Italy – Bulgaria
Italy played their sixth friendly of 1989, but they had been without a game for five months, so they needed to step up in their preparations for next year’s big event on home soil. They had three wins, a draw and a defeat from their five previous matches, and they were seen as big favourites when faced with Bulgaria, whose world cup qualification had not exactly gone according to plan. After four of their six matches in Group 1, they were left with a single point. It was already clear that Bulgaria would not be participating in next year’s World Cup, so they were already starting to build for their next qualification campaign.
Italy boss Vicini did seem quite sure as to what was his favoured back four: The two big Milan clubs had two defenders each, with captain and right-back Bergomi as well as central defender Ferri from Internazionale, whilst their rivals had the elegant libero Baresi and the up and coming Maldini at left-back. Behind them were Zenga, the Inter ‘keeper, already a TV celebrity with his own show. These five would get the nod also against the Bulgarians.
In midfield, there was a host of talent available to the manager. This time around he had to make do without Berti of Internazionale and Donadoni of AC Milan, who were both suffering from minor injuries, so he went with the following quartet: Giannini, Marocchi, De Napoli and the attacking, exciting Baggio. Strangely, neither was from either Milan club. Up front there was yet another starting opportunity for Vialli, possibly the country’s highest rated forward, and alongside him was Napoli’s Carnevale, the only player in the starting line-up for the home side who had made his international debut during 1989.
Due to their disappointing qualification campaign, Bulgaria had got rid of Boris Angelov after a 2-0 home defeat by Denmark. The experienced Dimitar Penev had been put in temporary charge along with Georgi Vasilev for the trip to neighbouring Romania, which saw their third defeat in four. During the summer, the Bulgarian FA had reinstalled their former manager Ivan Vutsov, so he was now tasked with leading the team at least through until the new year and hopefully beyond. Bulgaria had been in East Germany and drawn 1-1 in an August friendly, their first match since the defeat in Bucharest, and this was their final practice match before the home meeting with southern neighbours Greece three weeks later.
Manager Vutsov had given no less than four players their international debuts in Erfurt the previous month, and he had kept on two of them for this match: both Bankov and Petkov would start the game in midfield. There had also been a recall for experienced right-back Dimitrov, who had not featured on the international stage for almost four years. He was in Cesena to play his third match in the national team jersey. Four players from CSKA Sofia were starters, whilst big defender Iliev and striker Penev had moved abroad during the summer: to Bologna and Valencia respectively. A player like Balakov now seemed to be firmly established in the national team picture, and he would be one of four players to start in the Bulgarian midfield. Captain was exciting forward Stoichkov, a player well capable of doing a lot of magic out on the pitch. He needed to be at the peak of his game if Bulgaria were to defy the odds and get a result on the Italian east coast.
40 year old Belgian Constantin was the man in the middle. This was his eighth international match since his debut more than four and a half years earlier, so he came with bags of experience. He was trying to enhance his candidacy for next year’s World Cup himself.
From nine previous encounters, Italy had won four and lost just once. The defeat had come back in 1966, in a qualification match for the 1968 European Championships. Their most recent head to head had come on Mexican soil in the 1986 World Cup, the tournament’s opening match, which had finished in a 1-1 draw. Only two players were left from the opening 22 back then, and they were both Italians: captain Bergomi and right-sided midfielder De Napoli. On the Bulgarian bench was Vutsov, just like then. And the match in Latin America had also seen Vialli appear as a second half substitute in what was his fifth ever international.
|1 Walter Zenga||29||Internazionale|
|2 Giuseppe Bergomi (c)||sub 76′||25||Internazionale|
|3 Paolo Maldini||sub 61′||21||AC Milan|
|4 Franco Baresi||29||AC Milan|
|5 Riccardo Ferri||26||Internazionale|
|6 Giancarlo Marocchi||sub 68′||24||Juventus|
|7 Roberto Baggio||22||Fiorentina|
|8 Fernando De Napoli||25||Napoli|
|9 Gianluca Vialli||25||Sampdoria|
|10 Giuseppe Giannini||25||Roma|
|11 Andrea Carnevale||28||Napoli|
|12 Gianluca Pagliuca||22||Sampdoria|
|13 Ciro Ferrara||on 76′||22||Napoli|
|14 Luigi De Agostini||on 61′||28||Juventus|
|15 Luca Fusi||26||Napoli|
|16 Massimo Crippa||on 68′||24||Napoli|
|1 Iliya Valov||27||CSKA|
|2 Emil Dimitrov||29||CSKA|
|3 Trifon Ivanov||58′||24||CSKA|
|4 Pavel Dochev||23||Lokomotiv Sofia|
|5 Nikolay Iliev||18′||25||Bologna|
|6 Kalin Bankov||24||Etar|
|7 Plamen Petkov||sub 84′||21||Dunav Ruse|
|8 Hristo Stoichkov (c)||23||CSKA|
|9 Lyubo Penev||23||Valencia|
|10 Georgi Yordanov||sub h-t||26||Vitosha|
|11 Krasimir Balakov||23||Etar|
|13 Plamen Simeonov||on 84′||27||Slavia Sofia|
|16 Emil Kostadinov||on h-t||22||CSKA|
|x Radoslav Zdravkov||33||Braga|
|x Dimitar Vasev||24||Lokomotiv Sofia|
|x Nikolay Todorov||24||Lokomotiv Sofia|
The Italian formation is not locked to a specific combination. We’ve named it 4-4-2 here, as Italian tradition had it to utilize a 4-4-2, but in reality it is much more of a 4-3-1-2, although combinations with more than three digits did not exist at the tail end of the 80s. Their backline is easy to define, as these four made up a famous defence for a long while, with Baresi acting as libero and Ferri usually designated to take out the opponents’ star striker. However, there was not one particular forward to attend to as Bulgaria had deployed a slightly different tactics, so Ferri too was more or less without marking responsibilities. He was also no stranger to carrying the ball, although he would rarely venture into the opponent’s half. Of the full-backs, Maldini to the left was clearly more adventurous than Bergomi opposite.
Giannini and Marocchi were the two central midfielders, and they were both originally equipped with rather defensive instructions here, although as the match developed, in particular Giannini was given the freedom to also come forward. De Napoli kept a lot of width on the right hand side, whereas Italy played without a designated left-sided midfielder. This was also part of the reason why Maldini was a more attacking full-back than Bergomi. To pin Baggio down to a specific position is nearly impossible, as he was a case of ‘here, there and everywhere’. It could be argued that he started the game slightly to the left, although in a role in front of the three midfielders, slightly withdrawn compared to the two forwards. From this position, the Fiorentina ace could use his exquisite skills and vision to cause the visitors trouble. And ahead of him one would also see both Carnevale and Vialli in positional switches. Vialli did start more to the right of attack, but he would soon contribute where he felt necessary, whereas Carnevale was not quite as mobile as the Sampdoria forward. Yet, he too liked to stretch the opposing defence. Vicini had seemed to get a fine mix from his players.
Bulgaria? Definitely a 4-4-2, and with a diamond formation in midfield, where Yordanov was the most forward player of the quartet. Bankov tried his best to be the balancing act. However, Balakov did keep more width on the left hand side than Petkov did as the right-sided midfielder in the diamond. The two strikers both started the match relatively wide, with Stoichkov seen towards the right, his former Sredets colleague, now at Valencia, Penev opposite. The roles distribution among the three most forward Bulgarian players did seem to carry a resemblance to that which had been used by Bicskei with Hungary (with Détári in a roaming central role behind two wide strikers), although Yordanov was not quite in the same league as his Hungarian counterpart.
At the back, the tall Iliev was the omnipresent figure. His role would be defined as ‘libero’, and he was licensed to go forward when the opportunity arose, and he did enjoy playing a rather high risk game. His partner Ivanov, slightly to his left, was more modest, although he too did not mind having the ball at his feet. Among the full-backs, Dimitrov enjoyed slightly more time inside the opponents’ half than Dochev opposite did, again probably as a result of the composition of the midfield ahead of them.
After the introduction of all five substitutes:
Kostadinov replaced Yordanov at half time, but it hardly improved the Bulgarians. Kostadinov kept himself largely anonymous out on the right hand side, whilst Penev and Stoichkov took turns in the position just behind the two forwards, the role that Yordanov had left vacant. Penev was rarely inspired throughout. Stoichkov was much more of a presence. And he would combine a few times with libero Iliev, who was not afraid to coming forward during the final 20 minutes. For a few minutes, he even spareheaded the forward line, with Bankov dropping back to take his place in central defence. Simeonov, when coming on, was a direct replacement for Petkov.
All three Italian substitutions were also straight swaps. They seemed to miss some bite in midfield after Marocchi had departed. Crippa is more similar to Giannini than he is to the Juventus man. The introduction of Ferrara for Bergomi made sure Napoli had four players on the pitch in an international for the first time.
Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s applause (yes, applause, not silence) to honour the memory of Gaetano Scirea, the defender who became a world champion with ‘gli Azzurri’ in 1982. He had tragically died, aged 36, whilst on a scouting mission for Juventus in Poland only 17 days earlier. However, rather than silence, the Cesena crowd stood up and applauded, and shouted Scirea’s name throughout the minute in what was a fine and worthy display of remembrance and compassion.
Kick-off had been given to Bulgaria, and Yordanov and Stoichkov brought the game to life. After only a minute and half there is a taste of what will come when Bergomi sees his forward pass for De Napoli evade both Dochev and Balakov, and the Napoli wide man tries to find his club colleague Carnevale in front of goal. However, Valov comes out to gather the ball right in front of the striker. And not long after, a delightful triangle between De Napoli and Vialli will release Bergomi for another cross into the area. Unfortunately, there is a lack of precision, so it leads to nothing. Italy have shown their attacking intent, although it would not be a common sight to have the home skipper galopping forward.
As the hosts were beginning to feel confident, Yordanov proceeds to release Stoichkov in behind Maldini. Baresi tries to reach the Bulgarian captain before he is able to get his shot away, but he can’t get there in time, and as Stoichkov races towards the penalty area, Zenga comes out to try and thwart the striker. The forward hits a left-foot shot on the half-volley, and it strikes the bottom of the post to the left of the goalkeeper and rolls agonisingly along the goalline and out for a goal kick. What an eventful start to the game!
The initial pace subsequently slows down a bit, allowing the game to settle. As had been expected, it was the home side dictating the flow of the match, and whenever the visitors were in possession of the ball, you could be sure you would get a lot of aggression from the home players, trying to win back possession. This was a particular feature of De Napoli’s game, and he certainly personified the Italian desire to win. There were some fine battles between experienced home defender Bergomi and Bulgaria striker Penev, who would often seek towards the left side area of the pitch, the territory which the home team’s number 2 was defending. Stoichkov was trying to take advantage of what at times appeared to be a lot of youthful zeal seen by 21 year old Maldini on the opposite flank. Yordanov, even if he had played Stoichkov through for that huge opportunity only four minutes into the game, was not posing much of a threat to the home defence, but exactly that chance had made the Italians aware that they could not take him all too lightly.
Just over 16 minutes into the game, the referee awards Italy a penalty when Bankov is careless with a tackle on Carnevale just inside his own penalty area. Moments earlier, the referee had been wrong not to award Iliev a free-kick a few yards inside his own half when Carnevale had gone in on him strongly, leaving the Bulgarian libero in a heap on the floor and in need of treatment. The visitors felt hard done by, and Ivanov felt outraged at the decision not to award Bulgaria a free-kick for Iliev. The referee has a word with him before the penalty, and when Iliev has been treated and retrieves back, he approaches Mr Constantin as the Belgian is trying to explain his decision to Ivanov. The referee gets agitated with Iliev when the Bulgarian libero is trying to point out that he should have been awarded a free-kick, and he promptly shows the visiting number 5 the yellow card. Then he proceeds to lecture Ivanov, although without producing another booking. The penalty was never in doubt; it was a correct decision. However, the visitors were incensed at not having been awarded a free-kick for Carnevale’s foul on Iliev. Baggio is totally unfazed as he steps up and slots home the penalty to the left of Valov. 1-0 to the hosts. The intimate Dino Manuzzi stadium comes alive with noise from the crowd.
Even if there is not an awful lot happening in front of either goal, the game has ok pace to it; not bad at all for a friendly. The Italian crowd clearly appreciates some delicate touches from both Vialli and Baggio; they could almost be mistaken for showboating. As previously mentioned, Baggio did not always stick to the left side of the pitch, and when he came across to the opposite side, he would collaborate with Vialli, and twice they tried to find De Napoli down the flank. Dochev, the visitors’ left-back, needed to be alert to this particular danger, and he did adjust after these two attempts.
Bankov, the player who had given away the penalty when he slid into Carnevale, was the holding midfield man for the visitors. Aged 24, the Etar player was featuring in only his second international, and his inexperience had shown at times, and not only in the situation leading to the penalty. He struggled when in possession of the ball, and Marocchi was usually the more tigerish of the home players in the central areas. Petkov, another midfielder of little international pedigree, was having some problems of his own, and as a result the Bulgarian right hand side was pretty much left to Stoichkov to explore alone. Thus, Maldini’s defensive task was often bearable, despite the tricks that the Bulgarian captain had up his sleeve, and this allowed for the young Milan defender to join in attack every now and then.
Giannini, Roma’s ‘little prince’, had a relatively quiet first half in central midfield. He did combine well with Vialli and Baggio on a couple of occasions, but he was relatively static and did not pose much of a threat himself. He was also not as industrious as his partner Marocchi, who was bent on making life difficult for the visitors’ midfielders. Giannini is a player who is very highly rated by his contemporaries, so there is a lot more to expect from the Italian regista. Right on the half hour, Maldini sets Marocchi up for a cross from the left hand side, and he picks out Carnevale in front of goal, who sees his header just kiss the crossbar as it goes over. Big chance. The Napoli striker had done well to get in ahead of Iliev, but where was the closing down from the Bulgarian defence? Dimitrov had been passive, and the lack of width was apparent, as no player had tracked Marocchi’s run out to the left. Yordanov had been the closest to him, but six or seven yards away. Surely, it should have been Petkov’s task to look out for such runs. At the other end, Stoichkov had struck a free kick from 25 yards over the wall and safely into the hands of Zenga a few minutes earlier.
Italy were a big threat when they decided to attack Dochev’s territory. And this is where they went ahead to score their second goal: Baggio had picked up the left-back’s mistimed header inside the Italian half and played the ball forward into space for Vialli. As Dochev had been away from his position, there was a lot of scope for Vialli, who in turn fed Baggio as the Fiorentina star had sprinted forward. Ivanov tried to play the Italians offside, but he was far from in sync with the rest of his defence, where Iliev and Dimitrov were both storming back. Baggio ran at pace towards Valov, side-stepped the ‘keeper, and rolled the ball into the empty net for his and Italy’s second of the game. It was a perfect counter, and yet again the combination of Vialli and Baggio had proved a huge thorn in the Bulgarians’ side.
On 36 minutes, two minutes after 2-0, Baggio’s wonderful vision again creates an opportunity for the home side. This time it is Baresi who’s joined the attack, and as no-one tracks his run into the area, he can pick up Baggio’s perfectly chipped pass into his path, but he’s off balance as he finishes, and the ball ends up high above Valov’s goal. Baresi ought to have done better, but he might have been surprised at just how much space he was given. Again, there was some woeful defending from the Bulgarians, and they were a tad fortunate just to be two goals down at this stage. Their offside tactics were a shambles.
For the latter third of the first half, Penev and Stoichkov had switched sides, without a lot coming of it. Yordanov, who was supposed to feed the forwards, was being monitored well by the Italian midfield, and he was rarely able to produce telling moments, of course with the exception of the pass that saw Stoichkov hit the post early on. Five minutes from the break, Yordanov receives treatment on the sidelines for what appeared to be a troublesome hamstring. He would remain in the dressing room after the half-time break.
On for Yordanov came Kostadinov, so the three former comrades at Sredets, if you add Stoichkov and Penev, now with Valencia, into the mix, were reunited. In practice, this meant that Stoichkov went into the centre, more or less taking over Yordanov’s role at the head of the diamond, although without much defensive responsibility, while Kostadinov was seen as the right-sided striker, Penev on the left. Italy were unchanged for the start of the second period.
It is Vialli and Giannini who set the second half in motion, and it will only take 30 seconds for Italy to increase their lead. Iliev had gone in too hard on Vialli out by the Italian right hand side, and when Baggio swung the free-kick into the area, Carnevale again got ahead of his marker, this time the unsuspecting Dimitrov, to flick the ball past Valov for 3-0. The goal is genius in its simplicity. Certainly, the visitors’ plan for the second half had not included falling further behind. And for a team where morale was possibly not their greatest asset, where next? Another penalty. Surely. Ivanov brings Vialli down inside the penalty area just a minute after the goal, but this time the Belgian referee says ‘non‘. It was just as much a penalty as it had been in the first half when Carnevale had been felled.
Baggio is pure terror to the Bulgarians. His wonderful body control, with his little shifts in gravity, his deft touches in combination with the inspired Vialli, it is all too much for the visitors to cope with, and having nearly been played through after a clever one-two with the Sampdoria forward, he returns the favour for 4-0 eight minutes into the half. Baggio had cleared attempted tackles from both Petkov and Bankov, before he played a short pass for Vialli to aim at goal from 20 yards. The striker’s shot takes a deflection off Iliev and ends up behind the despairing dive of Valov, who would probably have saved the shot had it not been for the deflection. Vialli has his deserved goal, while Baggio’s now been involved in all four Italian goals: he’s scored twice and assisted twice. It is some individual performance. In line with Italian statistics traditions, they had the goal down as an own goal by Iliev, although it would be maljustice to Vialli to take it away from him.
The start to the second half sure is eventful, and only a minute after 4-0, Iliev is presented with a goalscoring opportunity of his own when Petkov gets to the byline and angles his pass 45 degrees. The Bulgarian libero strikes firmly from the edge of the area, and as the ball makes its way through a crowd of players, Zenga makes a save with his legs, and the ball spins out for a right wing corner. For a few moments the visitors have the Italians pegged back, and Stoichkov plays Kostadinov through with a chipped ball, but as the substitute only has Zenga between himself and a goal back, he scuffs his left-footed attempt well wide of goal. Kostadinov will have a quiet second half, and Penev looks uninterested throughout. It is only Stoichkov who seemingly has an appetite to do well among the three Bulgarian forwards.
Ivanov, who had been in debate with the referee moments after the Italian penalty had been awarded during the first half, begs for a yellow when he puts his hand out to stop a long ball from Giannini in reaching Vialli. Mr Constantin rewards him for his efforts. It leads to a free-kick from 35 yards which Ferri strikes in the ‘keeper’s chest height and with a lot of power, and with some difficulty Valov manages to save. Ferri, renowned for his man-marking, has got a powerful shot, and this is yet another weapon that Italy are able to call on. Shortly after, Mr Vicini makes his first substitution of the game when he takes Maldini off and replaces him with De Agostini.
Stoichkov, by now the leading player in the Bulgarian hierarchy and recently made captain, had not forgotten who it was who had started off the qualification campaign as the team skipper. As Italy have tuned the pace and intensity down a notch, Bulgaria twice within the space of two minutes are awarded free-kicks from shooting distance. Stoichkov had had an effort rather easily saved by Zenga during the first half, but these were set-pieces from longer range, and so he decided to roll the ball to former captain Iliev on both occasions. His shooting does not trouble the Italian goal on either occasion.
At the halfway point in the second half, Mr Vicini brings on his second substitute of the afternoon when Crippa replaces Marocchi in central midfield. The game had gone a bit flat, and Italy had conceded possession to the visitors. However, this may have been part of Vicini’s plot, as he knew they would never be on top for the entire 90 minutes in any game. They had pinned Bulgaria back for the best part of the opening hour. A bit of practice in chasing the opponents was too good an opportunity not to accept. Not that the away team managed to pose much of a threat. A good few of their players were disspirited by now, and it did not take world class defending to keep them out. With Crippa on in central midfield, though, Italy did not have the same level of aggression as when Marocchi had been there, and Stoichkov twice gets into shooting positions: the first drifts harmlessly wide, whilst the second is close to sneaking in high left into Zenga’s goal; it just misses the target. The same Stoichkov also directs a left wing corner diagonally for Iliev, again, to strike first time, but he does not connect cleanly for his volley, and the ball spins off his foot and out for a throw-in. The libero is often seen high up in the pitch at this point of the half.
With half an hour of the second half gone, the Italian manager takes his captain Bergomi off and replaces him with Ferrara. The new right-back is the fourth Napoli player on the pitch, something which is a national team record. This is the third and final substitution made by the hosts. Vialli takes over the captain’s armband. For Bulgaria, midfielder Simeonov will later replace the ineffective Petkov.
During the concluding 15 minutes, Baggio will yet again display his silky skills as he slaloms through the Bulgarian defence only to be stopped in his track illegally. The referee ajudges him to have gone down too easily, and so does not award a free-kick. At the other end, the Stoichkov-Iliev combination again comes to the fore, as the former swings in a deep cross from the left for the libero to connect full on volley at the back post, only to hit the side netting. Good effort. It is as close as the visitors will come, and the referee signals the end to the game a minute and 14 seconds into time added on for injuries.
4-0 is obviously a comprehensive win, but it did flatter the Italians slightly. Bulgaria were presented with a few openings of their own, but they just could not take them. They were never as close as when Stoichkov hit the inside of the post within the opening five minutes. Then their woeful defending allowed the home side to score four times. Baggio produced a world class performance, and Vialli also excelled in a decent team performance by the navy blues. This was their second 4-0 win in succession.
1 Zenga 6.9
did what he had to do
2 Bergomi 7.1
necessary width to the right defensively this time
(13 Ferrara –
a couple of fine interceptions)
3 Maldini 7.1
plays with confidence along the left
(14 De Agostini 7.0
fine outlet along the left)
4 Baresi 7.4
enjoyed coming forward, should have scored first half
5 Ferri 7.1
6 Marocchi 6.8
alright defensively, but probably didn’t improve his chances for a place in the side
(16 Crippa –
put a shift in)
7 Baggio 8.7
a major hand in all four goals, silky skills, almost unplayable. Wonderful attacking display
8 De Napoli 7.5
so vital defensively; a total workhorse
9 Vialli 7.9
some excellent combinations, particularly with Baggio
10 Giannini 7.1
did not need to assert himself as much due to others being so good around him
11 Carnevale 7.1
hard-working. Headed off the bar first half
1 Valov 6.5
hardly at fault for either goal, but also did not instill confidence
2 Dimitrov 6.4
an unimpressive performance
3 Ivanov 6.3
at times a liability
4 Dochev 6.5
saw plenty of the ball along the left
5 Iliev 6.9
strong when coming forward, not as convincing defensively
6 Bankov 5.9
too soft for this role
7 Petkov 6.3
little influence, plenty running inbetween
(13 Simeonov –
got two touches after coming on)
8 Stoichkov 6.8
at times looked like making things happen
9 Penev 6.5
a tad lazy
10 Yordanov 6.3
early throughball for Stoichkov’s opportunity apart, Yordanov failed to deliever the goods
(16 Kostadinov 6.3
11 Balakov 6.8
their more creative midfield outlet