Italy – Netherlands: Vialli's goal separates sides despite Dutch dominance
Having kicked off their World Cup preparations with a slender home win against Norway in Pescara four weeks earlier, Italy this time found themselves hosting European Champions Netherlands in the capital: A Stadio Olimpico right in the process of being rebuilt for the event a year and a half or so later was location for this the tenth ever encounter between the two countries. The clash was also marking the 90th anniversary for the Italian FA. The visitors came from a strong scoreless draw in West Germany, but worryingly, they’d only scored once in two matches post the Euros. Did they perhaps seem somewhat more defensively minded under the new regime?
Italy team news
Since the 2-1 win against the Norwegians a month earlier, manager Vicini had made some changes to his squad, either due to unavailability through injury (Donadoni, who had limped off during that game after a poor challenge by Kojedal) or because he wanted to try other players. However, from the 17 who had been in the matchday squad on that occasion, 14 players were still present. The three missing out were goalkeeper Walter Zenga, forward Roberto Mancini, and Donadoni. In return for the absent players had come Napoli’s custodian Giuliano Giuliani and Fiorentina striker Stefano Borgonovo. Vicini appeared content with 16 men this time around. Giuliani had been one of three goalkeepers during the Olympics, although he’d never made it even to the bench, with Juventus’ Stefano Tacconi (also in the squad today) prefered between the sticks, and Sampdoria’s Gianluca Pagliuca the back-up. Borgonovo was yet uncapped, but it was highly likely that at least one of the two Fiorentina forwards in the squad would appear in the international jersey for the very first time. The hugely talented Roberto Baggio had been an unused substitute against Norway.
Defensively, Italy seemed well covered, with Milan based quartet Franco Baresi, Giuseppe Bergomi, Paolo Maldini and Riccardo Ferri again candidates for starting roles. Italy had been in 3-5-2 last time out, with Maldini pushing forward from the left hand side. The dependable Fernando De Napoli had been the right-sided alternative in that selection, and the industrious 24 year old of Napoli featured yet again. In Pescara, Mr Vicini had donned Internazionale midfielder Nicola Berti his debut, and he’d won the home side a (very dubious) penalty from which they’d moved in front. Berti was again one of several contenders for a midfield starting berth, along with Juventus’ Luigi De Agostini, Roma’s Giuseppe Giannini and said De Napoli.
In addition to the Fiorentina pair, Azeglio Vicini could also make use of Sampdoria’s Gianluca Vialli and Roma’s Ruggiero Rizzitelli for the forward positions. It was indeed an altogether strong squad.
Netherlands team news
Following up their 1-0 opening qualification match home win against Wales with a scoreless draw in Munich, the Netherlands had got off to a fine, if not highly spectacular, start in qualifying group 4. They had not been at their free-flowing best going forward, but there had been a defensive solidity about them, even if there had perhaps been a hint of fortune about their draw against their great rivals four weeks earlier.
Since the clash in southern West Germany, Netherlands supremo Thijs Libregts had seen a few names drop out from the squad for various reasons. There was no Joop Hiele for the substitute goalkeeper’s role, and instead the manager had called up Ajax’ Stanley Menzo to deputise. Among the defenders, reigning league champions PSV Eindhoven’s Berry van Aerle, who had come off with injury just 20 minutes into that match, was not available. The same went for the highly experienced Adri van Tiggelen. Racing Paris defender Sonny Silooy had done well as the right-sided central defender in their 3-5-2 formation then, and he was clearly a candidate for a starting berth once again. So too were libero Ronald Koeman as well as his PSV colleague Adick Koot, whose only cap hitherto had come in a 2-2 friendly draw away to England in March.
New in the squad since last time around were West Germany based (Bochum) Rob Reekers, a possible debutant, and Wilbert Suvrijn of Roda. The latter had indeed featured during the European Championships, and could possibly fill a couple of roles in midfield. As for Reekers, he was predominantly a left-sided player. With no Erwin Koeman in the squad on this occasion, the 22 year old could possibly fill in for him. Further additions were René Eijkelkamp, John van Loen and Hendrie Krüzen. With no John Bosman anywhere to be seen, one of the first two would be candidates to replace him, whilst Krüzen, who had played against Wales, was an alternative for the wide left position. So too was the exciting Pieter Huistra of Twente.
Eight of the 16 from the West Germany squad were no-shows. Among the eight coming in, three were as yet uncapped. They were Reekers, Eijkelkamp and Huistra. Fred Rutten of Twente, who had been among the five substitutes in Munich, was another player with no full international appearances to his name.
43 year old Spaniard Emilio Soriano Aladrén had been put in charge of the tie. Since his debut in Lisbon, where he’d overseen a 3-2 away win for Romania back in January ’85, this was his ninth international match. He had been the man in black for the European Championships group stage clash between the Republic of Ireland and the Soviet Union (1-1), and his CV also contained European Championship qualifiers as well as the recent World Cup qualification match between Cyprus and France in Nicosia. The friendly appeared to be in very capable hands.
This was the tenth encounter altogether between Italy and the Netherlands. However, they’d not crossed paths since 1981, when they’d met in Montevideo (Uruguay) in a tournament (“Mundialito”) commemorating the 50th anniversary for the inaugural World Cup. It had ended 1-1 then. Just two and a half years earlier, they’d also met in Latin America, when the Netherlands, on their way to the final with World Cup hosts Argentina in ’78, had triumphed 2-1. Naturally, no player was still present for either team. Inbetween, in a February ’79 friendly in Milan, Italy had won 3-0, the greatest margin of victory in meetings between the two.
The overall record read 3-4-2 (14-12) in favour of today’s hosts. Their sole qualification encounters had come in attempting to reach the 1976 European Championships in Yugoslavia. Netherlands had made it through, and had been present at a Euro for the first time (losing out 3-1 to Czechoslovakia in the semi-final).
|1 Stefano Tacconi||31||Juventus|
|2 Giuseppe Bergomi (c)||24||Internazionale|
|3 Paolo Maldini||20||AC Milan|
|4 Franco Baresi||28||AC Milan|
|5 Riccardo Ferri||25||Internazionale|
|6 Luigi De Agostini||sub 82′||27||Juventus|
|7 Ruggiero Rizzitelli||sub 53′||21||Roma|
|8 Fernando De Napoli||24||Napoli|
|9 Gianluca Vialli||24||Sampdoria|
|10 Giuseppe Giannini||24||Roma|
|11 Roberto Baggio||21||Fiorentina|
|13 Ciro Ferrara||on 53′||21||Napoli|
|15 Nicola Berti||on 82′||21||Internazionale|
|x Giuliano Giuliani||30||Napoli|
|x Giovanni Francini||25||Napoli|
|x Stefano Borgonovo||24||Fiorentina|
|1 Hans van Breukelen||32||PSV Eindhoven|
|2 Sonny Silooy||25||Racing Club de Paris|
|3 Rob Reekers||22||Bochum|
|4 Ronald Koeman (c)||25||PSV Eindhoven|
|5 Adick Koot||25||PSV Eindhoven|
|6 Frank Rijkaard||26||AC Milan|
|7 Gerald Vanenburg||24||PSV Eindhoven|
|8 Wilbert Suvrijn||sub 70′||26||Roda|
|9 Marco van Basten||24||AC Milan|
|10 René Eijkelkamp||sub 61′||24||Groningen|
|11 Pieter Huistra||21||Twente|
|12 Fred Rutten||on 70′||25||Twente|
|15 John van Loen||on 61′||23||Roda|
|x Stanley Menzo||25||Ajax|
|x Hendrie Krüzen||23||PSV Eindhoven|
|x Rob Witschge||22||Ajax|
Kick-off belonged to the visitors, and they proceeded through expected front duo Marco van Basten and René Eijkelkamp, the latter in his first ever appearance for his country. Medio November weather appeared to be fine, and although the stadium itself was right in the middle of a rebuilding phase before the World Cup tournament, and so was without its curva nord, where just tower cranes seemed to reside, the surface seemed to be in immaculate condition. In fact, it had been almost a complete rebuilding job throughout the stadium, bar for tribuna Tevere (‘the Tiber stand’), a large section of the east stand. There was still plenty of work to do on Stadio Olimpico, named so after the 1960 summer Olympic games, before it was ready to host the World Cup, and its two residents, AS Roma and Lazio, would both have to play the 1989/90 Serie A season at the city’s Stadio Flaminio just across the river.
Both teams had been in action four weeks earlier, and both had made quite a few changes since then to their starting line-ups. The Italians were without four of the starters from the win against Norway, as there was no Zenga, Donadoni, Berti and Mancini, whilst Netherlands boss Libregts had had to start the game without five of the players who had kicked off the game in Munich: van Tiggelen, Wouters, van Aerle, Bosman and the older Koeman brother Erwin. Now the two managers’ selections had been made public, it remained to be seen whether they’d both continue along the 3-5-2 path which they’d opted on October 19. Tacconi, Rizzitelli, De Agostini and the debuting Baggio were the four men coming into the side for the hosts, while the Dutch had Koot, Reekers, Suvrijn, Eijkelkamp and Huistra replacing their absent five.
Almost immediately there’s an opportunity for the home side, who win possession after a failed long ball from Koeman in the forward direction. The two supposedly most creative players in dark blue are instrumental, as Roberto Baggio, starting the game slightly towards the left hand side, and midfield general Giuseppe Giannini combine for the latter to thread Gianluca Vialli through in the penalty area. Giannini was a master at spotting players ahead of him, and indeed in picking them out with little, deft passes. He made sure to get the angle right on his stealthy pass, but the visitors owed a debt to their goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen for coming out and thwarting the Sampdoria forward, who on this occasion would seem to be playing more or less as an advanced striker rather than operating in a, for him, typical wide forward position. Although van Breukelen was unable to hold on to the ball initially, the rebound once he’d saved at the feet of Vialli went to Koeman, who would prod it back to his PSV team mate. It would’ve been a spectacular opening to the game had the veteran custodian not reacted so quickly in coming off his line.
Good flow to the early stages
The opening ten minutes are a lively affair, with both sides playing direct football, the visitors probably even more so than the hosts. There appears to be great desire in both camps to reach their forward players, and in the case of the visitors, this will happen either through the means of a long ball up from the back (Koeman), from Gerald Vanenburg in central midfield, or indeed after a wide initiative from the dangerous looking Pieter Huistra. There certainly appears to be no debutant nerves with the Twente virtouso, and he will prove a big thorn in the Italians’ side throughout the half. Up top, Marco van Basten seems to be moving with plenty of freedom, although he is generally tracked by Riccardo Ferri, the infamous Italian hard man. As for the hosts, they definitely involve their midfielders more in their build-ups, and it is also a frequent occurence that libero Franco Baresi instigates from the back, time and again crossing the halfway line in possession of the ball. They are two relatively contrasting styles of play, yet they both intend to involve their forwards as much as possible. For the hosts, play is directed predominantly through the centre, and seeing Giannini in possession is something which the Stadio Olimpico, his home ground, is accustomed to.
There are excellent opportunities at both ends for a goal inside the opening ten minutes. The first big chance falls to van Basten, inevitably, as he manages to get in front of his defender from a fine piece of work by Huistra to the left outside the penalty area. The nippy winger delievers an excellent ball into the centre on nine minutes, and it takes a giant reflex save by deputising goalkeeper Stefano Tacconi to prevent the AC Milan star striker a twelvth international goal in what is his 27th appearance for his country. Van Basten’s header had come from point blank range.
A minute later, it is van Basten’s watchdog Ferri who goes just as close with a header following a delightfully flighted free-kick into the centre by Baggio. Ruggiero Rizzitelli, playing to the right in the Italian five man midfield, had won a free-kick outside the area, almost on the byeline, after an obstruction by Koot, and rather than having Giannini to aim the free-kick into the area, Baggio had been given the honour. Ferri had risen well on the far side of the six yard area, and his header smashed onto the underside of the bar. Netherlands ‘keeper van Breukelen would’ve been very relieved that the ball did not cross the line as it came down, indeed bouncing off the very goalline. Ferri had scored with a tremendously struck free-kick against the Norwegians last month, and he had almost got his fourth international goal in his 19th appearance here.
The Dutch thrive
The game continues with decent pace, and both the Italians and the Dutch keep playing a fairly open game. There’s obviously less need to focus solely on defensive duties due to the game’s status as a friendly, and both teams are appearing with fire in their bellies. There’s rarely a dull moment, especially as the Dutch take the game to Italy. The Netherlands are equipped with a low level of fear, and so they probably edge possession through until the halfway point in the opening period. They have players all across the field who are well capable of holding on to the ball, and maintaining possession comes naturally to them. They are the next team to threaten when van Basten, who is living a busy life in these initial stages of the game, picks the ball up and sets his sight on goal with a 25 yard drive which is well dealt with low down to his left by Tacconi. The Italian goalkeeper is lending an assured impression so far, and he has to come to the home side’s rescue once again less than two minutes after van Basten’s long range effort, when he saves Pieter Huistra’s close range attempt with his torso. It had been a near catastrophical judgement error, uncharacteristically, by home skipper Giuseppe Bergomi, who had tried to head Sonny Silooy’s deep cross from the right hand side back to his ‘keeper, but he’d not spotted the alert Huistra closing in. Conceding three such big goalscoring opportunities within 17 minutes of kick-off is untypical of Italian football, but they’re clearly up against a quality side in the reigning European champions.
Since their decent start, the Italians struggle to maintain possession inside the opponents’ half of the pitch. They too often drop too deep with their central midfield three, and this leaves their two forwards isolated. There is the occasional long ball played from the back, typically by Baresi, although this is not a particular feature in today’s game. Giannini’s clearly a bigger asset to the Italian team when he is allowed to excel higher up in the pitch than so far on this occasion, and so Italy is less of a threat to the visitors than they themselves are to the hosts. The Netherlands keep asking questions of the home side.
A closer look at the visitors
It is clear that both sides are once again in 3-5-2. However, the Dutch variety is of a less customary issue than the Italian one, as they appear to be playing with a wide forward in Huistra, who is almost without any kind of defensive duties. One could perhaps have expected Eijkelkamp to be playing more or less as a second striker alongside van Basten, but no, the second striker’s job belongs to the Twente winger. Eijkelkamp, as it is, seems to be occupying an attacking midfield position, the kind of role you would normally associate Ruud Gullit with. However, the Dutch team captain was suffering with injuries in the wake of the European Championships, so he was once again missing out, like he had been in Munich. Eijkelkamp is a tall, gangly player, the type of individual that the Dutch seem to have quite a few of, but even though his team are in the ascendancy, he does not carry a whole lot of influence in this liberated role. Does tracking back come naturally to him? It would appear not. Eijkelkamp fails to provide van Basten with much direct support up top.
At the back, the Dutch have Ronald Koeman in the libero position, as you would’ve expected. In the continued absence of Gullit, he is also Libregts’ choice for the captaincy. To his right, Koeman has the strong and agile Sonny Silooy, who is enjoying life in French football with Paris club Racing Matra. The left-sided central defender is Koeman’s PSV team mate Adick Koot, who is making only his second appearance for the national team.
The Dutch have two wide players in Wilbert Suvrijn, operating along the right hand side, and West Germany based debutant Rob Reekers. They both seem to be operating relatively deep, neither offering much support in the forward direction, even if they’re both capable of putting crosses into the centre. Reekers is a natural left-footer, and so seems to have the right assets for the role. He is another robust Dutchman, and he appears to be concentrating on Rizzitelli’s advances down the Italian right hand side. Opposite, Suvrijn has somewhat less to contend with defensively, as Paolo Maldini is far from as attacking as his wideman counterpart in the Italian select.
The three players in the centre of the Dutch midfield are Frank Rijkaard, here obviously playing against some of his AC Milan team mates, Gerald Vanenburg and said Eijkelkamp. Rijkaard had worked more or less as Rudi Völler’s man marker in their recent qualifier, but had been shifted into midfield for this occasion. Being such a classy performer, he would look at home in either position. He was probably the slightly less defensive of him and Vanenburg, whose responsibility often seemed to be to pick van Basten out through the centre. Vanenburg was a player who always seemed to thrive in possession, and being capable of playing both out wide, preferably right, and in the middle, he was quite instrumental in the Dutch’ play so far.
Until the half hour mark, the game continues to be a seeworthy affair, although premium goalscoring opportunities have died down. The hosts still struggle somewhat to contain the lively Huistra, who is making a nuisance of himself along the Dutch left hand side, where he continues to exploit the gaps behind Rizzitelli, often prompting De Napoli to drop deep and defend from his inside right midfield role. There is a long distance effort from Ferri, who had scored with a free-kick from just outside the penalty area in his previous international, but he fails to strike it anywhere near as clean as he had against Norway, and furthermore, the distance had been far greater on this occasion as he had got the ball poked to him from Luigi De Agostini 30 yards out. It had rolled unceremoniously left to van Breukelen’s goal.
The Italians were with the same defensive trio as against Norway, with Baresi having the libero job in the middle, and with Bergomi, the captain, working to his right, and Ferri to his left, often seen handling van Basten. As the youthful Paolo Maldini was operating the Italian left hand side, it meant that their midfield had a somewhat leaning look to it. Maldini was a whole lot more defensive in his approach than Rizzitelli opposite, whose instincts told him to attack. However, being the wide right alternative in their eleven, the Roma forward needed to contribute inside his own half, too. Not that this seemed to come natural to him, as he time and again failed to deal with the threat coming from Pieter Huistra. Perhaps should this have been dealt with more effectively by Bergomi as the right-sided centre-half, but it would happen so that even De Napoli, Italy’s inside right midfield man, would track back in order to try and prevent Huistra as the half wore on.
Said De Napoli was one of three men in the centre of the Italian midfield, where playmaker Giuseppe Giannini was the middle one. Giannini had begun the game well, but he had been less effective during the course of the half, often dropping too deep, along with the rest of the midfield. To his left was Luigi De Agostini, who certainly was no stranger to a midfield position, but who was perhaps a greater asset to gli Azzurri from a wide left position, where his extremely gifted left foot could come to the fore in feeding crosses? De Agostini would not excel in possession, and although he did usually not drop as deep as De Napoli opposite, he would too often be caught in something akin to no-man’s land. The shortcomings of the Italian midfield was clearly a problem to Italy thus far, and the main reason why the Dutch had had the upper hand. This was definitely something which the manager needed to address.
Rizzitelli was meant to support the front two from his wide role, something which was demanded to a much lesser extent from Maldini. On his debut, Roberto Baggio would often be drawn towards the left of centre, and he would also be working slightly deeper than Gianluca Vialli, who yet again was full of running and industry. Vialli had often come out into wide right areas against Norway, playing up front with his Sampdoria pal Roberto Mancini, but on this occasion he was clearly operating more through the middle. On a few, brief occasions, he would also relinquish the striker’s role in positional swaps with Rizzitelli. However, Vialli was more effective towards the centre, where he would remain a menace to the opposing defence due to his sheer workrate. Off the ball, he was Italy’s first line of defence. On it, he seemed to enjoy collaborating with Baggio, who, however, had often struggled to make an impact against Dutch duo Suvrijn and Silooy.
Further Dutch pressure
Through to half time, there is another opportunity to find the back of the net for the bubbly Huistra just after the half hour mark. He had earlier been foiled by Tacconi after latching on to that disappointing back header by Bergomi, and on this occasion, too, the Juventus goalkeeper would have the last laugh. For once, the Dutch had worked themselves into the area down the right hand side, and it had been Suvrijn who had managed to battle his way to the byeline and deliever a fine hanging cross almost parallel with the goalline. Tacconi, though, had lept using all his height to get a few fingers’ worth of touch to the ball, and in doing so, he’d changed its path sufficiently to render it impossible for Huistra to rise enough to get over the ball. The winger did head it, with the net gaping in front of him, but from close range, it was more like the ball had hit him than the other way around, and it had gone well over. Had Tacconi not got a touch to it, it could’ve been a different story.
The Dutch, despite their many changes since their previous international, are a busy, relatively coherent unit. They seem solid enough at the back, where both Silooy and Koot are using phyisque to their advantage against the more lightweight Italians, and Koeman often has plenty of time to mount from the back, either directing it long towards van Basten or out wide for Huistra, while Suvrijn and Reekers also add to the numerical advantage whenever Italy make it across the halfway line. The Dutch, in a combination of greater desire and skill, maintain possession for far longer spells than what the Italians are capable of, and they successfully involve van Basten on a number of occasions, as the Italy based ace moves about with confidence and a wish to engage himself. He appears to thrive feeding off Vanenburg’s little balls in his direction, balls which often take van Basten somewhat to the right of the Italian defence, and even if De Agostini battles well in his midfield range, he never quite manages to stifle the threat from Vanenburg, who provides the vision from the Dutch midfield so far. The game is still a decent spectacle, even if there’s yet no goals.
Rare Italian break-away
Italy have a break down the left hand side through Maldini, though the youngster does not seem too confident once he’s gained a good few yards on the Dutch right hand side, where Suvrijn comes racing back in trying to prevent the 20 year old from cutting into the penalty area. However, rather than advance at full speed, it is almost as if you can see the doubt rising in Maldini’s mind as he has pockets of space to exploit ahead of him: “Should I make a dash for goal, or should I try to gain further ground along the left and aim for someone in the centre?” On 37 minutes, Maldini does neither. Or perhaps more precisely: He does both. Unfortunately for the hosts, though, what appeared to be a highly promising break grinds to a halt once Maldini’s hit a poorly executed cross from his wide position, even when he could’ve continued a further few yards to create a better angle for himself and even for Vialli, who was the Italian player in the centre. Vialli had decided to make a run towards the near post, whilst Maldini ended up lifting the ball towards the rear.
There’s still five minutes until the half-time break when De Agostini does well to track a rare Rijkaard run off the ball and into the penalty area along the left. It had meant that De Agostini had come across from his inside left position to prevent the until then laxidaisical Dutch midfield ace to either have a pop at goal himself or to look for a team mate in the centre. It had resulted in the eighth Dutch corner of the first half. Seven of those had been from the left wing, and they were a testimony to the threat from Huistra, which Italy had never managed to get to grips with. Only moments earlier had the little winger made it into dangerous territory once again, with no Italian anywhere near him. He’d caused plenty of confusion with his wide forward positioning, even if you’d have thought it would’ve been a fairly manageable task to stick someone into the right-back position to properly look after him. On that occasion, Bergomi had denied van Basten an opportunity as he’d thrown himself forward and headed the ball away right in front of the striker.
A minute from half-time, a bleak performance from the home side is, somehow, rewarded with a goal. There appears to be some Dutch sloppiness, as Silooy, reaching the ball before Rizzitelli, tackles into the direction of Rijkaard some 20 yards inside the Dutch half. The usually so thrifty midfielder does not seem to have any heart for the battle, so rather than going all in to win the ball in challenging Giannini, he lets the Italy number 10 have it. Giannini spots Baggio ahead of him, and as the little Fiorentina man would often do, he turned and looked for Vialli, whom he found just to the right of the penalty area D, with Koot, supposedly his marker for the occasion, a good four yards away. Baggio’s pass was pinpoint enough, and Koot delayed too long before attempting a tackle. Vialli had by that time already hit his low, diagonal shot from just inside the area, and the ball found its way into the back of the net just inside van Breukelen’s right hand post. Italy had gone in front!
There’s no time for an immediate reply, although the referee does not signal an end to the half until 36 seconds into time added on. After a first 45 minutes dominated by the visitors, it is the dark blue and white hosts who are ahead 1-0.
After a fine spectacle of a first half, there would’ve been a certain level of expectancy ahead of the final 45, especially among the home faithful, who had got their goal just before the half-time whistle. Granted, it had come somewhat against the run of play, but it had showed just what potency there was in their attack. Would they raise their game in the second half and put the European champions under longer spells of pressure, or would Italy have to rely on their defensive solidity to win them the match?
There had been no half-time changes in personnel; both teams reappeared with identical XIs. It was worth noting that they were both relatively young line-ups, especially if you made exceptions for the respective goalkeepers, who in both parties were the only players older than 28. Italy’s ten outfield players had an average age of 23,8, whilst the Dutch equivalent was 24,2. Both teams were still below 25 years in average even with the goalkeepers included.
Second half kick-off belonged to Italy through Ruggiero Rizzitelli and Gianluca Vialli.
Early second half observations
There were some noteworthy points from the opening second half exchanges. The main one was how Italy manager Azeglio Vicini had adjusted during the break in order to try and nullify the threat from Dutch left winger Huistra. The visiting number 11 had had far too much space during the opening 45 minutes, and he had thrived to the point where he had almost caused mayhem. No specific Italian player had been designed to look after him, and so the hosts had surrendered their right hand side defensively. Now, right from the first moment in the second half, Napoli’s work horse Fernando De Napoli had been assigned as Huistra’s guardian: When the Dutch were on the ball, the inside right Italian midfielder clearly dropped back into a right-back position. This would make the hosts look more reassured defensively.
For the Dutch, their number 10, Groningen’s René Eijkelkamp, had not managed to produce the goods as van Basten’s supposed support from attacking midfield. Even if the Netherlands had dominated possession for large spells in the first half, Eijkelkamp had lived an anonymous existence. Obviously, he was making his very first appearance in white and orange, but it seemed evident that he would need some time to adapt to the role. This was the role which Gullit had mastered to perfection, and possibly indeed even created, so it could hardly be expected from an international novice that he would be right at that level in his inaugural outing. However, John Bosman had coped excellently in West Germany a month earlier, even if it could be argued that Eijkelkamp’s role today was slightly different to that of Bosman, as it involved less focus on a particular opponent for set-pieces (Bosman had had Guido Buchwald to attend to). Eijkelkamp would too often be found in no-man’s land, unsure as to whether he should be joining van Basten right up top or lend Rijkaard and Vanenburg a hand in midfield. He did neither, to be honest.
Whilst the Dutch had looked by far the more likely team to open the scoring until Vialli’s goal just before half time, Italy made sure to look threatening themselves at the start of the second half. Again, though, their midfield would as a unit sit too deep, although Giannini did his best to lend the front two support. Italy did manage to find Vialli and Baggio with greater frequency at the start of the second period than they had during most of the first half, and so the duo crafted in order to create three half chances inside the first seven minutes. The best opportunity of the three had come when Vialli had made use of Silooy’s focus on Baggio, who on that occasion was operating more or less as an attacking decoy, drawing the Paris based defender out of position, and as Koot again failed to get close enough to Vialli to get a tackle in, the late first half goalscorer could advance into the penalty area and take aim at goal from a wide position. However, he failed to find the target, as his low right-footed effort went a couple of yards wide of the near post.
Mr Vicini then proceeded to make the first change of the game: Rizzitelli, another player who should feel at home in these surroundings, had not managed to stamp any kind of authority on the game, and so he was withdrawn for young Napoli defender Ciro Ferrara. The 21 year old came on for his sixth international. He had replaced Bergomi at half-time in Pescara. It was an interesting switch, as Ferrara’s clearly of a much more defensive nature than Rizzitelli. Would he now be looking after Huistra, freeing De Napoli up for more attacking duties from midfield? It had hardly been ideal to have the inside right midfielder drop as deep as back into a right-back position, and even if it had so far worked in order to keep Huistra quiet since the break, Ferrara on for Rizzitelli seemed to make sense.
With Ferrara on, it sure meant that the strong defender would be attending to Huistra. Italy would not risk having the frail looking winger expose them like he had done in the opening half, so the task of keeping him quiet had shifted from one Napoli man to another. And yes, it worked. Huistra certainly had much greater limitations to his freedom. In the opening quarter of an hour after the break, he only made one cross, and that one had come from the edge of the penalty area rather than from a more wide position, like in the first half. But would restricting Huistra not open up space for other Dutch players to exploit? They had had an agile Vanenburg in the first half, and just behind him again, Rijkaard had operated in the attacking end of the centre circle, even if he had far from exhausted himself. Now, it would appear as if Rijkaard had stepped even further forward, with libero Koeman often advancing into the Italian side of the centre circle, participating more in build-ups.
With Koeman higher up in the pitch, the visitors would be left more vulnerable to counters, something which the Italians seemed to exploit quite well. They had a number of decent looking counter-attacking opportunities after the half-time break, and Baggio had looked threatening as he raced into the area from a central left position. However, on that occasion Rijkaard had contributed with some excellent recovery work, and he had used his body strength to take the ball off the home debutant. Baggio had also provided a fine cross field pass for Vialli, but in facing both Koot and Reekers, the only goalscorer of the game so far was ultimately tackled to the ground after arriving inside the area. In fact, the replay would show that he had had a valid cause for a penalty appeal. Rob Reekers had been the offender in a poor tackle, albeit he’d managed to halt Vialli’s advance.
The Netherlands become the next to make a substitution when they replace the ineffective Eijkelkamp with John van Loen from Roda, a player one would’ve thought was quite similar in style to the one he replaced. Would they continue with having a player, now van Loen, operating in the “Gullit role” even after it had failed to carry any kind of significance hitherto? Van Loen had made his only other international appearance as far back as three years earlier, when he had been a half time substitute in the ill-fated 1985 World Cup play-off game against neighbours and rivals Belgium. Like his predecessor, he was tall and somewhat gangly.
A couple of minutes before the substitution, van Basten had again caused some stir in the Italian defence. Riccardo Ferri had not managed to clear a long, raking pass by Koeman from the back, and with the alert van Basten capitalising, the striker brought the ball into the area, although at an angle to the left of goal. He decided to strike diagonally, but ultimately failed to test Tacconi, as the ball rather than troubling the ‘keeper travelled parallel with the goalline before it was cleared from danger. Even just after Ferrara’s entrance, van Basten had burst into the penalty area, although the ball had bounced a little awkwardly, and with Ferri tracking him down, he’d swung a left footed shot well over and wide. Clearly, the AC Milan striker was the main Netherlands threat now in the second half.
Second half focus: The Dutch
The Netherlands’ debutant along the left hand side, Bochum player Rob Reekers, was having a relatively quiet first international. Italy were rarely threatening down either flank, and so defending became a doable task for either of the Dutch wide midfielders. Reekers did not appear to be a player relishing too much coming forward, so he seemed the dutiful persona staying back, balancing their act from his wide role. He was exposed for pace and trickery by Vialli as the second half was approaching its midway stage, something which had led to the Italy forward being able to put a cross into the centre (headed away by Koeman) from a right wing position, and he’d also shown some uncertainty when trying to deal with Ferrara in a defensive capacity only a few minutes earlier. Reekers had wanted to let the ball run out for a goalkick, but Ferrara’s persistence had seen the Italy right-back nick in and steal the ball away for him to deliever a low ball in the direction of Baggio. The Dutch defence, through a combination of Koot and Silooy, had been able to divert it away for a right wing home corner, and the danger had ultimately gone. These two involvements, however, had possibly exposed some indecision in Reekers.
Had the Dutch improved since the substitution? Hardly. The departing Eijkelkamp had been anonymous, but it had not seemed like van Loen had immediately got into his stride either. Van Basten was still left to do a whole lot on his own, something which even meant he would drop slightly deeper in search for the ball, even knocking it out wide right on a couple of occasions, especially when Vanenburg was involved along this particular flank. It should not be a great surprise that it would take some doing to get to grips with the second striker’s job in this Dutch team, and neither of Eijkelkamp or van Loen had been heavily involved at this level, so their respective struggles could perhaps have been announced beforehand. Still, the visitors were in the ascendancy, like they had been for large spells of the tie, with Italy sitting deep and now defending their slender lead.
Libero Koeman had, as mentioned briefly before, seemed to move ahead of his central defensive colleagues since the break, and though this had yet not meant much in terms of opportunities created, it did mean that they had an extra player at the rear of their engine room. Yes, it had freed Rijkaard up to be more involved further forward in the pitch, but despite a couple of fine recovery runs, the AC Milan midfielder had not seemed overly keen to exhaust himself. Koeman had appeared within, for him, striking range, and he did load his canon on two occasions, although he failed to hit the ball cleanly, and so he never troubled Tacconi. Despite the promise of their possessional advantage, it was beginning to look increasingly unlikely that the Dutch would muster an equalizer.
The visitors make their second substitution of the game when they replace Suvrijn with yet another international debutant in Twente’s Fred Rutten. The moustached substitute seems to slot straight into the departing Suvrijn’s position wide to the right in the Dutch midfield, and it remained to be seen whether he had extra qualities inside the opposition’s half which the away team could make use of. A minute or so earlier Italy had had a reminder that Huistra was still on the pitch, although he had hardly raised any pulses with his cutting inside from the left wing and shooting low, right-footed into the grasp of the unworried Tacconi.
Italy: sitting deep
In the thick of the hosts’ midfield sits ‘il Principe’, Roma’s Giannini. Easily the playmaker in their team, he can adapt to both a deeper position and surely also a more advanced role just behind the strikers. Vicini’s decision on where to play him could depend on the nature and strength of the opposition. With the Netherlands clearly being a technically strong opponent, maintaining a lot of possession, the Italy boss sees Giannini’s ideal position as being relatively deep, although it must be said that he’s more advanced than their two inside midfielders De Napoli (right) and De Agostini. The latter has so far hardly been seen in possession at all, even if he’s been covering a lot of ground, trying to keep an eye in the direction of Vanenburg. He’s a battler, De Agostini, but being a part of a central midfield three with Giannini and De Napoli, he’s not done Italy any attacking favours on the day. With De Napoli you get much the same, although you’ll see the Napoli man occasionally attempt to advance with the ball at his feet. He was not foreign to a surge from midfield, even if he’d been tied defensively for much of the game, having to look over his shoulder to check on Huistra’s whereabouts. Even after the introduction of Ferrara, De Napoli’s team mate at club level, the midfielder’s struggled to make much of an impression across the halfway line. All this has left a lot of the attacking responsibility on the front two. Not that Vialli or Baggio would’ve mind an awful lot, but even they could’ve wanted more assistance from their midfield than they’d had until now.
Vicini contemplating his second substitution
It could well be that Vicini had wanted to make a substitution among his forwards, with Fiorentina’s Stefano Borgonovo seen warming up on the near side some 13-14 minutes from time. In particular Vialli had given a fine account of himself, and certainly not just because of the goal, but also for his sheer workrate: He was constantly keeping the Dutch defenders on their toes with his movement. Most of his battles were with Koot, but he would also challenge left-sided midfielder Reekers. As for Baggio, he had shown some delicious touches on his debut, and indeed provided the assist for the goal, but he’d also proved that he was of a light frame, time and again losing out to stronger, more physical players. He did seem to have a fine understanding with his forward partner, though, even if he had hitherto not threatened goal directly himself.
The entrance of Borgonovo for his debut would have to wait, as De Agostini, who only minutes earlier had been robbed of a shooting opportunity on the edge of the Dutch penalty area, as Rutten had tackled him before he’d been able to latch on to Vialli’s angled pass from the attacking right hand side, went down clutching his left foot right on the edge of his own penalty area. De Agostini had battled with Koeman for the ball after a rare second half left wing corner from the visitors. Both had raised their feet, and De Agostini had come off worse. He needed treatment from the medical staff, but even after some time sitting just behind the goalline, it turned out he was unable to continue. This prompted Vicini to bring on Nicola Berti in De Agostini’s place with only eight minutes remaining.
Towards the end
Our tape unfortunately comes to a premature end on 43,35. Since the entrance on the field of Berti for the injured De Agostini, the Netherlands had been unable to truly test Italy ‘keeper Tacconi, who twice came off his line to claim the ball: First when he caught van Loen’s header down in the direction of van Basten, and then when he picked Reekers’ high free-kick deep from the left hand side out from the air. Tacconi had given a very assured display, and showed that even if first choice goalie Walter Zenga was unavailable, Mr Vicini could draw on top quality for the position between the sticks.
The Dutch continued to edge possession, but in the final third of the pitch they remained unable to make much of it. There had been a daisy-cutter from substitute Rutten from 20 yards which had gone well wide to the left of goal, and other than that the Italian defence stood firm. In fact, their central defensive trio had stood up to the visitors’ attack admirably, even if van Basten had been showing a decent appetite for the game. Bergomi and Ferri had both been looking after the striker, although it would appear that Ferri’s main task since van Loen’s appearance on the pitch was to keep an eye on the tall Roda man. The decision to stick Ferrara close to Huistra had been a good one, as the player who had tormented the Italians before the break had failed to reproduce the goods in the final 45 minutes. By the time our tape concludes, the Italians have just made a rare foray into the Dutch penalty area, when substitute Berti, who had taken over directly for De Agostini as the inside left midfielder, had been adjudged offside after Vialli’s cross from the right. Vialli had originally been played on by a fine Giannini pass, and he had once again evaded the attention of Reekers, who on this occasion had been too far forward in the pitch.
It might not have been a vintage Italy performance, as they had been second best in possession to the Dutch throughout, but they’d shown fine defensive commitment, and they had also taken one of their counter-attacking opportunities when Vialli had fired home just before the half-time break. For large portions of the game they had been sitting deep and invited the Netherlands on to them, but against an opponent of such makeshift character, this had probably been somewhat disappointing to the home fans: They’d have wanted to see Italy be on the front foot for longer spells. Even if the visitors had dominated, though, they had failed to capitalize on a few first half opportunities, and in the end the result felt inevitable.
1 Tacconi 7.4
inspired performance in which he stopped what he had to and claimed when he could. Definitely a capable replacement for Zenga, and showed plenty of confidence throughout
2 Bergomi 7.3
two vital blocks from van Basten after left wing corners in the first half, and generally defended well, as you’d expect. Broke away three times, and was called offside in two of those!
3 Maldini 6.9
rarely in trouble defensively, but not always the best close control, and fumbled the ball across the touchline twice. Offered not much in the forward direction, but made sure to position himself well
4 Baresi 7.3
kept the defence together impeccably, and made a couple of fine forward advances. He would even take the ball off van Basten a couple of times, despite this task originally belonging to the two players directly in front of him
5 Ferri 6.8
a difficult night against a world class striker. If not up against van Basten, he’d struggle aerially against substitute van Loen. Desperately unfortunate not to score the opening goal when his first half header came off the underside of the bar
6 De Agostini 6.6
perhaps not best at home in this role. Offered little inside the opposition’s half, and played his part in a somewhat tail-heavy midfield. Off after colliding with Koeman
(15 Berti –
not much time to make a difference, but did show a willingness to make runs off the ball, something which the home side had been missing)
7 Rizzitelli 6.4
ok workrate, but disappointingly little involved in the forward direction. Attempted positional swaps with Vialli which did not come off. Taken off for a more defensive alternative
(13 Ferrara 7.1
saw to that Huistra remained quiet for the remainder of the match with a highly disciplined defensive performance)
8 De Napoli 6.8
needed to work as defensive cover along the right during the first half, but even after the introduction of Ferrara he failed to be much of a midfield influence, despite his incessant running
9 Vialli 7.3
good performance in which he never stopped running and harassing the away defence. Played through the middle, but was always a danger when he came out wide right. Took his goal very well
10 Giannini 7.0
as comfortable on the ball as ever, but generally remained too deep, and so not much of a playmaking threat. Did feed his forwards a couple of interesting balls nevertheless
11 Baggio 6.8
fine combinations with Vialli, and provided the assist for the goal. However, outmuscled on a number of occasions, and his workrate was probably not quite what Vicini would’ve wanted
1 van Breukelen 7.1
came out of his area on a couple of occasions to good effect. Not tested an awful lot, but could not reach Vialli’s diagonal shot for the winner. Confident and sound performance
2 Silooy 7.0
resolute and robust. A good few tussles with Baggio, and his strength often saw him come out on top
3 Reekers 6.6
a few problems defensively, and probably fortunate to escape a penalty against when he’d brought Vialli down in the second half. Offered little when the Netherlands were in possession from his left hand side
4 R Koeman 7.1
predominantly stayed back in the first half, but involved himself more inside the opposition’s half after the break. A couple of wasted long-distance efforts. Often hit long towards van Basten
5 Koot 6.8
not as competent as Silooy, but was up against a more direct opponent in Vialli, whom he failed to close down for the goal
6 Rijkaard 7.1
showed his class when he bothered, but there were times when he did not care. Made a wonderful recovery run to prevent Baggio from having a clear run on goal
7 Vanenburg 7.2
looked classy in the first half, when he had plenty of the ball and was highly flexible, shifting from the centre to the right hand side and back. Seemed to link up well with van Basten
8 Suvrijn 7.0
fine balance act as the right-sided midfielder. Put in a lot of miles, though more efficient in a defensive capacity when attempting to come forward. Probably taken off as the manager wanted to see another player in his position
(12 Rutten –
offered more of the same as his predecessor, and seemed to have just about the same strengths and weaknesses)
9 van Basten 7.4
a dynamic performance in which he gave the Italian stoppers a run for their money. So unlucky not to score when he saw his first half close range header saved by Tacconi, but always looking for an opportunity despite difficult working conditions
10 Eijkelkamp 6.2
offered little in the role just behind van Basten. Did not have the necessary quality on the ground, and his height was of no use the way the Dutch played. Taken off for a similar kind of player
(15 van Loen 6.7
won a couple of headers; seemed stronger in the air than Eijkelkamp. However, did not get much time to get acquainted with the difficult role just behind van Basten)
11 Huistra 7.2
was a world beater in the opening 45 minutes, when he had so much space down the left. Put in a number of crosses, and could even have scored when latching on to a poor back pass (Tacconi saved). Kept quiet in the second half after Italy regrouped