Austria – Italy: Late Berti header seals it for visitors
Austria welcomed next year’s World Cup host nation Italy for an appealing home friendly, the Austrians’ first international of the calendar year. They had rounded off 1988 with a fine 3-2 home win against Turkey in the World Cup qualification, and with their next qualifier, the hugely important trip to East Germany, now two months away, manager Josef Hickersberger was looking to make the most of the visit of such an illustrious opponent.
The Italians had opened their 1989 account with a 1-0 home win against Denmark the previous month. That had at times been quite a physical encounter, and perhaps was Italy manager Azeglio Vicini looking at the prospect of something similar in Vienna. This was the first of a double away-header within a few days, as a trip to Bucharest to face Romania lay ahead.
Both teams had eight players on the bench, with four of them being allowed on during the game.
Team news Austria
There was no Peter Pacult, Gerald Glatzmayer or Franz Wohlfahrt since the Austrians’ last game, the November qualifier against Turkey. As back-up for the first choice goalkeeper had arrived Michael Konsel of Rapid Vienna. Rather than the usual number of five substitutes on the bench for qualifiers, the two teams had agreed to having no less than eight players each to pick from. Among the 19 in the matchday squad, six were new since the Turkey tie: said goalkeeper Konsel, defender Peter Schöttel, midfielders Walter Hörmann and Manfred Linzmaier, as well as forwards Ralph Hasenhüttl and Gerhard Rodax.
Hickersberger had lined his team up with five across the back for both their qualifiers so far, and considering the squad he’d picked, it looked likely that it would be the same on this occasion, too. Once again, the two Vienna based veterans, libero Heribert Weber and midfield maestro Herbert Prohaska, were selected, and they brought invaluable experience to an otherwise fairly inexperienced squad. Those two apart, only goalkeeper Klaus Lindenberger had passed the 30 year milestone. Also needless to add, none of the others were anywhere near the two seasoned pros’ caps numbers: Weber was looking at his 60th international, Prohaska at his 81st.
The three players already in their 30s apart, Austria had a relatively age-balanced squad, where the majority were in their early to mid 20s. Plenty would probably be expected of Rapid Vienna starlet Andy Herzog, who had scored twice against the Turkish, and further expectations were on the shoulders of perennial goal threat Toni Polster, who had made sure of their other goal last time out.
Team news Italy
With this being the first leg of a double away-header, Vicini had picked a 19 man strong squad to make the journey to Vienna and Bucharest. Since the game against Denmark the previous month, wide player Luigi De Agostini was back in the mix having returned from an injury lay-off. The 27 year old Juventus player was regarded an integral part of Vicini’s plans, and so was an easy pick now he was available again. Absent since the previous squad was striker Roberto Mancini, who had so far not got much game time in Italy’s post European Championships friendlies: Gianluca Vialli’s partner-in-crime at Sampdoria had just been on the pitch for 77 minutes in their first among four earlier friendlies. Vicini appeared to be content with Vialli, Aldo Serena, Stefano Borgonovo and Roberto Baggio as his forward options.
Returning to the squad was Napoli’s midfield man Luca Fusi, a 25 year old with two previous caps to his name. Fusi had been on the bench during the win against Scotland.
Despite boasting plenty of lovely footballing names, Italy were not a team brimming with over-experienced players. In fact, their highest cap was Vialli on 33 prior to the journey to Austria. Age wise, just expected second choice ‘keeper Stefano Tacconi had moved into his 30s. They were a relatively youthful squad for a team which would be giving their all to live up to expectations next year.
Vicini had set his troops out in a 3-5-2 formation in each of their four previous friendlies, and there was little reason to expect a change to that outlook for the test in the Austrian capital.
43 year old Manfred Neuner, from the south western part of West Germany, had been placed in charge of this friendly. He had been a Bundesliga referee since the start of the 1982/83 season, and was in line for his sixth task on the international stage. He’d made his debut with a qualifier in Luxembourg, when the hosts had kept a beleaguered Scotland to 0-0 at the tail end of the 1988 European Championships qualification.
Neuner had in fact been in Vienna less than a year earlier, when he’d been assigned as referee for Austria’s friendly against Denmark, a game which the hosts had won by the only goal of the game (an own goal from Klaus Berggren). No less than eleven of the 15 players who had appeared for Austria that afternoon were in their matchday squad for the visit of Italy. The West German official had never previously been tasked with refereeing the Italian national team.
This was the 33rd ever meeting between the two countries, and though Austria had historically done well, they had not beaten the Italians since December 1960 (2-1 in Naples). 7-2-0 read Italy’s record against them since, with their most recent clash having come in Udine back in March ’86 (another friendly). That had been Italy’s penultimate friendly ahead of the 1986 World Cup, and goals from Alessandro Altobelli and Antonio De Gennaro had made sure that the famous blue and white had won 2-1. Just Gianluca Vialli remained from the 13 Italians who had been on the pitch that day. Among today’s visitors, striker Toni Polster had notched the Austrian goal in Udine, and he was one of five still remaining.
The total head to head record read 13-7-12 in favour of the Italians.
|1 Klaus Lindenberger||31||Swarovski Tirol|
|2 Josef Degeorgi||sub 71′||29||Austria Wien|
|3 Kurt Russ||24||First Vienna|
|4 Anton Pfeffer||23||Austria Wien|
|5 Heribert Weber (c)||33||Rapid Wien|
|6 Manfred Zsak||24||Austria Wien|
|7 Andreas Ogris||sub 61′||24||Austria Wien|
|8 Herbert Prohaska||33||Austria Wien|
|9 Anton Polster||25||Sevilla|
|10 Andreas Herzog||sub 87′||20||Rapid Wien|
|11 Gerald Willfurth||26||Rapid Wien|
|12 Walter Hörmann||on 71′||27||Austria Wien|
|13 Manfred Linzmaier||on 87′||26||Swarovski Tirol|
|14 Gerhard Rodax||on 61′||23||Admira/Wacker|
|x Michael Konsel||27||Rapid Wien|
|x Peter Schöttel||21||Rapid Wien|
|x Peter Artner||22||Admira/Wacker|
|x Ralph Hasenhüttl||21||Grazer AK|
|x Christian Keglevits||28||Wiener SC|
|1 Walter Zenga||28||Internazionale|
|2 Giuseppe Bergomi (c)||25||Internazionale|
|3 Paolo Maldini||sub h-t||20||AC Milan|
|4 Franco Baresi||28||AC Milan|
|5 Riccardo Ferri||25||Internazionale|
|6 Nicola Berti||21||Internazionale|
|7 Roberto Donadoni||25||AC Milan|
|8 Fernando De Napoli||25||Napoli|
|9 Gianluca Vialli||24||Sampdoria|
|10 Giuseppe Giannini||24||Roma|
|11 Aldo Serena||sub 22′||28||Internazionale|
|12 Stefano Tacconi||31||Juventus|
|13 Ciro Ferrara||22||Napoli|
|14 Luigi De Agostini||on h-t||27||Juventus|
|15 Luca Fusi||25||Napoli|
|16 Massimo Crippa||23||Napoli|
|17 Giancarlo Marocchi||23||Juventus|
|18 Roberto Baggio||22||Fiorentina|
|19 Stefano Borgonovo||on 22′||25||Fiorentina|
We enter proceedings as the on-pitch marching band performs the Austrian national anthem, and it doesn’t look to be all that bad weather wise. At least there’s little trace of rain. As the band completes their performance, they march off the pitch to let the players and not least the West German referee take centre stage. Mr Neuner has a chatter with Italy midfielder Roberto Donadoni just upon kick-off, and then he turns to face the home pairing which is about to get the match going. Appropriately, Austria striker Toni Polster pokes the ball a few inches to his left for Andy Herzog to have the game’s second touch, and off we go.
Early on, you often find yourself looking for something which can break the mundanity of players interpassing in order to find their rhythm, such as an unexpected manoeuvre. On this occasion, it arrives with just two and a half minutes on the clock, after some highly expected charged battles in the centre of the pitch. While I say ‘unexpected’, I guess that is what you should be anticipating from Austria’s defender Kurt Russ. He’s hardly an orthodox player, just sticking to his position and looking after his man, such as is the case on this occasion, with him being set up as a man-marking centre-back. Russ accepts a pass from midfield man Andy Herzog from the left, and seems to be in with a shout. However, his quick dash is quickly brought to a halt when he’s scythed down by Italy captain Giuseppe Bergomi. He’d made it as far up the pitch as 30 yards from goal. It was not your household centre-back move, but it was an inspired moment by the First Vienna man.
On the topic of inspired play: Herbert Prohaska had shown glimpses of that already. Austria Vienna’s ageing midfield maestro had demonstrated his composure during the Turkey game last year, and in a team of relative youth, at least for the international climate, his presence seemed just what Austria needed. Faced with both Serena and Vialli, the twin attack force of the visitors, deep inside his own half, he simply turned them both in successive step-overs and brought the ball forward as if it was no big deal at all. The Praterstadion audience made sure to sound their appreciation. Prohaska seemed to start the game sitting relatively deep, despite not playing in the central one of the three midfield positions on this occasion. He clearly was positioned to the right of Manfred Zsak.
The visitors enjoy the bulk of the early possession, and it is definitely not as if they’re made of silk: Both Giannini, Berti and Maldini dish out some punishing tackles, with the away side demonstrating that they’re in it for the win. They also know a thing or two about maintaining the ball among themselves, although their early exercise of keep-ball fails to provide any penetration. However, when Maldini puts pressure on Zsak just inside the Italian half on nine minutes, Vialli can pick the ball up and orientate himself to see what’s ahead of him. What he sees is the big Serena making a forward dash, and how appropriate it was for the Italians that Austria libero Heribert Weber opted to step forward a tad late, leaving the Internazionale striker onside with half a pitch to run through on goal. Vialli’s pass had been well threaded, though Serena’s greatest forte was probably not finishing one on one with a goalkeeper. As it were, he chose to shoot low, left-footed right on the 18 yard line, slightly to the left of centre. A relieved Lindenberger, who had come racing out of his goal, could see the ball gently kiss the outside of the post as the ball went wide. Italy ought to have led. It was a disappointing finish from Aldo Serena.
The Italians line up a few corners in short succession, although there does not appear to be a whole lot of danger to the home defence as far as aerial challenge is concerned. The Austrian players are perhaps not particularly tall as a unit, although there are exceptions, such as big defender Pfeffer. And it should be added that captain Weber is also no mean header of the ball.
Italy do manage to put a sustained period of relative pressure on, even if they fail to truly test Lindenberger. And whilst Austria have marshalled the air space in their own defensive area well hitherto, they suddenly fall short to Berti, who flicks a left wing corner from Giannini goalwards on 14 minutes. On the line’s Polster to head it clear, although the replay showed that it would not have ended up inside the post anyway. The young Italy midfielder, though, was certainly someone who could win his fair share of headers, and he was one that the hosts would need to pay attention to at defensive set-pieces.
Hosts want a penalty
The game has decent pace; there’s no intended time-wasting or negativity of any kind. Both teams are interested in playing football, and with Italy enjoying most of the possession, Austria realize that they must break with pace if they are to unsettle the visitors’ defence. They do have a moment with a quarter of an hour gone, and, unsurprisingly, it is maestro Prohaska who creates the opportunity with his genius brain. In fact, Austria had overturned Baresi’s first attempt at joining the Italian attack, as the libero had accelerated through the centre of the pitch, only to be stopped in his track by Zsak, with the ball spinning out into an inside right position where, inevitably, Prohaska was lurking. He, in turn, sped forward. Or at least so it seemed, because despite his advanced years and perhaps no longer super-quick feet, he made it until halfway inside the Italian half whilst in possession. While making yardly progress, he’d already studied the options in front of him, and seeing a fine diagonal run from Herzog towards the right in the visitors’ area, Prohaska played his fellow midfield man in. True to his manager’s words, De Napoli had followed Herzog across, and as the Rapid Vienna starlet sought to get to the byline, he overstepped and looked to have got the better of his marker. However, it clearly seemed that De Napoli caught Herzog’s leg inside the area. The Austrian went to the ground, although his look in the direction of the referee was in vain as Mr Neuner just let play continue. Italy could have considered themselves very fortunate to escape a penalty decision against.
Austria seem improved
Briefly after, the heavens seem to open, with a few seconds of massive rain falling onto the Praterstadion pitch. It did not last long until it cleared. Perhaps buoyed by Prohaska’s earlier courage in possession, Austria again approached the visitors’ goal, with Polster being teed up to the left inside the area by left-sided defender Degeorgi for a low pop on goal. His shot was quite easily handled by Zenga on his near post, and as such did not cause the away side any worries. However, with the hosts all of a sudden in the ascendancy, hard working midfielder Zsak arrives at shooting distance when he lets fly from 25 yards only a minute later. He hits it well with his strong right foot, and though the ball fails to drift much to either side of the goalkeeper, Zenga can only parry it to his left rather than claim it. There was quite a lot of pace in Zsak’s effort. Now this is far better from the home side!
Home side: closer look
Austria boss Hickersberger’s just made one change to his starting eleven since the Turkey qualifier: Peter Artner has had to make do with a place on the bench this time around, with Manfred Zsak reappearing. The latter had played out wide to the right in their five man defence during the 2-0 loss in Kiev in October, and though right-sided defender was hardly Zsak’s favoured position, the energetic midfielder had coped alright against difficult opponents. Here, though, Zsak was back where he belonged, namely in midfield.
Between the posts, there appeared to be little competition for 31 year old stalwart Klaus Lindenberger, though it was only really in latter years that the Swarovski Tirol man had gained complete trust from the national team management. This was his 23rd cap.
At the back, there also was what seemed a foregone conclusion for the libero role in captain Heribert Weber. The 33 year old played his 60th international, and like against the Turkish, he had Kurt Russ and Anton Pfeffer alongside him in central defence. The pair were both relatively fresh to the highest level, with seven and nine caps to their respective names through this participation. It seemed quite natural that the taller of the two, Austria Vienna’s Pfeffer, would look after Italy’s aerially strong striker Serena, whilst Russ would try his best to stay close to Vialli. The left-footed Pfeffer thus would operate a lot in something of a right-sided central defensive position, as Serena was the visiting striker seeking more towards central left areas. Likewise, Russ would have to come across to the left of his captain to attend to Vialli, who once again prefered to engage himself towards a central right role.
For the two qualifiers that Austria had been through this far, Hickersberger had used two different players for the right-back position: Zsak and Peter Artner. On this occasion the job had gone to Gerald Willfurth, the steady Rapid Vienna man who had featured in the inside right midfield role for both Soviet away and Turkey at home. Willfurth was another dedicated player, although questions could be asked about his technical ability. Along the left was Josef Degeorgi, who clearly had a softer touch on the ball than Willfurth, but whose physicality was perhaps not quite as impressive. Still, he seemed to have decent lungs, and he would be more contributive inside the opponents’ half than his wide defensive colleague, trying to make use of his fine left foot.
It was the midfield department which seemed to be Austria’s strongest area. They had lined up with said Zsak in the central among the three positions, something which had pushed Prohaska slightly to the right for the inside right role. Prohaska had obviously given a fine interpretation in the central position for his comeback at national team level for the Turkey game, though while Zsak was originally the deeper of the two in this game, it would occur with frequency that Prohaska would come deep and ask his defenders for the ball. What had been an odd observation from the Turkey qualifier, was that there was no visible on-pitch chemistry between Prohaska and the other super-veteran, Weber. During that game, there had not been much more than a couple of passes between them. Perhaps an odd and not highly necessary observation, but still. Prohaska had returned to the side which Weber had recently captained in his absence. Perhaps had the Rapid man enjoyed his ‘sole chief’ role in the national side?
To complete the midfield three was Andy Herzog. The Rapid Vienna starlet, still only 20 years of age, was taking part at this level only for the fifth time, with his debut having come less than a year earlier, during a 2-2 away friendly draw with Greece in April ’88. Herzog had displayed some of his qualities during the Turkey win, where he’d obviously notched twice. He possessed a terrific left foot, although it had been with his inferior right leg that he’d struck for 3-0 back in November. He was much more of a natural attacking midfielder than either of the other two, and from an outside point of view, the Austrian midfield did look well balanced and equipped with the necessary tools to try and wrestle the game into their favour.
The front two were again Anton Polster and Andy Ogris. The former had struck the opening goal in their previous qualifier, and he was generally thought of as one of European football’s leading marksmen. It was particularly his ability to create shooting space for himself on that favoured left foot of his which was an asset, although being of good size, he was also a very capable player in the air. In the lively Ogris, a player he knew from club level prior to moving abroad, he seemed to have the right partner. Ogris would drift into wide areas and accept defenders’ attention, and though he was less of a direct goal threat than Polster, he was certainly useful from Hickersberger’s perspective. So far, though, he had been well marshalled by Riccardo Ferri, the hard man at the back for the visitors.
The game has an early substitution. It is not plain to see why Italy striker Aldo Serena needs to come off as early as the 22nd minute, though four or five minutes earlier he did seem to grimace after a hefty challenge along the ground from his marker Pfeffer. Still, there’s no direct signs of Serena being injured, so any damage done to the Internazionale striker would have to be learned about post-match. Serena had missed that gilt-edged early opportunity, though other than that he had not been able to stamp his authority on the game. His replacement was Fiorentina striker Stefano Borgonovo, who had gained his international debut through his cameo in the Denmark game the previous month. This meant it was the second successive time that Vicini picked Borgonovo ahead of fellow Viola forward Roberto Baggio, although it could easily be argumented that their roles were quite different ones anyway. Borgonovo, in fact, was possibly the player closest to Serena in attributes in Italian football at this moment in time.
Toing and froing
The match enters a phase where there is no distinct pattern to which team’s in the ascendancy. Italy, who had probably held the upper hand thus far seem to take some time to adjust to the new body in their side, and so the hosts have some fine moments in which they even manage to put the visiting ‘keeper to the test. There’s a couple of occasions where players struggle to maintain their balance on the now slippery surface, even if the heavy rain shower only lasted a short while. Also, with the vast arena being relatively sparsely populated, there does not appear to be a whole lot of spectator sound generated.
The home midfield is beginning to look balanced, as both Zsak and Prohaska take turns in asking the ball off their defenders. Zsak might be the more central of the two, but even he, at times, comes slightly to the right when picking it off either Weber or one of the two centre-backs, just like Prohaska. For the latter, this appears to be more due to his inside right position of origin for this fixture, but when the same several times applies to Zsak, then a conscious plot is emerging. It is as if they are reluctant to make their way forward through the centre, at least when either of these two midfielders is on the ball. When libero Weber makes forward strides, it is different. Weber rarely heads for either side when he’s tempted to cross the halfway line.
Zsak had already tested Zenga from distance when he struck the ball well on 18 minutes. Six minutes thereafter, he’s at it again. He picks the ball up in an attacking position and advances a few yards, unopposed, before unleashing a terrific right-footed effort from 26-27 yards which the Italy custodian on this occasion needs to throw himself at in order to palm away. Great try from the industrious Zsak, who clearly seems to thrive in this central role, and it also must be an inspiration to play alongside such a player as Prohaska. The pair make up the Austria Vienna central midfield, so it is not as if it is something new to the curly-haired number 6 anyway. And just moments earlier, Austria had shown their ability to quickly make the transition from defence to attack, when a counter involving Prohaska and Herzog had set Polster up with a shooting opportunity from what appeared to be his favourite range: To the left inside the area. Baresi had eventually blocked the effort away.
The Italian set-up had familiarity about it when compared to their post-Euro ’88 friendlies. In fact, the starting eleven was precisely like the one which they’d begun their previous game against Denmark with. Also, for the fifth successive time, Vicini had chosen to line his team up in a 3-5-2 formation.
Internazionale were represented with five players in the starting XI, and one of them was first choice goalkeeper Walter Zenga. The 28 year old had been a first pick since the 1986 World Cup, and so far his understudy Stefano Tacconi of Juventus had only been able to get one start in this period of pre-World Cup friendlies. Zenga, well known for his eccentricity, seemed to command well most aspects of the goalkeeping game, although he was perhaps not convincing enough in claiming crosses when there was plenty of traffic around him.
The three defenders were once again Franco Baresi as libero, Riccardo Ferri and skipper Giuseppe Bergomi as man-markers. The trio were building up a fine understanding between themselves, and in the former, they had a player well capable of breaking the rhythm of any game in how he saw fit to transit from defence to attack in an instant. Baresi was also equipped with a fine foot for long ball delievery, and even if this was not much of a feature on this occasion, using the direct forward pass had seemed effective in previous friendlies. On this particular occasion, Ferri looked after Austria forward Ogris, while Bergomi needed to keep check on Polster. Of the two, Bergomi was easily the more likely to make advance into the opposition’s territory. However, in this their first away fixture of the build-up to the World Cup, they did not commit a whole lot of men forward, and certainly not at the same time. Bergomi was more defensive this time around than he had been in the other post-European Championship matches.
Wide to the right in midfield, Italy had Roberto Donadoni. The Milan man had worked well as an inverted wide player in the Denmark fixture, though on this occasion he did seem to keep width to a greater extent. He had the ever-industrious Fernando De Napoli inside him to the right, and the recently turned 25 year old was the one midfielder balancing their centrocampo the most. De Napoli had next to no attacking responsibility, though it should be added that he was also acting nearly as a man-marker against Austria’s Herzog. There had already been that disputable incident where Austria felt that they should’ve had a penalty, and De Napoli could ill afford to make another mistake in the same mould. Not that he was likely to do so. The Napoli ace was among the most reliable players in the business.
Giuseppe Giannini was the big playmaker in Vicini’s side. Roma’s 24 year old was making his 24th appearance for his country, and he was the player most likely to dictate the pace of the game. Against the Danes, he had played relatively high up in the pitch in his central position, and it had worked very well, though here the manager had instructed him to sit somewhat deeper. Not that deep, mind; Giannini was still active inside the opposition’s half. However, this capability of his to sit anywhere in the centre of midfield was invaluable to the visitors. Giannini was a massive influence.
A more attacking midfield outlet on this occasion was the young Nicola Berti. In this his fifth international, the 21 year old from Internazionale often pressed high up in the pitch, and in addition to carrying the ball deep inside Austrian territory, he was also making runs off the ball in order to cause imbalance among the hosts. He took big strides with his long legs, and was also an asset in the air. With his energy, Berti was emerging as a clear first choice for an inside midfield role in the Azzurri select. To his left, Berti had Paolo Maldini, still just 20, but already picking up his twelvth cap. Maldini was rarely active going forward, but his defensive ability was second to none. He was the player balancing up the left hand side of the Italian midfield, just as De Napoli was doing across from him along the right. Maldini’s cautious nature also freed up Berti to go forward, and they both seemed to be having an inbuilt understanding of how to complement one another.
Up top, Italy had once again started with the Vialli/Serena combo, and this was for the third game running. If the idea of the forwards was to each bring something different to the table, the pair seemed to fit the description. Serena had been very useful both against Scotland and Denmark, but his aerial strength had not been utilised much in the opening quarter of this fixture. Then he’d had to come off, possibly after a knock he took from a Pfeffer tackle, making way for an almost identical kind of player in Borgonovo, though there were still differences. Vialli, flexible and dynamic as ever, had seemed to work well with Serena, though after the early substitution it would take some time for the visitors’ attack to gel again. Borgonovo picked up where Serena had left in being marked by Pfeffer. He’d arrived at an early opportunity when getting his head to a Donadoni free-kick into the area from the left, though his effort was a looping one which was always going over Lindenberger’s crossbar.
Rounding off the first half
Towards the match’ halfway point, there is not an awful lot going on in front of the two goalmouths, with plenty of play happening in midfield, where both sides are doing well in closing each other down, leaving little space for the opponents to exploit. It is always pleasing to the eye to see Herbert Prohaska in possession. He’s so composed, so well-orientated, always totally aware of where both team mates and opponents are. His elegance on the ball sees him dance past opposing players with such ease, though this usually happens well inside his own half, and so he rarely causes disturbance among the rear lines in the Italian team. However, when he moves forward and spots a runner, he immediately strikes the ball with perfection. Either of the two forwards are moving well off the ball, providing options for Prohaska.
The final first half opportunity for the hosts comes three and a half minutes from the break, when Polster uses his brute power to wrestle free from De Napoli to the left outside the Italian penalty area. The striker maraudes into the area and dispatches his usual left-footed effort, and akin to earlier in the half, he opts for the near post. Zenga has come off his line to narrow the angle, and the ‘keeper gets down quickly to parry the shot away.
In the Italian side, it has been the defensive work of De Napoli which has been one of the highlights so far, though even he stood little chance in fending Polster off once the big striker had made his mind up to head for goal. However, De Napoli had restricted Herzog to minimal action, while the defensive combination of Ferri and Maldini along the Italian left hand side had also dominated Ogris totally. Polster and two efforts from distance through Zsak apart, Austria had rarely threatened. Yet, they were holding their own, and they had improved through the course of the half.
It should be added that Italy do have the ball in the net a minute and a half from half time through Borgonovo. The striker, sparsely involved since coming on for Serena, had made a fine run across the penalty area, and in a rare moment of attacking territory possession by Maldini, the left-sided player slipped the ball through only for the Fiorentina man to be flagged off as he’d moved in behind the Austrian defence too early. Pfeffer, though, seemed a slightly relieved man, even if the decision of offside was hardly marginal.
This game had been Paolo Maldini’s fifth successive start in the left-sided position. Admittedly, Luigi De Agostini had been suffering somewhat with injuries, but he was perhaps still considered Maldini’s greatest challenger? Or was that Napoli’s Giovanni Francini? The latter had been an unused substitute for Italy’s three first post-’88 friendlies, though he had yet to make it on to the pitch. De Agostini had appeared as a substitute in two of four friendlies so far, albeit in midfield positions. On this occasion, though, Vicini had seen fit to replace Maldini, who had had a decent half defensively, but almost been a non-feature attack wise, with the Juventus man. De Agostini came on for his 17th cap less than two years after his debut. This was the only half-time change in personnel for either team.
The visitors got the half under way through Donadoni and Vialli.
Initially, the second half is a bit of a tedious affair. The pace to the game is less than it had been for most of the opening 45 minutes, and both teams appear to be more determined not to give any space away rather than try to be creative themselves.
The switch from Maldini to De Agostini along the left hand side had yet not resulted in any more attacking intent from the visitors, whose approach is a cautious, meticulous one, involving plenty of players. When making their way out from their own half, they engage libero Baresi a lot. He’ll typically be the transporter in the early stages of their build-up, before he usually leaves it to Giannini for the midfield ace to take over once the Italians have arrived inside the Austrian half of the pitch. The hosts do not apply a lot of pressure on Giannini as long as he’s in or around the centre-circle, though when the Azzurri makes it further up field, the driven Zsak is often there to close him down. They seem well organized, do the Austrians, something which had not always been the case in their qualifying win against Turkey.
The hosts had relaxed a bit too much when in possession inside their own half with just over six minutes gone. Maybe was it no surprise that the at times volatile Russ had been guilty of conceding the ball to Vialli in a right-sided position; he certainly was the bigger risk-taker among the hosts’ defenders. Vialli had played in Giannini, who had set his eye on goal, surging into the area from a central left position. Having made it past a feeble attempt by Pfeffer to prevent him from going through, Giannini proceeded to shoot left-footed and low towards the near post. Lindenberger, agile as ever, was easily equal to the effort, and parried it away for a left wing Italy corner. This had been the sole piece of goalmouth action upon resumption and through to an hour of play.
Austria had made no changes in their structure, and they continued to sit in their 5-3-2 formation. They had infrequently let their two wide players, Willfurth along the right and Degeorgi opposite, come forward during the first half, though in the initial stages of the second half there’s little will to attack from either of the Austrian flanks. Weber is leading the defence well from his spare man position, making sure that Pfeffer sticks close to Borgonovo, though keeping Russ utterly organized seems to be a bit of a job.
In midfield, Zsak and Prohaska continue to be their two most defensive alibis, and both’s workrate is good, even if they fail to apply much pressure until the Italians are well inside the Austrian territory. As for Herzog, their main creative outlet, he can be seen in his defensive slot alright, although his ability, or even desire, to copy the level of pressure seen by his two midfield compatriots is hardly great. The kind of game picture which we see in this phase of the match appears to be less suitable to an attack-minded player like the Rapid Vienna starlet. Herzog has so far since the break been unable to make use of his excellent capability in transition from defence to attack, and this also makes sure that there is next to no supply for their two front men. Both Polster and Ogris are so far relatively invisible since the restart.
The game is played in fine spirits, where there’s no animosity between players, and where they indeed demonstrate sportsmanship rather than the opposite. Prohaska certainly seems to be the one Austrian which commands the highest level of respect among the visiting players, while the home performers at times go out of their way to make the visitors feel at home. A good example comes when Polster involuntarily fouls Giannini just inside the Austrian half, upon which the striker is very quick to offer an apology and an outstretched hand to bring the Italian back on to his feet. Promptly accepted.
Big chances on the hour
Austria’s ability to switch off at crucial times has been briefly mentioned, and after a short corner routine from the Italians, after a break had led to Vialli firing a low, left-footed effort into the back heel of Russ, saw Vialli receive the ball back from De Agostini to whip a pinpoint cross towards the back post, where Nicola Berti had made it unopposed into the area. Herzog had been ball watching when the Italians had played it in, and this saw Berti being presented with a huge scoring opportunity. To the hosts’ luck, the young midfielder failed to get his free header on target. He steered it just wide to the right of Lindenberger’s upright. Herzog deserved an earful from his costly lapse in concentration in what was another display of his defensive inability.
Only seconds after, there’s another opportunity coming the Italians’ way, and again the hosts show that they’re prone to the odd defensive mistake. Lindenberger restarts with a short kick to his left, where Degeorgi in turn feeds Pfeffer to the left just outside the penalty area. However, the big centre-back fails to control the ball well with his first touch, and Donadoni’s over him in an instant, releasing Borgonovo, usually marked by Pfeffer, with his tackle. The striker seizes opportunistically, though he fails to get his first time shot on target, seeing his effort scuffed somewhat to the right of Lindenberger’s goal. It was a second major opportunity in the space of half a minute. Austria could ill afford to keep falling asleep like this or severe punishment was up next.
Home side’s first substitution
Austria are in need of fresh impetus, as they had been on the back foot for the majority of the opening quarter of an hour in the second half. They’d just conceded two big opportunities to the Italians, and so Hickersberger opted to withdraw ineffective forward Ogris for Gerhard Rodax. Could this spark them back to life? Not that it had been Ogris’ fault alone that he’d not been able to muster much, but whenever he’d been in possession, he’d typically lost out to Ferri, who had been sitting tight on him all match. Ogris was someone who liked to wander, and he would often come retracting somewhat in order to instigate something attack wise, but even this part of his game had more or less been absent all afternoon. Rodax’ appearance was his fourth for Austria since his debut back in 1985.
It might be a coincidence and it might have had something to do with the change, but in the wake of the substitution, Austria are finally able to approach the Italian goal. They manage to win the ball back well inside the Italian half on a couple of occasions, and this leads to both Herzog coming into the penalty area from the left before firing a low near post cross-cum-shot into the arms of the expecting Zenga, and also Zsak being teed up for his third effort from distance of the afternoon. While he’d been able to draw saves from the Italy ‘keeper in the first half, Zsak this time around could not hit the target as his right-footed shot from 26-27 yards went wide to the right of the frame. The signs were ones of improvement, though.
Austria make their second substitution when they replace left-sided defender Josef Degeorgi with wide midfielder Walter Hörmann. The latter, a 27 year old belonging to Austria Vienna, had made his international bow back in 1984, when Austria had won 2-1 in Cyprus in qualification for the 1986 World Cup. He had started the game in Kiev in the ongoing qualification, and had made not a whole lot of impression until coming off to be replaced by Herzog just after the hour mark. What could the diminutive substitute offer to the table that the Austrians had not brought already? As long as Hörmann was the player coming on, it probably seemed fair that Degeorgi had to exit. Not that he’d been their worst performer. Hörmann’s Vienna team mate had contributed both defensively and in coming forward, and had supported Herzog decently on a couple of occasions.
The latest Austrian introduction fails to immediately ignite the side, and the hosts had been fairly subdued all half so far, especially in comparison to their fine period during the first half when they were able to put Zenga to the test. Admittedly, the Austrian defence had been able to cope well with anything that the Italians had thrown at them, and it had predominantly been individual mistakes which had set off any alarm bells among the hosts. This was what would happen next, when the most unlikely of source, the elegant Prohaska, had misplaced a pass halfway inside his own half on 73 minutes. Vialli had accepted the invitation, and once in possession, the Sampdoria forward set his sight on goal, speeding beyond the home playmaker and towards the penalty area. Before Pfeffer could get a tackle in, Vialli had shot low, left-footed, trying to sneak one in diagonally by the foot of the right hand post. He’d failed to get sufficient angle on his effort, though, and a quick dive down to his left saw Lindenberger hold on to the ball. Big moment, fine save.
Without excelling or ever reaching the pinacle of their potential, the Italians had been the better side for large spells of the game. They had kept possession well, and they had often been able to pin the Austrians back inside their own half. However, they had always needed to be wary of any signs of counter-attacking intent from the hosts, which could occur when the Austrians won the ball in midfield with Italy committing several players forward. This had not materialized in the second half, and the Italian midfield had acted well, making sure not to concede possession when engaging men in the forward direction. Giannini had been sitting at the heart of their midfield and been the prince of distribution, while Donadoni had toiled along the right hand side, particularly being efficient in a defensive capacity, denying the Austrians space along their left hand side. Hörmann had directly replaced Degeorgi in that left-sided position, but if anything, Italy were after that change just even more in control. Next they would see Berti make a diagonal run deep into the area, but unfortunately for the away side he was flagged off from Donadoni’s fine pass. He did finish wide to the left of goal anyway.
Nearing the closing stage
With the game approaching its final phase, one could be forgiven for perhaps thinking that there had not been an awful lot of fine link-up play between the Austrian forwards all afternoon. Under normal circumstances, the starting pair of Polster and Ogris would have been going out of their way to find each other, though they had both been rather closely marked on this occasion. In particular Ogris, who had not enjoyed much luck from Ferri before exiting and leaving the stage open for Rodax. On 77 minutes, though, the hosts will carve out their best opening since the first half when Herzog is able to deliever a ball into the area from the left. For once, Polster has taken up a position in the centre, and though Herzog’s cross had looked to be cut out by Baresi, the libero could only head the ball into the air, and when it came down, Polster got to it, directing it to his recently arrived forward partner with his head. Rodax caught the ball sweetly first time mid-air, and only 15 yards out, he looked odds on to test Zenga severely. Well, he did force a save, although his effort had no great power, and so a well-positioned goalkeeper found it relatively comfortable in the end to make the catch, just slightly leaning himself towards his right in order to collect it. It had looked sweet, but Italy were probably far from intimidated.
Some ten minutes from time, the game is probably a more open affair than it had been at any stage prior. Some players are perhaps starting to feel a hint of fatigue, and there’s definitely more space to exploit down either end of the pitch, with the teams stretched to a greater extent. Maybe oddly, this appears to favour the hosts. Not that Austria are close to pulling the tigger, Rodax’ volley apart, but they are enjoying more time high up in the pitch than they had earlier in the half, and when you have potential match winners in your ranks, there’s always a chance to snatch something late on. Mind you, that threat still looms large at the other end, too. Austria can not afford to sit back and pat themselves on the back, content that they’re still holding on to a “point” against a merited opponent. De Napoli, of all people, reminds the hosts of this when he arrives to connect with a header out from Pfeffer after a Giannini free-kick into the area. 20 yards out, the midfield workhorse hits it first time, but alas, his effort is a poor one as it’s not caught cleanly, and it ends up well wide to the right of Lindenberger’s goal.
Third Austrian substitution
With just a few minutes remaining, Austria proceed with their third substitution of the afternoon. It sees the tiring Herzog come off for fellow midfielder Manfred Linzmaier. The 26 year old from champions elect Swarovski Tirol has not yet been involved during the ongoing qualification, but with nine previous caps to his name and four participations in Austria’s qualification campaign for the 1988 European Championships, he could surely be someone that Hickersberger would like to see more of. He was likely to directly replace Herzog, or he could move into the wide right position and see Willfurth make the switch across to the inside left role.
The game is settled on 88 minutes. It had earlier been noted how Italy’s young midfielder Berti had a knack of getting himself into the opposition’s area, and it would happen again right on the death, leaving the hosts with next to no time to recover. The visitors had seen Linzmaier slot into Herzog’s inside left midfield position, although they would not have cared too much, confidently stroking the ball among themselves inside the Austrian half, until Donadoni released De Agostini with a fine pass down the left hand side. Donadoni had come in field and even across for this telling contribution, and when Russ failed to close De Agostini down sufficiently, the second half wide left man could pick his spot, something which he duly did. Alarmingly, no Austrian player had tracked Berti back. Pfeffer was closest to him, but he had concentrated on Borgonovo, and rightly so. Where was Zsak? Linzmaier? Or even Weber? Berti had an easy task in heading the ball into the back of the net via the ground. It was his second international goal in his fifth appearance.
After looking like they were getting a highly creditable draw against one of the world’s top nations, Austria were now facing home defeat, and they did not manage to force another attempt on goal before the faultless West German referee blew the game off exactly one minute into time added on. In fact, an Italian counter just after the goal saw Donadoni enter the hosts’ penalty area to the right, although he failed to pick Giannini out with an angled pass back into the area, something which spelled the end to any danger either way.
After a slow start, Austria seemed to grow in confidence, and they twice tested Zenga through Zsak efforts from distance before the break, whilst the visitors had a late disallowed effort from Borgonovo, who had replaced an injured Serena halfway through the period. In the second half, Austria struggled to break out from their side of the pitch, seeing plenty of possession among the visiting players, although little penetration. Berti had missed with a fine headed opportunity at the back post, and Vialli had seen Lindenberger save his low, left-footed effort. Rodax had swung a volley directly at Zenga, before Italy stole it right at the end when the hosts failed to spot Berti’s run into the box. He connected well with his head from De Agostini’s pinpoint cross to guide the ball into the back of the net.
1 Lindenberger 7.2
alert to danger, decent on the line, though could do little to prevent the goal against, with Berti’s header going in off the ground
2 Degeorgi 7.2
a fine contributor going forward, and with Italy not proving much of a threat along his side, he also coped impeccably inside his own half of the pitch. The substitution seemed an odd one, particularly as there was no hint of an injury
(12 Hörmann –
a dreadful cameo in which he could do little right. Each time outmuscled by the opponents)
3 Russ 7.0
in traditional Russ-style he made some interesting advances into enemy territory, although defensively he did struggle to keep close enough to Vialli
4 Pfeffer 7.2
a solid man-marking performance against two different Italy strikers, and used his physique to near perfection
5 Weber 7.1
again stitched the Austrian defence together, although he did not influence much as an instigator of attacks this time around
6 Zsak 7.3
fully committed performance in the centre of the pitch, and he twice tested Zenga from range in the first half. His tandem work with Prohaska was fine
7 Ogris 6.2
of misplaced passes he had a few, and he was marked out of the game by Ferri. Link-up play with Polster non-existent. Could hardly complain about being substituted
(14 Rodax –
brought on at a time when Austria were in need of attacking ideas, and though he seemed industrious, he failed to prove a big threat. However, he did test Zenga with a cute volley from Polster’s knock-down)
8 Prohaska 7.2
close control and vision his biggest attributes, and ability to keep the ball in tight situations saw him being able to switch play effectively. Did seem to tire somewhat in the last 15-20 minutes
9 Polster 7.1
proved his brute strength on a couple of occasions, and did keep his marker alert. Still, he was less of a goal threat than the Austrians would’ve wished
10 Herzog 7.0
at times anonymous in his advanced midfield role, but when determined and involved, he did prove a creative outlet towards the left. Involvements seemed to grow as Prohaska tired somewhat toward the end
(13 Linzmaier –
no time to add any influence so late on)
11 Willfurth 6.8
toiled along the right, where he was far less of an attacking capacity in comparison with Degeorgi. Sound defensively, and his combativeness was always a feature
1 Zenga 7.2
needed to come to the rescue three times in the first half, although all three efforts were ones he would’ve been expected to keep out. Also positioned himself well when denying Rodax a volley goal after the break
2 Bergomi 7.1
sat close to Polster throughout, and did not always have it his own way. Still, he’s a tough opponent, and at times he would also provide a wide right outlet going forward
3 Maldini 6.4
no success inside the opponents’ half, where his passes generally went astray, although he did ‘assist’ Borgonovo for the disallowed goal. Defensively rarely troubled, but Austria did not attack much down the right anyway. Disappointing performance
(14 De Agostini 7.0
a second half improvement for the visitors in an attacking capacity, even if, in all honesty, he was not played in as often as he could’ve been. Assist for the goal was a trademark cross of his)
4 Baresi 7.2
impressed both when challenged defensively and also in seizing on opportunities in coming forward; he always knew when to pick his moment
5 Ferri 7.4
a commanding marking job on Ogris, whom he never let loose. Did not get as close to the more agile Rodax, though rarely very troubled
6 Berti 7.3
an excellent midfield engine as he was comfortable in possession, had a fine understanding with Giannini, and his knack of making it into the opposition’s penalty area ultimately saw him rewarded with a matchwinning goal
7 Donadoni 7.0
another workmanlike performance from the right, from where again he would come in field and contribute. Second assist for the goal
8 De Napoli 7.2
quite effective on Herzog, although he should’ve had a penalty against when felling the same Austrian deep inside the area during the first half. A Wasserträger performance when his side were in possession
9 Vialli 7.0
sought wide areas, worked his socks off for the team, but also proved a threat when breaking into the area. Should’ve done better with his second half effort which was thwarted by Lindenberger
10 Giannini 7.0
the big regista in the Azzurri side, though on this occasion he was positioned somewhat deeper than previously. Also enjoyed some physical battles with former Roma man Prohaska in the midfield engine room
11 Serena –
Italy didn’t play to his strengths while he was on the pitch. Challenged well, but could not influence much. Spurned his one on one chance when played through. Came off probably due to a knock after a tackle from behind by marker Pfeffer
(19 Borgonovo 6.8
was brought on early, and tried his best to both link up with Vialli and drag his marker Pfeffer out of position. Put the ball into the back of the net from Maldini’s late first half pass, but was adjudged offside, and correctly so)