Belgium – Yugoslavia: Thys bids farewell to Brussels with win
Not too many in the audience this warm afternoon in Brussels, although a good number of Belgian football notables and an unusually large crowd of children were attending. The absentees could perhaps be forgiven, as the friendly had been scheduled to take place right at the end of a long domestic season. However, both Belgium and Yugoslavia were due to play qualifiers in June, which might justify the fixture after all.
It was also an occasion to take farewell with legendary manager Guy Thys, whose reign as Belgium manager was drawing to an end. According to the agreement with the Belgian FA, he was to hand over the reins to successor Walter Meeuws after the qualifier away at Luxembourg in early June (which would concur with his 100th international at the helm).
Belgium team news
No big experiments in the 11th hour of Thys’ reign, although he did hand a debut to two players: right back Koen Sanders and libero Jean-François De Sart. Although receiving their first caps, neither were inexperienced as such. Solid play over time for KV Mechelen and RFC Liège respectively earned them a first cap for their country.
Éric Gerets had sustained a minor injury in the Dutch cup final just a few days earlier, and was unavailable for this match. We also know that Lei Clijsters had a long-term injury and would be sidelined for a considerable team still. Apart from him, there were no signs of Georges Grün and Stéphane Demol, who are regulars in Thys’ defence.
Yugoslavia team news
Yugoslavia’s line-up was a 50/50 mix of regular first team members and back-up players.
Based on the previous matches in 1988-89, Osim’s established trio in central defence seems to be Spasić, Hadžibegić, Jozić. Only man-marker Spasić had been picked for this friendly, here partnered by the versatile Zoran Vujović, whose chances of a starting berth in the qualifiers seems much better as a left wing-back than as man-marker. The only unfamiliar face in the defensive department was libero Boško Đurovski: The Partizan player had made a brief appearance in the April friendly against Greece, and was clearly a player Osim wanted to test.
The left wing-back position was this time occupied by Dragoljub Brnović,, who we have seen making a few appearances already in the qualification, but who might not be more than a squad rotation player at the moment. In any case, he seems to be the closest competitor to Zoran Vujović for this spot in the team.
Compared to Yugoslavia’s last match, against France away 29 April, the midfield department had been reduced to three players (from 5-4-1 to 5-3-2), but contained Yugoslavia’s arguably two best creative players: Stojković and Sušić. They were joined by experienced performer Milan Janković, who hadn’t been seen in the Yugoslavia shirt since a friendly in September 1988. He was by all reckoning behind Katanec and Baždarević in the competition for the deeper midfield role(s).
Upfront, and in his 2nd cap for Yugoslavia, Goran Milojević (another Partizan player) was given the task of connecting midfield and attack. Sole, genuine striker was big Dragan Jakovljević, who had been serving in the army for most of the 1988-89 season (and hence must have lacked in match fitness), but who is a player Osim is known to admire.
This was the 11th meeting between Belgium and Yugoslavia. They had last time met nearly three years to the day, on 16 May 1989 in Brussels (3-1 win to Yugoslavia), but more famously in the group stage of the 1984 Euros (2-0 win to Belgium). There were a few survivors from the latter match: Scifo and Ceulemans for Belgium, Stojković and Sušić for the visitors (a few others would surely have been added to the list if the teams were full-strength).
|1 Michel Preud’homme||30||KV Mechelen|
|2 Koen Sanders||26||KV Mechelen|
|3 Philippe Albert||79′||21||Charleroi|
|4 Jean-François De Sart||27||RFC Liège|
|5 Bruno Versavel||21||KV Mechelen|
|6 Marc Emmers||23||KV Mechelen|
|7 Franky Van Der Elst||27||Club Brugge|
|8 Patrick Vervoort||24||Anderlecht|
|9 Marc Degryse||sub 76′||23||Club Brugge|
|10 Enzo Scifo||sub HT||23||Bordeaux|
|11 Jan Ceulemans||sub HT||32||Club Brugge|
|14 Danny Veyt||on 76′||32||RFC Liège|
|15 Marc Van Der Linden||on HT||25||Royal Antwerp|
|16 Luc Nilis||on HT||21||Anderlecht|
|x Gilbert Bodart||Standard|
|1 Tomislav Ivković||32′, sub 59′||28||Genk|
|2 Vujadin Stanojković||25||Vardar Skopje|
|3 Predrag Spasić||sub HT||24||Partizan|
|4 Dragoljub Brnović||25||Partizan|
|5 Boško Đurovski||27||Partizan|
|6 Zoran Vujović||30||Cannes|
|7 Milan Janković||29||Anderlecht|
|8 Safet Sušić||34||Paris SG|
|9 Dragan Jakovljević||27||Sarajevo|
|10 Dragan Stojković||32′, sub HT||24||Crvena Zvezda|
|11 Goran Milojević||24||Partizan|
|12 Fahrudin Omerović||on 59′||27||Partizan|
|13 Budimir Vujačić||on HT||25||Vojvodina|
|14 Dejan Savićević||on HT||22||Crvena Zvezda|
|x Zlatko Vujović||30||Cannes|
1st half: Match report and analysis
Who will pick up Degryse?
If Belgium’s formation resembled a traditional 4-4-2, it was nevertheless a flexible system due to the clever change of positions between Ceulemans and Degryse.
When in possession, Ceulemans was the most advanced forward, while Degryse played just off him. When not in possession, however, Ceulemans would drop back level with the midfielders (next to Scifo and Van Der Elst), while the speedier Degryse played as the front attacker.
Yugoslavia fielded a new central defence, and it probably did show on a few occasions that their mutual understanding was lacking. The recurring problem was who would pick up Degryse when Belgium launched counter-attacks. Yugoslavia had three central defenders, but nobody seemingly found out who or when to stop Degryse. The interchange of positions between Ceulemans and Degryse surely contributed to the confusion. Scifo made a few excellent through passes to release Degryse, who found himself in large swaths of space when Yugoslavia had to transition from attack to defence.
Versavel and Vervoort: A promising partnership
Against established defence, Belgium’s build-up play was more slow and based on a central midfield that is very comfortable on the ball (Van Der Elst and Scifo) and two energetic wide-players (Vervoort and Emmers) who connected with their overlapping full-backs (Versavel and Sanders).
Intrinsic to the 4-4-2 system is the use of wide players when going forward, and it made sense to use the wide areas as Yugoslavia prefer to flood the center.
Overlapping full-backs was a potent instrument for Belgium, as Sanders and Versavel largely were untracked when going forward. Sanders showed more enthusiasm than quality, but Versavel (naturally a left winger) is a player who is highly competent inside the opposition’s half, and made some very good passes from his position. There were also signs of an interesting partnership being forged here between Versavel and Vervoort, as the two managed to combine their way down the left flank a few times – often by smart movements, as one player tucked inside and managed to angle the ball to the other player running into space.
Belgium were balanced, although as always somewhat on the cautious side. It has always been a priority for Thys to keep things tidy at the back.
Belgium’s pressing game was overall very good. They were structured in anything they did without the ball – whether their pressed was high up the pitch or low, it was all made in a joint effort, and with a sound distance kept between defence and midfield. This was probably also key to denying Yugoslavia’s ball players the level of domination we have seen them capable of in the 1990 qualification. In contradistinction to a few other teams that Yugoslavia have dominated in the 88-89 season, Belgium did not look exposed at all. Having an extra man in midfield (Ceulemans in 4-5-1) certainly also helped.
Yugoslavia probably saw most of the possession, and relied on slow build-ups working the ball from side to side in their attempt to stretch Belgium.
Sušić and Stojković were busy in midfield and did occasionally play their way through the Belgian pressing, but they rarely threatened in the final third and probably also missed the well-timed runs in the channels by Zlatko Vujović. Yugoslavia managed to create some promising openings on the left flank behind the back of Sanders, were they had a numerical advantage in Milojević, and Brnović, which they perhaps could have exploited to an even greater degree.
Yugoslavia’s best goal-scoring opportunity was however a big one: The Belgian defence was seemingly caught in two minds whether to push forward or not, and Stojković, exploited the hesitance by playing a penetrating pass that released Jakovljević, through on goal with Preud’homme. The finish was a weak one, however, and the cool-headed Preud’homme made a comfortable save.
2nd half: Match report and analysis
There were a few changes for each team at half-time.
Thys took off Ceulemans and Scifo, replacing them with Luc Nilis and Marc Van Der Linden. The substitution of Scifo had been agreed upon prior to the game, but Ceulemans hadn’t looked sharp, and it’s not out of the question that his performance made Thys decide for a change of personnel. Nilis and Van Der Linden would play upfront, as Degryse dropped down in the position of Scifo.
Two changes also for Osim, who subbed Stojković, and Spasić, and brought on Dejan Savićević and Budimir Vujačić. Both were like-for-like swaps.
Belgium 2nd half
The game was opening up somewhat in the 2nd half, but the quality of the play was low, and neither team really managed to take advantage.
True, Belgium were comfortable in possession in the middle of the park through Van Der Elst and Degryse, with the former as a holding player and the latter probing forward. In particular Van Der Elst enjoyed an excellent game, and was able from his deeper position to spray good passes all over the pitch. But it all seemed to stop for Belgium in the final third: a) Van Der Linden didn’t really offer much to connect midfield and attack, b) there was a lack of options in the wide areas, and c) Nilis cut a rather lonely figure on top.
In theory, Belgium could have exploited the wide areas, where Yugoslavia were looking thin, but while Vervoort and Emmers push forward with much energy, they are unable to pose a threat on their own. Belgium would have needed their full-backs to make overlapping runs and help overloading Yugoslavia’s wing-backs, but this just happened too rarely in the 2nd half. Versavel had been one of Belgium’s best performers in the 1st half, but was passive and too interested in drifting inside (into the congested middle) in the 2nd.
Nilis didn’t improve much on the disappointing display by Ceulemans in the 1st half, as he too looked desperately alone, playing on the shoulder of Yugoslavia’s last defender. Except for a nice exchange that almost played him through on goal in the beginning of the half, he was largely left on his own. He was the focal point of quite a few hopeful turnovers, as Belgium had had success with releasing an un-marked Degryse before the break when hitting Yugoslavia on the counter, but the visitors were far more attentive now in these situations. Van Der Linden was roaming wherever he felt best, and while he did put in a shift, there was preciously little he did in the danger areas of the pitch.
Yugoslavia: Creativity suffered
Without Stojković, on the field, more relied upon Sušić for Yugoslavia’s creative transitions. Sušić’s passing in the 2nd half was conspicuously ambitious – as if he was determined to play a through ball on the first touch every time he received the ball. This level of ambition was perhaps due to the fact that without Stojković,, it gave less sense to keep the ball in the team, but rather take the chance on quick transitions. As usual, the PSG playmaker had the vision to spot the openings, but his passing was – unfortunately for Yugoslavia – generally quite poor, and a larger number of attacking movements were wasted.
The other main creative player in the team, Savićević, is a player less able than Sušić to carve open defences with passes, but more reliant on taking on defenders. He is always a player to take seriously due to his maverick skills, but Belgium remained (with a couple of exceptions) well organised and if Savićević managed to get past one opponent, there was always cover.
If anything was to happen for Yugoslavia, it would have needed to be through the middle, between the Belgium lines, from Sušić or Stojković,. But as their passing and dribbling attempts were largely unsuccessful, Yugoslavia were suffering going forward.
1-0 (77′): Van Der Linden, pen.
The match looked destined for 0-0, when Belgium suddenly were awarded a penalty after substitute Danny Veyt was fouled inside the box.
Veyt hadn’t been on the field for more than 30 seconds (having replaced Degryse) when he played a clever exchange of passes with Emmers and Vervoort on the edge of the box, and received the return ball behind Yugoslavia’s defence. Brnović, was the closest defender and should have tracked Veyt’s run, but he was negligent and found himself on the wrong side of his opponent when the through ball was played. The penalty was firmly executed by Van Der Linden.
Yugoslavia rallied late and were presented with their best goal scoring opportunity all evening just before full-time. Jakovljević, towered above the Belgium defence on a cross from Susic, but his header (which had good direction but would have needed more power) drew a good save from Preud’homme.
Osim’s fringe players
How might Osim have evaluated the fringe players that he had tested in this match?
Janković had a few good exchanges with his midfield colleagues down the middle, and played some incisive longe-range passes. While he is clearly not of the same standard as Baždarević and Katanec in terms of work rate and aggression, he is probably Osim’s best option behind these in a deep midfield role (although Osim seems to prefer playing a 3 man midfield instead, if any of those two are absent). Milojević, was more or less ineffectual all evening, both as an attacking midfielder in the 1st half and as an inside midfielder in the 2nd.
As for the three central defenders, they all had decent games, but likely stand no chance anyway of challenging Osim’s established constellation (i.e. Hadžibegić, Spasić and Jozić). Zoran Vujović is of course able to play in a variety of positions, and we last saw him as a left wing-back against France in April. As Brnović was no more than average in that position, we can probably expect to see Zoran Vujović retain his place against Norway in June. Đurovski and Vujačić had good games – Đurovski very composed on the ball in some situations, and Vujačić looking a rugged defender that surely can be an adequate replacement for Spasić.
One of the few highlights for Osim was lone striker Jakovljević,, who did a good job holding up the ball and bring in others. The Sarajevo striker has good ball control, and his imposing figure makes it very difficult for opponents to wrest the ball off him. He is perhaps not very creative, but there are others in the team that take care of that aspect of the game. Jakovljević,’s impact would probably have been higher if he had managed to hold up the ball closer to the final third (he tended to drop far away from the penalty box). He’s a very different player from Zlatko Vujović,, who excels with his pace, movement off the ball and work rate, so if included in the starting leven, it would have to be if Osim decides to play with two upfront.
1 Preud’homme 7.0
2 Sanders 6.8
3 Versavel 7.0
4 De Sart 7.0
5 Albert 6.9
6 Emmers 6.9
7 Van Der Elst 7.4
8 Vervoort 7.1
9 Degryse 6.9
10 Scifo 7.0
(Van Der Linden 6.8)
11 Ceulemans 6.3
1 Ivković 6.7
2 Stanojković 6.6
3 Spasić 6.7
(13 Vujačić 6.8)
4 Brnović 6.5
5 Djurovski 7.1
6 Zo. Vujović 6.9
7 Janković 6.7
8 Sušić 6.9
9 Jakovljević 7.1
10 Stojković 6.8
(14 Savićević 6.5)
11 Milojević 6.5