who headed the ball into the goal and past the sprawling Bergkamp attempting a goal line block. Denmark could have added a quick second goal but Laudrup’s long range effort struck the side netting.

Both sides were dangerous on the counter attack and Bergkamp managed a superb dash to the goal, eluding a few players on his way before he was fouled. Koeman would take the free kick but would blast it a bit high over the bar. Holland though would equalize in the 23rd minute after Gullit headed down a cross inside the box for Bergkamp who would score a wonderful volley from right outside the box and past Schmeichel. Ten minutes later, Denmark would take the lead again after successive headers from Wim Vilfort and Laudrup was met by a Koeman header to deny a scoring chance. However, but the ball fell right to unmarked Larsen who scored his second of the match.

That goal gave the Danes a boost of confidence as they threatened Holland by exploiting the flanks with their speed while Laudrup was causing mayhem with the ball. Holland were in shock and the halftime whistle couldn’t come soon enough. Denmark were still the better side in the second half with the better chances early on but could not score the insurance goal. In the final twenty minutes, Holland chased for the equalizer with Gullit and substitute Wim Kieft both squandering good chances. Just when it looked bleak, Holland grabbed the equalizer four minutes from time.

Holland were awarded a corner kick after Bergkamp’s long range effort took a slight deflection. Rob Witschge’s ensuing corner kick was headed down by Gullit to van Basten, whose effort was blocked. Fortunately, the ball fell to Rijkaard who wasted no time in unleashing a powerful shot that went under Schmeichel, while John Jensen’s effort to block the shot, at the goal line, was futile as the ball ricocheted off his foot and into the goal. Just like old times, the magical trio were connecting once again for the Oranje.

Denmark though came close to winning it in the dying seconds after Holland got sloppy inside their own box following a throw in, but Lars Elstrup’s header was off the mark. A huge sigh of relief for the Oranje and extra time beckoned. Unlike the first ninety minutes, the Oranje were the better side in extra time but failed to score the game winner with Roy squandering two chances in the first half of extra time. In the second half, Gullit’s sliding effort to meet a van Basten cross and redirect the ball on goal was cleared, while Koeman’s trademark long range effort blazed over the bar. Holland’s final golden chance came courtesy of a van Basten cross but Gullit didn’t time his run properly for the chance to tap the ball in. For the first time in their history, a penalty shootout beckoned.

Holland would shoot first in the penalty shootout and Koeman converted from the spot as he made Schmeichel guess wrong by blasting it up into the middle of the goal. Larsen would take Denmark’s first kick and although van Breukelen guessed correct by diving to his left with his left hand making contact with the ball, he couldn’t deny the goal.

Marco van Basten was the second man in the shootout. The hero from 1988 struck the ball and Schmeichel guessed correct by diving to his left and denying van Basten. That penalty save was a sucker punch that I, and others, could not stomach. Denmark’s next penalty taker was Flemming Povlsen and van Breukelen attempted to get under his skin but the referee put an end to it. Povlsen struck the ball and van Breukelen knew exactly where the ball was going and managed to make contact with the ball. However, he failed to stop the shot. Holland’s best chance to make up for van Basten’s miss literally went through their goalkeeper’s fingers.

Bergkamp, Rijkaard and Witschge all converted from the spot. Sadly, so did Elstrup, Vilfort, and Kim Christofte who calmly slotted in the winning penalty. Once Christofte scored, he began to celebrate before Schmeichel and the other Denmark players joined in. For Holland, it was a bitter elimination from a tournament that was theirs to lose. Overall, this was entertaining showing by the Oranje with a memorable performance before their painful exit from their first ever penalty shootout.

The Aftermath:

Denmark continued to surprise everyone as they defeated Germany 2-0 in the final and were crowned champions of Europe. This would be the final time we would see Rinus Michels manage the Oranje or any other team for that matter. Michels stepped down as Holland’s manager and his assistant, Dick Advocaat, became his successor.

This would also be the final time we would see Koeman, van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard play together with Holland at an international tournament. Only Koeman and Rijkaard would feature two years later for Holland at the 1994 World Cup. Gullit fell out with Advocaat during the World Cup qualifiers and retired from the national team. Hans van Breukelen retired from the national team after this tournament while van Basten’s career for club and country ended after the 1992-1993 season because of injuries. Bergkamp would excel at the 1994 World Cup in place of van Basten and would become the recognizable forward of the Oranje for remainder of the decade.




Ibrahim Ayyub (15 Posts)