EURO 1988: Ronnie Whelan’s iconic volley

European Championships Republic of Ireland vs USSR 15/6/1988 Ireland's Ronnie Whelan is congratulated after scoring by Ray Houghton and John Aldridge Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

In the 1988 final of the European Championship it was the Republic of Ireland who gave the most surprises. One of the, if not the greatest goal scored by an Irish player at a major tournament happened in Euro 1988 as Ronnie Whelan promptly powered home a volleyed strike against the Soviets to the delight the nation with an iconic goal in a Hannover draw. 

The tenth edition of the UEFA European Championship featured an eight-team group stage (two groups of four teams) with the group winners – West Germany and the Soviet Union – faced the runners-up from the other groups in the semi-finals, which are the Netherlands and Italy. There was no third-place play-off. West Germany qualified for the finals automatically as hosts.

The Irish side and the Soviets were the eventual finalists of that year’s Euro and their first matchup in the group stage is one of the greatest moments in Irish football. Ireland defeated England and the USSR took the Netherland during the first round of the Group 2 matchups. A win would have guaranteed Ireland a place in the semi-finals in our first ever major tournament. 

A monster long-throw from Mick McCarthy landed at the edge of the Soviet box where Whelan, tumbled and launched himself into the mid-air to meet it on the volley, the ball sweeping in a perfect curve past Rinat Dassaev and into the top corner. The same pair combined in the second half, but USSR defence and Oleg Protasov came to rescue the Soviets.

The USSR side were put on the pressure but they managed tobreak the opponent’s lead through a resilient defence with 15 minutes left. Igor Belanov flicked the ball into the path of Protasov – who fired past Packie Bonner for the equaliser. It ended 1-1, which all things considered wasn’t a bad result for Ireland. The following match, the Irish side took on the Netherlands, who aims for their maiden trophy

The final round of the tournament, one of the most star studded final in the Euro history, which took place at Munich’s Olympiastadion, was contested by players who were either all-time greats or at peak of their careers. The Soviets, who were playing in their last ever European Championship, were behind the Dutch with Ruud Gullit, whose own header beat RinatDassaev, taking the lead. 

Meanwhile, Marco van Basten hit an astonishing top-spin volley over the head of the best goalkeeper in Europe. It became one of the best goals scored in a Euros final and the greatest single strike in any top-level final. Not only did it secure the Netherlands their first ever major title, that goal also won him the Golden Boot for the tournament and became a timeless symbol of footballing culture.

Whelan played an integral role in the dominant Liverpool side that won a wealth of titles in the 1980s. Although not the hero of the Euro finals in 1988, Whelan’s contribution to the national team was very vital. He played a total of 53 times for the national side between 1981 and 1995. Since retirement he has begun a media career, and is a regular contributor to RTÉ Sport in Ireland.