Sunday 8 June 2008
Already a UEFA European Championship legend for his performances in the 1988 triumph, Marco van Basten is eager to emulate that Dutch success as a coach.
Then a 23-year-old striker at AC Milan, Van Basten was responsible for the defining moment of the finals, with his terrific volley in the 2-0 final victory against the Soviet Union capping a popular success for the brilliant Oranje, and making him the top scorer in the finals with five goals. It was an experience that he has found hard to forget. "You have the [FIFA] World Cup and the European Championship and that is the highest level you can reach," he said. "It is also very hard, as after the leagues have finished there is little time left to prepare as a team. But they are the most widely watched and most prestigious events, so if you win such a tournament, then you, personally – and as a nation – go into history. So that is a huge challenge."
The challenge facing Van Basten as a coach in his final tournament before taking charge of his old club, AFC Ajax, is a massive one, with games against Italy, France and Romania to come in Group C. However, the 43-year-old coach does not see any reason to give up hope despite facing the two 2006 World Cup finalists in the Netherlands' opening fixtures, provided his side hit the ground running against Italy in Berne on Monday. "If we have the wind in our sails then we can go very far, but if due to any circumstances the wind is blowing against us, we could also be knocked out in the first round," said Van Basten, who could become the first man to play and coach a victorious EURO side.
The Dutch managed to avoid that indignity under Van Basten at the 2006 World Cup, but progressed no further than the last 16, losing 1-0 against Portugal in Nuremberg. The coach thinks his side have taken a step on since then, and is interested to see how they now measure up against Europe's finest. "We all are two years older now, and some guys play abroad now, in England, Germany and Spain, which are very good leagues," he said. "Obviously they also have become a bit stronger physically, and as a team we had a qualification campaign with all the experience that adds, so I think we have taken some steps forward. And that is why I now am very curious to see how we will do."