Italy – Denmark: At times fiery, but Italy deservedly come away with the win
Since starting their 1990 World Cup preparations in the wake of the 1988 European Championships last summer, Italy had played three home friendlies and won them all: 2-1 against Norway, 1-0 against the Netherlands, and 2-0 against Scotland. This was their first outing since the turn of the year, and with Italia ’90 approaching, they knew 1989 would be a massively important year. Next year’s tournament hosts would be playing a total of ten internationals this year, seven of them on home soil.
The evening’s opposition had only recently arrived from the annual Malta International Trophy, where they’d finished second behind Algeria, albeit without losing or even conceding from their three fixtures. They’d played against hosts Malta, their fellow Nordics Finland, and ultimately the North Africans, with the final of these just ten days previous to this fixture in Pisa. Several players had played all three matches, and they had fielded a decent squad for the journey to the Mediterranean, where four debutants had also got their opportunity. With a view to their vital April qualifier in Bulgaria, manager Sepp Piontek knew this was both a more difficult and more important test.
The venue was Stadio Arena Garibaldi in the Tuscany region city of Pisa. This was only the second ever international staged here: Just shy of a year and a half earlier, Yugoslavia had been in town. Italy had won 1-0 thanks to an Alessandro Altobelli goal. Eight of the players who had been on the pitch for Italy on that occasion were still in the squad.
Team news Italy
On this occasion, Italy had a squad of 18 players for the matchday, with seven available substitutes. In their three previous friendlies, the numbers had been six, five and six respectively. There was a return to the squad for Fiorentina striker Stefano Borgonovo, who had been one of their unused substitutes against the Netherlands. He had yet to get his first outing at full international level.
For the Scotland fixture in December, manager Azeglio Vicini had begun the game with no less than two debutants, midfielders Giancarlo Marocchi and Massimo Crippa, something which had probably been quite a topic, as it was unusual for Vicini to change much around, let alone include two debutants in the same starting eleven. Both Marocchi and Crippa had done well enough to be involved again on this occasion.
Two players who had been carrying knocks last time around and therefore not included in the squad, midfielders Fernando De Napoli and Roberto Donadoni, had both returned. There was, however, no space for Sampdoria midfielder Luca Fusi this time. Another player who was omitted on this occasion was Napoli defender Giovanni Francini. And on the topic of left-sided players: Luigi De Agostini, the Juventus man, was again a notable absentee. He was still out with the injury which had seen him leave the pitch early in his club side’s win against Lecce on November 27. He would’ve been a very likely inclusion in any 18 man squad at this point in time.
The squad seemed capable of versatility regarding formation, although Vicini had stood by his 3-5-2 variety in all three of their previous friendlies.
Denmark team news
Denmark had arrived in Italy a week and a half after concluding their participation in this year’s Malta International Trophy, a tournament which had been staged annually for the last four years now. They’d not conceded in any of their three outings, but they’d still finished second behind Algeria. Manager Sepp Piontek had brought a reasonably strong squad, at least defensively, though he’d also let four players get their full international debuts.
Disappointingly, Denmark had just managed two 1-1 draws yet in their qualification group, something which meant they were trailing group leaders Romania by two points going into the final four qualifiers. This was their penultimate test ahead of the trip to Bulgaria by the end of April, a game which obviously was a must-win match for Piontek and his charges. They still had a home friendly against Canada to come two weeks prior to the journey to Sofia.
During their opening qualifier, the draw in Athens, the Danes had been using a 4-4-2 formation from kick-off, although they’d switch to 3-5-2 during the half-time break. They had continued thus for the home tie with Bulgaria, and this looked to be the most likely alternative yet again.
The visitors’ sole Italy based player to have appeared during the qualification so far was their leading star Michael Laudrup. The Juventus ace had not been part of the squad which had travelled to Malta, unsurprisingly, but his absence here in Pisa appeared to have been caused by injury: Laudrup had left the field of play during Juve’s 2-0 defeat at Verona ten days earlier, and he would not return to league action until the March 11 journey to the San Siro where they would be thrashed by AC Milan (4-0). The 24 year old’s younger brother Brian, though, who had clocked up seven caps by now, was named in the squad. He had indeed been part of the Denmark contingent in Malta, where he had started in all three of their games.
Half of the 16 man strong squad for the tournament in Malta remained. They were clearly strengthened on this occasion with the addition of several experienced performers. Five of the eight who had been brought in were based abroad. A good few of these could be expected to walk straight back into the starting line-up.
A 43 year old Austrian by the name of Horst Brummeier had been placed in charge of this friendly. He had indeed been selected for the 1986 World Cup, when he’d been the referee for the group stages game between Northern Ireland and Spain (1-2). He had also been picked for a second successive major international tournament when his name popped up during the 1988 European Championships, and once again he’d been the man in black for one of the group stage games, namely the decisive Group B clash between the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland in Gelsenkirchen (1-0).
Brummeier had made his international debut with the spring 1979 friendly in Budapest between Hungary and East Germany (3-0). This was his 15th appearance altogether at this level, and in fact the third time that he ran the rule over an Italy home friendly. In 1983 and 1984 he’d overseen wins against Greece (3-0) and Sweden (1-0) respectively. Among the players in today’s squad, Giuseppe Bergomi had featured in both games, while Franco Baresi had taken part in the Greece win. The Austrian had also been the ref for Denmark’s delightful 4-2 triumph against the Soviet Union in that famous 1985 World Cup qualifying match in Copenhagen. Furthermore, he’d also officiated during their 1-0 friendly loss in West Germany in September ’89. Four players still remained from that game: Lars Olsen, Heintze, John Jensen and Povlsen.
At club level, Brummeier had refereed two semi-finals in the Cup Winners’ Cup and three in the UEFA Cup during the 1980s. He was clearly a referee with a fine pedigree.
This was the seventh meeting between the two nations. They had met as recently during the 1988 European Championships, when Italy had triumphed 2-0 in the final match of the group stage. Ten of the 13 players on display by gli Azzurri on that occasion in Cologne were in today’s squad, whilst the equivalent number in the Danish squad was seven.
They had met in qualification for the 1982 World Cup, and Denmark, even if they’d eventually been far from making it through on that occasion, could at least claim to have beaten the coming world champions: No less than 3-1 had they defeated the Italians by on that primo June evening in the Scandinavian capital. Italy had earlier won 2-0 in Rome.
The total record from the six meetings hitherto read four wins for Italy and two for Denmark since they had first crossed paths during the 1948 Olympics in London (5-3 Denmark).
|1 Walter Zenga||28||Internazionale|
|2 Giuseppe Bergomi (c)||25||Internazionale|
|3 Paolo Maldini||66′||20||AC Milan|
|4 Franco Baresi||70′||28||AC Milan|
|5 Riccardo Ferri||sub h-t||25||Internazionale|
|6 Nicola Berti||21||Internazionale|
|7 Roberto Donadoni||sub 68′||25||AC Milan|
|8 Fernando De Napoli||24||Napoli|
|9 Gianluca Vialli||40′, sub 75′||24||Sampdoria|
|10 Giuseppe Giannini||24||Roma|
|11 Aldo Serena||28||Internazionale|
|12 Stefano Tacconi||31||Juventus|
|13 Ciro Ferrara||on h-t||22||Napoli|
|14 Massimo Crippa||on 68′||23||Napoli|
|15 Giancarlo Marocchi||23||Juventus|
|16 Roberto Baggio||22||Fiorentina|
|17 Stefano Borgonovo||on 75′||24||Fiorentina|
|18 Roberto Mancini||24||Sampdoria|
|1 Peter Schmeichel||25||Brøndby|
|2 John Larsen||sub 79′||26||Vejle|
|3 Kent Nielsen||27||Brøndby|
|4 Lars Olsen (c)||28||Brøndby|
|5 Jan Heintze||25||PSV Eindhoven|
|6 Jan Bartram||26||Bayer Uerdingen|
|7 John Jensen||sub 71′||23||Hamburg|
|8 Jan Mølby||36′||25||Liverpool|
|9 Flemming Povlsen||22||Köln|
|10 Kim Vilfort||sub 77′||26||Brøndby|
|11 Brian Laudrup||20||Brøndby|
|12 Bjørn Kristensen||on 79′||25||AGF|
|13 John Helt||on 77′||29||Lyngby|
|14 Henrik Larsen||on 71′||22||Lyngby|
|15 Lars Elstrup||25||Odense|
|16 Troels Rasmussen||27||AGF|
When the nation’s great pride are in town, what comes with it is marching bands and dozens of press photographers, and they’re all gathered on the pitch in the minutes prior to kick-off. The Arena Garibaldi crowd is vociferous, and they’ve brought smoke bombs which are set off behind the goal to our cameras’ left. The two captains, Giuseppe Bergomi for the hosts and Lars Olsen for the Danes, exchange pennants, and with the toss of the coin out of the way, the first half can eventually commence with Italy kicking from right to left. They bring the game to life through the kick-off performed by Aldo Serena and Gianluca Vialli.
Denmark wish to test Italian resolve
As per norm in most games at any level, the two teams set about in a cautious manner, although there are early indications that the visitors do wish to take the game to their hosts. They are the first ones to arrive at something akin to a goalscoring opportunity, when the pacy and tricky Brian Laudrup accepts a raking ball in the forward direction by Denmark’s central midfielder Jan Mølby. It’s been played over the top of the hosts’ defence, and Laudrup’s been alert enough to arrive just ahead of his marker Riccardo Ferri and nod the ball past him. He sets his sight on goal from halfway inside the Italian half of the pitch and races through, but under pressure and pushed somewhat wide, he can only hit a right-footed shot well over the crossbar. Still, it was a moment to make the hosts aware that the visitors are not just there to make up the numbers. And will such direct play typify them on the occasion?
The visitors are set up in a distinct 3-5-2 formation, though in the centre of the pitch they are not so much equipped with a midfield anchor man. For the central slot among their three midfielders, there’s Liverpool’s elegant playmaker Jan Mølby. He is clearly their creative force, and the one player whom the Danes wish to get on the ball. Their defensive trio always look up to see whether he’s available or not, but usually he will be, even if Italy are obviously well aware of the potential danger he can cause with his passing and distribution ability. Therefore, the hosts appear to have designed their own creative midfield force, Giuseppe Giannini, to approach Mølby to try and close him down once he’s in possession. This seems to demand that Giannini’s high up in the pitch, as Mølby’s often found just ahead of his defence, somewhat behind the other midfielders. He’ll look to free himself from any amount of pressure in order to guide the ball to a team mate of his wish. If Italy allow Mølby to settle and thrive, they are aware that he’s easily able to dictate the pace of any game. It should as such not come as a surprise that they will look to disrupt Mølby’s game, even if one could’ve thought that the main source of pressure would be applied from someone else than Rome maestro Giannini. Mølby’s early through ball for Laudrup should be seen as a warning sign.
While Laudrup had broken away on four minutes, there was to be some controversy five minutes later, when Denmark resumed play after the ball had gone out behind the goalline. Big Brøndby ‘keeper Peter Schmeichel considered his options, and with libero Lars Olsen having pulled wide to his right outside the area, monitored by Italy striker Aldo Serena, Schmeichel decided that playing it short for Kent Nielsen just ahead of him on the fringes of the 18 yard area was his best pick. It seemed an odd decision, though, as the big centre-back had no space in which to manoeuvre due to Giannini being in close proximity. Thus, he immediately returned the ball in the direction of his goalkeeper. However, Nielsen failed to get sufficient power on it, merely poking it backwards, and it was an easy task for Giannini to seize on the ball and try to go round Schmeichel. The midfield man decided to take the ball to the left of Schmeichel, and he appeared to succeed, having brought the ball past the ‘keeper’s outstretched arms, but as Giannini was about to step beyond the goalie, Schmeichel clearly seemed to trip him. The Italy number 10 fell flat, and for a split second everyone involved seemed to wait for the referee’s whistle and a penalty decision. It did not occur, though, and play was allowed to continue, even if some of the Danish players deep inside their own half were left surprised. To the Italians’ credit, they just got on with it without much protesting. Perhaps had referee Brummeier got his non-decision right after all?
Hosts arrive at a fine opportunity
Still inside the opening quarter of an hour, Italy arrive at their best opportunity yet. Denmark have deployed the tall, lean Kim Vilfort in the wide right role for the occasion, though suddenly he’s decided to take a few steps inside and act as the distributor deep inside his own half of the pitch. In retrospect, he’d have realized that he ought to have remained out wide, because in dallying on the ball, he got put under pressure by Vialli. The Italian striker made sure to pick up a dreadfully stray pass by Vilfort, who had seemed in some discomfort, being closed down in such proximity to his own goal. However, in trying to rid himself of the ball, he’d allowed Vialli to pick out Nicola Berti, the hugely talented Internazionale midfielder, on a run towards the penalty area, which he entered somewhat to the left of centre. Berti received Vialli’s pass well, though he failed to get a grade 1 touch on the ball, seeing it slip just a fraction too far ahead of him, something which ultimately saw him need to rush a finish. With Schmeichel having come off his line to close him down, Berti opted for power rather than finesse, and the big ‘keeper diverted it out for a right wing corner. Nicola Berti, who had scored in Italy’s previous friendly, would have to wait for his second international goal.
Another Danish counter
The first half has yet to properly catch fire with the period at its halfway stage, although there have been signs in the last few minutes that the battle is intensifying. Denmark clearly have no wish to be pushovers in any kind of way, and they give as good as they get, often with industrious midfield man John Jensen being in the thick of the action. He’d felled Berti from behind inside the centre circle on 17 minutes, something which should’ve seen him rewarded with a yellow card, though when Denmark forward Laudrup gets obstructed by Italy libero Franco Baresi as he is about to make his way through during a quick counter, Jensen makes sure that he’ll accept no rough play against his fledgling team mate. He squares up to Giannini, who had attempted to exchange words with the West Germany Bundesliga hard man. Jensen’s seen pushing Giannini away, almost with a slap, and he’s not interested in listening to anything which the Rome ace has to say. Baresi, by the way, was fortunate to escape yellow, just like Jensen himself had been, as he’d been very calculated in his infringement on the much speedier Laudrup. The Brøndby starlet could’ve been through one on one with Zenga, even if there was a chance that Paolo Maldini could’ve closed him down. From the resulting free-kick, Jan Bartram elects to shoot from nearly 30 yards, an effort which stays on the ground throughout its course. Zenga has no problems in gathering down to his right.
Neither team had looked hugely threatening so far, even if the hosts had had the bulk of the possession. Denmark looked to use Laudrup’s pace for counter-attacks, and it had almost yielded opportunities twice in the first 21 minutes. The visitors would strike the ball around amongst themselves inside their own half, but they would not so much try to play through a congested midfield area, where the home players were quick in closing them down. Thus they would try to pick out their dynamic forwards, although Laudrup was by far the one who had made the bigger impression hitherto, at least in an attacking sense. Povlsen, on the other hand, had twice excelled in tracking Italian players back to well inside his own half and indeed, on both occasions, winning the ball.
Italy had been unable to make much use of their wide players so far, with the ball predominantly going through the core of their midfield, where Giannini certainly was never far away from the action. He looked hungry, did the 24 year old, something which could be said for Berti, too. It was not as they were playing with a definite wide right man, even if Roberto Donadoni did look to have been assigned in such a role. However, the busy AC Milan ace would frequently look to engage himself in play in field rather than out wide, even if this only contributed to making the centre of the park a more crowded area. Down their left hand side, young Maldini had so far not seen any attacking action.
Arriving at the half hour mark, it is with a growing realization that this game’s not for the purists. Perhaps were Denmark better known for their somewhat unorthodox, playful style for a North European side rather than fouls and niggles, but they were in little mood to succumb to Italian physicality: The visitors would still continue to dish out beatings of their own. This saw solid defender John Larsen, who was Vialli’s designated marker for the occasion, foul the Sampdoria forward just inside the Danish half of the pitch, and with Vialli operating with no shin-pads (the same actually went for Larsen), he needed a few seconds on the ground to regain his composure before he could resume play. This latest tackle had prompted Italy’s proclaimed hard man defender Riccardo Ferri into a brief chat with the referee, reminding the Austrian of the rule book. Moments later, Ferri would lash out at Povlsen on the halfway line, administering one of his infamous kicks, with this particular one ramming the Cologne striker in the buttocks. Replay showed it was a nasty piece of Ferri art, though Brummeier had failed to spot it.
With Italy still largely on top, they continue to ask some questions of the visitors’ defence, and when Donadoni spots Giannini making a fine run towards the right in the Danish penalty area, the wide midfielder picks him out with a perfectly weighted ball. However, Giannini had been tracked by Jensen, who had clattered into Giannini half a yard outside the penalty area, with the fall happening inside, making it look like a penalty at first sight. The referee had got his decision right, though, in awarding a free-kick rather than a penalty. Vialli had struck it into the defensive wall, and Ferri, capable of scoring from range, had hit the rebound well off target.
Both goalkeepers had done well so far, with Schmeichel having been called into action on more than one occasion already. He would rush out from his line to deny Donadoni after a nice little triangle with Vialli, while Zenga down the other end of the pitch had to act quickly to prevent Povlsen from reaching a ball knocked forward by Larsen. It was a deserved stalemate so far, but the game was definitely not without ignition by now. What next?
Look at tactics: Italy
What little we’ve not yet touched as with regards to the two teams’ line-ups, we’ll glance through next. As for the hosts, Italy’s 3-5-2 formation seemed quite a conventional one, with a couple of tweaks, most notably through Donadoni’s wide right position. The 25 year old Milanese, making his 22nd appearance for his country, would with great frequency abandon his wide area and seek in field. He would not be hugely involved, and perhaps was he not at the peak of his form. Donadoni had in a somewhat more defensive midfield role and originally inside of him Napoli’s Fernando De Napoli, one year his junior, though the hosts’ number 8 was already earning his 28th cap. De Napoli would make sure that the Italian midfield had defensive stability to counter the much more attacking nature of their inside left man Berti. One of De Napoli’s main tasks was indeed monitoring the situation of Bartram, who, from his inside left position, would typically act as the more attacking player among the Danish midfielders. You could hardly have asked for a more dutiful player to perform such a task than De Napoli, always so true to a manager’s words.
At the back, Italy would yet again line up with Bergomi and Ferri as man-markers ahead of libero Baresi. In winning his 54th cap, one could be forgiven for thinking Bergomi must be pushing 30. However, still only 25, he had such international guile built up through several years with gli Azzurri. He was on over 20 internationals more than the next man (Vialli, 33 caps). Bergomi was looking after Povlsen, while Ferri had been tasked with Laudrup. Baresi would do the mopping up as always, and he would, as per usual, set off across the halfway line once the opportunity arose.
Up front, the home side had a ‘little and large’ combo in Vialli and Internazionale’s aerially strong striker Aldo Serena. The latter had reached ten internationals at this point, and he’d made a nuisance of himself against the Scottish defence last time around. When Italy were looking for someone to win in the air for others to feed off the knock-downs, it was of course Serena they were wanting to reach. Problem was, though, that he was up against a very robust marker in the tall Kent Nielsen. Still, Serena gave a fine account of himself, proving flexible along the ground, and even winning his fair share of headers. Still, he did not have the dynamism of Vialli, who was always on the run, trying to stretch his defender, and attempting to make space for any midfielder making a run forward. As for goal threat, neither had delievered thus far, but certainly the Danish defence would continuously need to be on their toes.
As we’ve established, the visitors, just like their hosts, were playing with a couple of man-markers and a spare man behind them. Sweeping was their captain, the 28 year old Lars Olsen, appearing in country colours for the 27th time. John Larsen, Vialli’s shadow, was by far the more inexperienced among them, at least at this level, with his mere five caps, whilst Kent Nielsen was hot in the heels of his captain on 24 jerseys.
Working as their left-sided midfielder was the diminutive Jan Heintze, who for a few years had been a regular feature in the line-up of leading Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, where he’d arrived as a 19 year old in 1982. He’d won the European Cup the previous year, and had a good engine, something which enabled him to get up and down that flank. He was doing a fine job both ways, although his attacking contribution remained less on this occasion. He had another decent left-footer just inside of him in Jan Bartram, who was a name with Bayer Uerdingen in the West German Bundesliga. Bartram was Heintze’s senior by a year, and had clocked up 15 internationals. In the deeper, central role sat Jan Mølby, who had John Jensen to his immediate right. Jensen was their midfield enforcer, someone who always relished a battle, as he’d already demonstrated during this increasingly combative first half. Denmark’s wide right man on this occasion was Kim Vilfort, another player of decent pedigree, here making his 19th appearance for his country. He might not have felt utterly comfortable in a wide role, but he was nevertheless honouring his manager’s word and sticking to his plight.
The two strikers were Flemming Povlsen and Brian Laudrup, where the former was already an established Bundesliga star with a growing reputation, whilst the Brøndby starlet was making his first few strokes in international waters. Not literally, as he’d reached eight caps by now, though noticeable about him was that he would still need to add to his upper body strength; he would too easily be pushed off the ball on this his 20th birthday. Povlsen, 22, was making his 22nd appearance, and in this pacy duo Denmark sure had a promising couple of attackers.
It opens up for Serena
There were times when the visitors were able to push a good number of players inside the opposition’s territory, but this would usually be when they were awarded a free-kick somewhere around the halfway line. Very rarely would they be attacking with more than three or four men at the same time. They needed to rely on their most forward players performing wonders were they to unlock this typically sturdy Italian rearguard. Not that a breakthrough down the other end seemed so much more likely at this point, even if the Italians were starting to involve their right hand side more frequently. So far, Donadoni had been more or less a passenger, but he would engage in some short passing play with both De Napoli and Vialli inside the Danish half of the pitch, and on 34 minutes he would play Serena in with an opportunity to strike first time with his left foot from inside the area, although the big striker would take too long to get his shot away, and Nielsen could eventually get a block in and ultimately guide the ball back to his ‘keeper. Still, Serena had got himself into a decent position. Next time, perhaps.
The half had not been short of fouls, and though it had never turned truly nasty except from when Ferri had given Povlsen a kick up the ham, these constant reminders to Mr Brummeier that he was dealing with players who would not go out of the way to fell their opponents would finally see him have enough. It is not so much the cynicism in Mølby’s trip on Giannini halfway inside the Danish half which produces the first yellow card of the game; it was more the accumulation of fouls. Mølby, certainly not a mean player by most stretches of the imagination, could consider himself unfortunate. No protests, though. That did not appear to be his modus operandi.
A few minutes after the 36 minute incident involving Mølby and Giannini, Vialli lets frustration get the better of him when he lunges a tackle on Povlsen just to the left of the centre-circle inside the Italian half of the pitch. Vialli had been the object of little fouls from various Danish players, predominantly due to his fine close control and level of desire to be on the ball, and naturally, his marker Larsen had been the most obvious culprit. Even Heintze had subjected the Sampdoria forward to a couple of niggles. Vialli released this built-up frustration in one poorly timed challenge on Povlsen, though he would easily accept the blame for his action when the referee produced the card. It was good to see, though, that Povlsen had few problems in accepting Vialli’s apology and outstretched hand. Despite the fouls frequency, most players remained good-natured towards one another. Leading by example appeared to be Nielsen and Serena, whose intense battles never brought out any evil.
Midway point looming
There was little in terms of interest which happened in the final minutes of the opening period. And while it had been a very competitive first half, it had also had its moments in front of both goals, even if Denmark had not been able to cause much threat towards Zenga apart from that early Laudrup moment and through Bartram’s long range free-kick. Visiting goalkeeper Schmeichel had probably been the one single player to have excelled the most, as he’d saved well with Berti through and in general looking very composed and safe. He oozed confidence, did the big blonde, and the Italians would need to conjure up something better in the final 45 minutes were they to get a fourth successive international win. Their best player had probably been Giannini, who had always looked energetic in his step. The Rome star was indeed a major asset in his advanced midfield role.
Half time, 0-0.
During the half-time interval, just one of the managers had made changes in personnel: Italy supremo Vicini had decided to take off fiery centre-back Riccardo Ferri, who had been very fortunate to escape retribution for his kick up Povlsen’s backside during the opening period. Coming on in his place was Napoli’s 22 year young defender Ciro Ferrara, a player capable of slotting both into the centre as well as in a full-back position. This was Ferrara’s seventh cap.
Denmark would commence the final half with the same eleven which had taken to the field for the start of the game. Would they need to tweak anything in order to get something out of the game? Perhaps some adjustments to their left hand side and inside left, where Jan Bartram’s wish to attack left them somewhat vulnerable to the hosts’ desire to orientate themselves towards the right hand channel.
The visitors kick the second half into motion through their forward pairing of Flemming Povlsen and Brian Laudrup.
Through the early second half proceedings, we seem to be exposed to more of the same that we’d already seen during the first 45 minutes: Italy were on top, they were dominating possession, the visitors were retracting back inside their own half, trying to create an impenetrable shield of bodies in front of Schmeichel. One could perhaps say that it was odd to see Denmark operate like this; they were clearly associated with something else from earlier in the decade. Italy had found it difficult to break the well organized visitors down, and they would probably need a greater tempo with which to shift the ball around. It was not that they were outright pedestrian, because they were not, but they were still looking for that moment of genius which could provide the spark.
Giannini had been mentioned as the dominant force during the opening period, and it was not as he was willing to relinquish his throne just like that. He would continue to be the player that his team mates were looking to, and some of the other midfielders at times merely resembled wasserträgers. De Napoli’s tasks were clearly of a defensive priority, while Berti, well, he did enjoy more attacking freedom, although he was not your go-to man for that elusive pass. Even he would pass it on to Giannini, and rather try to make a useful run which his midfield compatriot could perhaps make use of.
Up front, Vialli kept running his socks off, almost literally, as he was trailing them around his ankles. His marker Larsen did have a big task on his hands trying to keep up, and twice inside the opening ten minutes of the second half did he fail. Giannini was the creator on both occasions, although on the first of these, Vialli was just offside, jetting in behind enemy lines a fraction too soon. However, he’d learnt from that mistake, and three minutes later, on 53 minutes, he got played through the centre again and arrived one on one with Schmeichel. Vialli had burst through with decent pace, and he tried to make use of his momentum in taking the ball wide to the right of the big goalkeeper. To Schmeichel’s great credit, though, he came out forcing Vialli possibly more wide than the forward had wanted, and the latter had a first effort saved by the Danish custodian, who dived to block Vialli’s low shot goalwards. The rebound was diverted back into the forward’s path, although by now he’d ended up with an almost impossible angle, and with Schmeichel quickly back onto his feet, there was not much goal frame left to aim at for Vialli, whose shot ended up in the side netting.
It seemed to be troublesome for the Danish players to maintain the ball within their team, and in particular they struggled in the midfield department. Perhaps was this a bit of a surprise, especially with a fine ball player like Mølby in their midst. The England based ace had demonstrated some of his vision during the first half, but by and large the game had passed him by. He rarely seemed to thrive when the opponents were so much in possession, as work off the ball was hardly his favoured pastime. The two other central midfielders, Jensen and Bartram, were not big possession players, so clearly Denmark’s strategy had a counter-attacking emphasis. Unfortunately for them, neither of their two forwards Laudrup and Povlsen enjoyed much success. The former of the two had a different opponent in Ferrara for this half, although this did not seem to provide him with a change in fortunes. Povlsen seemed too bent on transporting the ball without being able to look up and spot others around him. This would rarely get him far.
Along the right hand side, Vilfort had been another player generally underused. He did not stop running up and down his flank, though he was very sparingly being passed to. It had happened once during the first half that Denmark had attempted to make use of his height and aerial strength, though it had not yielded much, and you did get the feeling he was not going to be much of an influence in such circumstances. It was different with Heintze along the other flank, as the PSV man was well capable of making advance with the ball at his feet. He would try to charge ahead, possibly run past a man and attempt to play others in, either a forward or indeed Bartram inside of him, but with so few men committed forward, Danish counters were rarely posing any kind of threat.
We have a goal in Pisa
On 62 minutes, Italy move in front. When the breakthrough comes, it happens from a set-piece. The game had seen a few of those already, although very few had made their way into the penalty area, as most fouls had occured in and around the centre circle. Mr Brummeier had spotted an infringement against Nielsen in a challenge with Serena along the Italian left hand side, and the visitors would be given a warning when Giannini stepped up to aim the ensuing kick into the area. The aerially strong Serena had for once freed himself from Nielsen, although Giannini had been too early with his kick, playing the ball before the ref’s whistle had sounded. Serena flicked it into the back of the net, but it would not count. On the second opportunity, though, there was no respite for the visitors, as another ball into the area eluded both of Serena/Nielsen and Vialli/Larsen, before it found its way onto the knee of defender Bergomi, who had arrived on the far post. It might not have been Denmark’s idea to have Mølby marking the Italian skipper, and the Danish midfielder did not get close enough to put a challenge in. The ball trickled into the net for 1-0. It was not a scoreline which the visitors could complain about.
In the minutes after the goal, there appears to be a change in Italian mentality. Not that it should come as a major surprise, but they retract to inside their own half and allow the visitors a greater deal of possession than had previously been the case. Naturally, Vicini would have wanted to try out various aspects of their game, and now he could see how well they would handle sitting deeper and defending as a unit, with Denmark being allowed to come well inside the hosts’ half of the pitch before Italy started to apply pressure.
Italy were perhaps not particularly known in this era for being an outright counter-attacking team, but now, if they wanted and, more importantly, if they had the ability, they could try to catch the Danish off guard in moving quickly up the pitch when winning back possession. Perhaps was there a lack of speed in coming forward, though? Among their midfielders, it was possibly Donadoni and even Berti who could make sure of rapid entry into the opposition’s half, whilst Vialli could also turn on the turbo up top. Giannini, De Napoli, Serena: Neither of these reeked of explosivity. The transition phase from defence to attack would now predominantly be the responsibility of Berti to perform, it seemed, as his ability to carry the ball at pace over greater distances came to the fore, especially with the Danish allowing more space inside their own half. Giannini appeared to operate somewhat deeper than he had done.
As for the visitors, there was not much of an apparent change in tactics after they’d gone behind, although they’d need to accept greater possession responsibility. By all means, they did have players within their ranks who could hold on to the ball, but they had probably seemed more comfortable sitting deeper, trying to catch the Italians on the break. Mølby had failed to express himself much thus far, so would the different game picture see him thrive to a greater extent? Not immediately. In fact, their left hand side appeared to be the more alert, with Bartram and, in particular, Heintze showing some appetite. The latter was certainly someone capable of escaping from tight situations with the ball somehow intact, and this would put the Italian right hand side to the test defensively.
Denmark’s right hand side was more or less dead, though. Vilfort had never got into any kind of attacking rhythm, and even now, with his team in greater control, he failed to make much of an impression. Inside him, Jensen had shown greater will to destroy than create, and though he kept toiling and showing industry, he would not provide many sparks inside the opposition’s territory. With Mølby also not able to stamp his authority on proceedings, much seemed to be owed to the front two’s creativity. However, the opening sequences apart, Laudrup had had a quiet game, having been well kept in check by the home defence. Povlsen might have been slightly busier, but he too had failed to test Zenga.
Cautions and substitutions
There was a third booking of the game when Maldini had tripped Jensen to earn what was his second yellow card at international level. It was hardly a malicious challenge, though Jensen made the most of it, going to the ground and expressing facial agony, even having the physio team come on to the pitch to have a look at him. It seemed exaggerated.
Before the game would resume, the Italians withdrew the relatively uninfluental Donadoni and replaced him with Massimo Crippa, who had provided some sparks along their right hand side during their previous friendly, the 2-0 win against Scotland. Perhaps would he make greater emphasis on operating wide than his predecessor had done?
Quickly followed another home booking, the Italians’ third of the afternoon, when Baresi once again felt that obstructing an opponent was the way he best could compensate for a lack of acceleration. Povlsen had picked the ball up well inside his own half and made advance, and in similar fashion to earlier, the Cologne forward attempted to break through the Italian centre. Baresi stepped into his path and took him out, though with Ferrara having dropped off a bit, Povlsen would still have had to contend with the Napoli defender to make it all the way through to Zenga. Baresi’s foul was identical to the one which he’d committed against Laudrup during the first half, so the booking was well deserved. It had seemed somewhat out of character, though.
The foul on Povlsen had happened some 30 yards away from Italy’s goal. Denmark had failed to threaten from their recent free-kick in a similar position, when Mølby’s chip into the area had seen Bartram move offside, so on this occasion the Danish number 8 would rather opt for power. Firstly, the visitors had brought on midfielder Henrik Larsen in place of Jensen, something which saw Vilfort come into the inside right role, with this latter Larsen moving out into the wide right position. One could hope that it would wake Vilfort from his game-long slumber. Next up, Mølby drew a save from Zenga with his free-kick, which was well hit, but hardly difficult for a goalkeeper at international level. In fact, and somewhat true to his character, Zenga made sure to make the save look more dramatic than he’d needed to when he dived high to his left to push the ball away for a Denmark right wing corner. Replays from behind the goal revealed how Zenga could well have made less fuss and possibly even held on to the ball.
Approaching the final stages
The game approaches its 75 minute mark, and there is not a whole lot of pace, with Italy generally sitting deep, and with Denmark rarely able to stretch the home defence. Vilfort having moved into the centre did not prove to be the impetus he’d need to display what he was capable of, as there seemed to be no improvement to his game at all. He could not even take on a simple, short pass from Mølby. And the newly arrived Larsen out wide was also unable to stamp much authority on the flank in an attacking sense. The visitors simply did not seem to have a clue how they’d unlock the Italian defence, which, in all honesty, wasn’t being put to any severe tests.
The next substitution belonged to the hosts, who would introduce a Fiorentina striker, although not the player from that club which perhaps the majority of the fans would’ve been hoping to see: Rather than Roberto Baggio, Vicini brought debutant Stefano Borgonovo on in place of Vialli, who had probably tired after having put a fairly big shift in. A somewhat taller player than the one whose place he took over, what could Borgonovo add to the team? He seemed to be in a rich vein of goalscoring form, having notched six times in six league games since the turn of the year.
Italy’s two substitutes hitherto, Ferrara and Crippa, had both slotted straight into their respective predecessors’ roles, with Ferrara so far having the better of the disappointing Laudrup. He seemed more assured in possession than Ferri, so he was giving a fine account of himself. Crippa was doing much like Donadoni: Often coming in field to participate in play rather than to stick to his wide right role. This move was clearly something which Vicini had wanted to try out for this fixture, even if Crippa in that wide role last time around had done well.
Helt and Kristensen arrive
With the introduction of substitutes being promoted to a hot topic at this point in the game, Denmark boss Piontek makes midfield man John Helt his second new entry following Henrik Larsen’s arrival. Helt, small in stature and fairly compact, arrived with Vilfort making way. The latter had come into a more central role when Jensen had departed, though as has been said already, this was far from Vilfort’s finest performance in a Denmark shirt. For whatever reason he never had a big say in proceedings, and it seemed a wise decision to withdraw him in order to see whether Helt’s ability could prove an upgrade. Helt was renowned for his fine passing and composure, and the Danes could need both in their struggle to unlock the home defence.
To complete a flurry of substitutions within a short space of time, Denmark withdraw central defender Larsen and replace him with Bjørn Kristensen. The 26 year old Vejle defender had sat tight to Vialli throughout, and he’d aquitted himself well. Since the change in strikers among the hosts, with Vialli leaving for Borgonovo, it had been the latter that Larsen had shadowed, and the pair had clashed only a couple of minutes earlier, with Larsen going down clutching his pad-free shin a short while after. Playing with no shin pads did seem to be a game of risk, and earlier Larsen had indeed administered a knock to Vialli’s shins himself. He appeared to be back up and playing without too much discomfort, although Larsen would quickly be replaced by 25 year old Kristensen, coming on for his 16th cap. It was indeed a like for like swap.
Just prior to Kristensen’s entry, Helt had swung a first time cross towards the far end of the area from a deep position along the right, and it had reached the head of Bartram, who had snuck in beyond the attention of De Napoli, who was caught ball-watching. However, danger levels were extremely moderate, as Bartram had connected 14-15 yards out, and Zenga had it watched all the way, safely collecting the ball in his grasp. A few minutes later, with the clock approaching 85 minutes, Helt once again attempted to engage one of his team mates, this time with a chipped forward pass from midfield, Povlsen the destination. The striker got crowded out, and though he got a touch to the ball, it ran harmlessly through to Zenga, with Povlsen claiming he was impeded by Ferrara and Baresi in tandem right on the border of the penalty area. Time was ticking out, and Denmark were beginning to realize how they would leave Tuscany empty-handed.
Despite a couple of shots inside the final five minutes, there’s a low-key finale to the game. Mølby had made advance from the left hand side of midfield, past a hesitant Giannini and in towards the centre, where he would fire with his right boot from all of 30 yards, though his effort went both high and wide. Down the other end, it was Baresi who got the final effort goalwards when he’d accepted a return pass from Serena, albeit the ball was to the left outside the area, and the libero’s left-footed half volley went well behind goal without having Schmeichel worried.
Right on 45 minutes, the referee blew his whistle one final time to signal the end to proceedings.
Italy had had the better of a rarely spectacular first half in which some players moods were turning a bit sour after a couple of unnecessarily hefty midfield scraps, where Denmark’s Jensen had probably been the main contributor. They were two 3-5-2 teams coming at each other, and the visitors would sit back and try to hit the Italians on the break. However, they failed to cause the hosts much in terms of threat, as both their forwards were well dealt with by the Azzurri defence.
For the second half, Italy applied some more pressure until they broke the deadlock from a set-piece, and in the wake of the goal they would retract into their own half of the pitch to leave possession to the Danish. Italy were rarely troubled, as the visitors seemed unimaginative, and the sole time Zenga needed to pull out a save was from a long distance Mølby free-kick.
Ultimately, it was a deserved home win, even if the game was hardly a classic.
1 Zenga 7.1
does like showboating, but was confident and safe in what little he had to do
2 Bergomi 7.0
sound job as a centre-half. Not as tightly marking as Ferri/Ferrara
3 Maldini 6.9
had a fairly easy opponent in Vilfort, but could’ve attacked more
4 Baresi 6.9
twice opted to obstruct when faced with quick opponents
5 Ferri 6.9
rarely needed to exert himself to keep Laudrup quiet
(13 Ferrara 7.0
more confident in possession than Ferri, and kept Laudrup equally quiet)
6 Berti 7.1
made some big forward strides, though should’ve scored when through in first half
7 Donadoni 6.8
left less impression than he ought to have done, but had a couple of bright passes
(14 Crippa –
continued Donadoni’s inverted wide job)
8 De Napoli 7.2
balanced the midfield well from his inside right role
9 Vialli 7.2
ran himself into the ground, could’ve scored one on one, fouled a number of times
(17 Borgonovo –
not the right game picture to make your striker’s debut in)
10 Giannini 7.5
bossed the game for as long as Italy wanted to attack, got the assist for the goal
11 Serena 7.2
probably just shaded the contest with big Nielsen, which is no mean achievement
1 Schmeichel 7.4
very confident, big save from Berti first half, huge defensive asset
2 J Larsen 6.9
difficult opponent in Vialli, but battled intensely until he was forced off
(12 B Kristensen –
looked after Borgonovo)
3 K Nielsen 7.1
some very interesting battles with Serena all night
4 L Olsen 6.9
a conservative libero display
5 Heintze 7.0
often active along the left, especially after Italy retracted
6 Bartram 7.0
was part of a decent left hand side for the visitors, had some powerful bursts
7 Jensen 6.8
efficient in breaking up play, but offered little else
(14 H Larsen –
a very quiet cameo along the right)
8 Mølby 6.8
stroked the ball well, but hardly efficient
9 Povlsen 6.9
gave a decent account of himself, showed his workrate, though did not threaten on goal
10 Vilfort 5.8
completely out of it throughout. So disappointing for someone winning his 19th cap
(13 Helt –
showed his ability in distribution a couple of times)
11 B Laudrup 6.2
hugely disappointing. Easily contained by the home defence