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Having been swept aside 4-1 by Spain 15 days ago, Russia have it all to do when the teams meet again in Vienna on Thursday. Yet as the Netherlands demonstrated 20 years ago today, it can be done – though it might take something special.
It has become one of those 'Where were you when ... ?' moments. The instant at the Olympiastadion in Munich when Marco van Basten defied logic with arguably the best goal ever scored at a UEFA European Championship finals. A bad touch by the Soviet Union's Aleksandr Zavarov allowed Adri van Tiggelen to intercept and feed Arnold Mühren wide on the left. His instant high cross went deep across the Soviet penalty area, finding Van Basten near the edge of the penalty area, only five metres from the byline. There was no obvious option except a cross towards Ruud Gullit. Instead, from the tightest of angles, he hit an astonishing top-spin volley over the head of Rinat Dasaev and just inside the far post.
"It was in the second half and I was a little tired," the 43-year-old recalled. "The ball came from Arnold Mühren and I was thinking: 'OK, I can stop it and do something with all these defenders around, or I could do it the more easy way, take a risk and shoot.' You need a lot of luck with a shot like that. It is one of these things that sometimes just happens. You try to do it, but you need so much luck and at that moment, it was given to me. I did not really understand it and what I did. You can see that in my reaction, I am asking: 'What is happening?' It was just a fantastic feeling."
The goal sparked passionate celebrations, though Van Basten's team-mates merely followed him en masse at a slight distance, as if in awe. Legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michels had seen a lot in his 42 years in the game, but even he was dumbfounded, putting his hand on his forehead in disbelief. Coming nine minutes after half-time it cemented the Netherlands' lead after Ruud Gullit's 34th-minute header had set them on their way, and helped complete a remarkable turnaround for both the side and Van Basten.
A fortnight before, Van Basten had started on the substitutes' bench as the Soviet Union overcame the Oranje 1-0 thanks to a sumptuous Vassili Rats half-volley. The 23-year-old had been hampered by an ankle injury throughout the preceding season at AC Milan, so Michels' hesitance was understandable. Van Basten was back in the team for the match against England three days later, and responded with a hat-trick. "That was a very nice memory and a very important game for me, Holland and for my career," he continued. "It was a game where everything changed. I had a difficult year with a lot of injury problems.
"But from that moment everything changed and everything went positive," he continued. "Afterwards, the other matches were easier and all the things went well." 'Well' seems something of an understatement and after a semi-final winner versus West Germany he secured his place in football's hall of fame with that incredible volley. It had a lasting legacy. For years afterwards balls across Europe were lost as youngsters attempted to emulate it. And now, two decades later, it may also give Russia reason to believe they can beat Spain and cap their own recovery in the tournament – it has been done before. And how.
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