The Netherlands' trophy cabinet during their 'total football' years of the 1970s is one of the biggest crimes in football history.


​Spearheaded by the incomparable talent of Johan Cruyff, the Netherlands reached the World Cup final in both 1974 and 1978, as well as achieving a semi-final spot in Euro '76. Despite so many close calls, the Oranje fell short each time, leaving them with nothing to show for some of the best football in the sport's illustrious history. 


Were they cursed? Was it never meant to be?

Whatever happened, the Dutch supporters knew it would take something special to top the efforts of their heroes during those entertaining, if not successful, years. 


And then, along came Marco van Basten. 


Van Basten joined Eredivisie giants Ajax in 1981 as a 16-year-old, but he was forced to wait until April 1982 to make his debut. He scored, of course. A sign of things to come. 


Over the next few years, the forward quickly transformed into one of the greatest players of his era, earning himself a move to Italian side Milan in 1987. In Van Basten, I Rossoneri had captured one of the most complete attackers in world football. 


The striker could do it all. He possessed incredible poise, grace and elegance when gliding across the turf with the ball at his feet, and his impressive physique allowed him to pull off some extraordinary acrobatic techniques. 


But the nimble and dainty footwork did not mean he was a soft touch. Far from it. Van Basten was a strapping forward, six foot two in height and built to compete with any strong centre-back in the game. 


He became renowned for his prolific goalscoring record, but it was the quality of his strikes which made him so special. Van Basten could take on a shot from any angle, contorting his body into all sorts of shapes and angles to find the net. 

Pace, power, flair and a ruthless edge - Van Basten had the lot. 


And similar to his beginnings at Ajax, the forward hit the ground running in Italy, helping ​Milan lift their first Serie A title in eight years. 


But his season was marred by a nasty ankle injury, and those fitness issues looked set to disrupt his and the Netherlands' hopes of international success at Euro '88.


Van Basten was only fit enough to make the bench for Holland's opening game against the Soviet Union, and he was sorely missed, as the much-fancied Dutch fell to a shock 1-0 defeat. Their star striker did make an appearance with half an hour to play, but he was unable to affect the game given his lack of match sharpness. 


That would all change in the next round of fixtures, however. 


Facing what should have been their toughest task of the group stages, the Netherlands went head-to-head with an England side who were also desperate to pick up their first points of the tournament. 


​But the Three Lions did not account for the schooling they were about to receive at the hands of the Dutch talisman. Van Basten bagged an incredible hat-trick, scoring a trio of goals which showed his real range of mesmerising skills and endless capabilities. 

He received the ball with his back to goal for the first strike, but twisted his marker inside out before firing low and hard beyond Peter Shilton. Ruud Gullit then supplied his second assist of the match, laying the ball into the striker's path, who once again drilled home with deadly accuracy. 


Van Basten's third demonstrated his killer instinct, volleying home in the six-yard box to break English hearts. Clinical


The Netherlands were reborn following their early slip in the competition, and they then edged past the Republic of Ireland with a late goal to book their place in the semi-finals. 


But who would be blocking their path to the grand final? None other than tournament hosts and 1974 World Cup winners, West Germany. The West Germans took the lead through a penalty, but a mazy Van Basten run earned the Dutch a spot-kick of their own, and set-piece specialist Ronald Koeman levelled the scores with 15 minutes to play. 


And with that, the game seemed to be heading to extra-time. But with two minutes to play, Van Basten produced a stunning effort, stretching to reach a lovely through-ball and sliding a pinpoint strike beyond Eike Immel. 


That brilliant effort took the Netherlands to the final, where our hero was saving his best till last. 

The Dutch faced Soviet Union in the grand showdown, the side who had defeated them in their opening game. 

There were no such shocks this time round however, as Van Basten assisted Gullit's opening goal just after the half-hour mark, nodding the ball into the centre of the box where the Netherlands captain was waiting to power home a vicious header. 


But the real showstopper came on 54 minutes. A deep, deep cross found its way to the very far post, where Van Basten, level with the six-yard box, was waiting. With the entire world expecting him to bring the ball down or loop it back into the middle, the forward unleashed a mind-blowing volley which dipped and arrowed into the opposite corner, bamboozling the goalkeeper and the entire viewership. 


It is fondly remembered as one of the greatest moments in sporting history, and it was enough to help Netherlands break their trophy drought. 


Van Basten won the prestigious Ballon d'Or award that year for his remarkable, and would go on to lift it again 12 months later, following another superb season with Milan. His time in Italy would reward him with three Serie A titles and two Champions League trophies, but his aforementioned ankle issues would sadly force him into early retirement. 


​A cruel end to a glittering career, and one that the Netherlands will never forget.