In 1981, on his 19th birthday, Gullit made his
international debut as a substitute for the Netherlands national
team against Switzerland, a game the Dutch lost 2-1.
Gullit's early international career was marred by
disappointment as the Dutch failed to qualify for the 1982 FIFA
World Cup and Euro 84. The Dutch missed out in 1984 on goals scored
as the Spanish trounced minnows Malta 12-1 in their final qualifying
game, when they needed an 11 goal victory to qualify.
There was further disappointment in 1986 when the
Dutch missed out on qualification for the World Cup at the hands of
neighbours Belgium in a play-off. Having lost 1-0 in Belgium, the
Dutch appeared to be set for qualification in Rotterdam as they led
2-0 until Georges Grun put the Belgians through on away goals.
However, Gullit was one of the key players for the
Netherlands helping his country win the Euro 88 under coach Rinus
Michels. Having lost their opening game of the tournament to the
USSR the Dutch beat England and Republic of Ireland to reach the
semi-finals. After defeating West Germany 2-1 in Hamburg the Dutch
faced the Soviet Union in the final. Gullit opened the scoring with
a well-placed header and Marco van Basten scored an incredible
volley to cap a 2-0 win. Ruud Gullit was thus the first Dutch
captain to hold aloft international silverware.
The Dutch travelled to Italia 90 as one of the
favourites, but the team failed to perform as expected. Gullit's
knee injuries clearly hampered his play, and his only moment of
brilliance was a superb dribble and shot against Ireland which
helped the Netherlands qualify for the second round. There they met
W Germany in one of the most exciting games of the tournament,
though the game was marred by an altercation between Frank Rijkaard
and Rudi Voller. The Germans gained revenge for their defeat at Euro
88, by beating the Netherlands 2-1 and going on to win the
1992 saw the Dutch again among
the favourites for silverware in Sweden at Euro 92. Gullit appeared
in imperious form against Scotland in their opening game of the
tournament as he supplied Dennis Bergkamp with an easy goal. But
after drawing with Russia and beating Germany, the Dutch suffered a
shock exit on penalties to Denmark, who ended up winning the
championship's Henri Delaunay Trophy.
1993 Gullit and Holland manager Dick Advocaat began what was to be a
long running dispute which ultimately ended Gullit's international
career. Advocaat's decision to play Gullit on the right-side of
midfield, in a game against England at Wembley, rather than his
usual central position upset Gullit and this was exacerbated by his
substitution for Marc Overmars. Gullit refused to play for the
national team following this but later changed his mind and agreed
to return, facing Scotland in May 1994. Shortly before the 1994 FIFA
World Cup, Gullit walked out of pre-tournament training camp and
would never play international football again.