Italy – Norway: Hosts rarely convincing as set-pieces give them tight win
Four months in the wake of their European Championships exit, Italy were back on the trail with their first match in preparation for the 1990 World Cup. This was their first of three fixtures for the remainder of 1988, whilst they had a further ten in store for the following calendar year. Ten of these 13 were home ties, and their set of fixtures would take them on a tour of their own country, appearing in ten different locations. The idea was to give the entire nation a taste of what was to come. Stadia were being renovated nationwide; now it was up to Azeglio Vicini to make the team tick on the pitch.
Norway, whose only World Cup participation to date, in France back in 1938, had seen them exit the tournament to, precisely, Italy (the future champions). They were only just ranked among the world’s top 40 nations by the end of 1988, and had started the qualification for the 1990 World Cup in expectedly poor fashion: two defeats from two. They’d succumbed to a second half match-winning Scotland goal in a 2-1 home defeat in their opener, before they’d gone down 1-0 in Paris to a French side on a rapid decline. They had their next qualifier two weeks later, when they’d travel to lowly Cyprus.
Domestically, the Italian league had just got under way, with only two sets of fixtures having been played thus far. AC Milan, Internazionale and Sampdoria were the only three teams with a maximum four points. The Norwegian top flight, on the other hand, had concluded ten days earlier; there they were playing by the calendar year. Rosenborg had won the title, and they were looking to win the ‘double’, as they had an upcoming cup final the following weekend, where they would face Brann.
Italy team news
Italy boss Vicini had chosen a 17 man strong matchday squad for their first friendly fixture ahead of the World Cup. 15 of those had been part of the European Championships squad, with only young Internazionale midfielder Nicola Berti and Fiorentina forward Roberto Baggio, both previously uncapped, new to the national team.
Vicini seemed to want to build on the semi-final achievement, and so made few changes from the big summer event. They had won against Spain and Denmark in the group stages, as well as drawing with host nation West Germany in their opener, and there was a lot of talent within their ranks. They had a core of Milan based players among their defenders, with both ‘keeper Walter Zenga and defence men Giuseppe Bergomi and Riccardo Ferri hailing from Internazionale, whereas libero Franco Baresi and young left-sided defender Paolo Maldini were both found at AC Milan.
Italy had showed that they had it in them to be flexible formation wise, with both 4-4-2 and 5-3-2/3-5-2 distinct possibilities with this crop of players. In midfield, Roma playmaker Giuseppe Giannini and Napoli’s work horse Fernando De Napoli appeared to fit Vicini’s bill, and likewise could be said for Milan’s wide right man Roberto Donadoni. Could youngsters Berti and Baggio come in and shake things up a little in this area of the field?
32 year old striker Alessandro Altobelli had retired from the national team. He had been a frequently used substitute during the European Championships, indeed coming on in all four of their matches, whilst another vital ingredient in that squad had been Milan midfielder Carlo Ancelotti, who was not included on this occasion.
Norway team news
The Norwegians had lost influental midfielder Tom Sundby to serious injury early in their first qualifier. He had been tackled badly by Scotland’s Steve Nicol, and was out for a lengthy spell on the sidelines. In addition, they would have to make do without full-back Erik Solér, who would not again appear for the national team after the summer’s 1-1 friendly at home against a Brazil select. That had been the now Denmark based player’s 39th cap. They were also without further defenders in full-back Hans Hermann Henriksen, plying his daily trade with Abbeville in the French second division, young Bayern Munich centre-half Erland Johnsen, and hard man Anders Giske, the Nuremberg player.
Norway’s national team manager Ingvar Stadheim had had his first match in charge against the Brazilians, where Norway had conceded late to be denied a memorable win. Nevertheless, some optimism had gathered following that Brazil friendly, although it would be a major blow to lose Sundby, and at such an early stage in the qualification. With two defeats from two, their tag as also-rans appeared to remain. They were hardly expected to get much from this tie.
There was a mix of youth and experience within the Norway camp. They had a few players based abroad, and there were a few possible debutants among their squad in goalkeeper Thor André Olsen of Molde, centre-back Tor Pedersen from Tromsø, and striker Simen Agdestein of Oslo club Lyn. The latter was also famously known for his qualities as a chess player. He had become Norwegian champion as early as 1982, as a 15 year old.
Unfortunately, we do not possess record of the full substitutes bench for this evening’s visitors in Pescara. Norway would’ve been likely to have arrived in Italy with more than four substitutes.
47 year old Greek Makis Germanakos had been put in charge of this fixture. He had made his international debut in early 1986, when he had officiated a friendly between Greece (!) and Cyprus. This was his seventh assignment, and he had been the man in black on no less than three occasions during the qualification ahead of the 1988 European Championships. He’d refereed Czechoslovakia v Finland (3-0), Albania v Austria (0-1) and Soviet Union v France (1-1).
This was the seventh ever meeting between the two nations, with Italy winning on three pre World War I occasions in tournaments: Twice in Olympics and once in a World Cup, each time by 2-1. The more recent history included a 1985 meeting in Lecce, when Norway had, stunningly, come back from a goal down to win 2-1, and a 0-0 draw in Oslo in ’87. Only three players among those who had featured on either side in Lecce remained (Bergomi/Thorstvedt, Herlovsen), whilst ten Italians and five Norwegians had also been on the pitch at some stage during that 0-0 friendly.
|1 Walter Zenga||28||Internazionale|
|2 Giuseppe Bergomi (c)||sub h-t||24||Internazionale|
|3 Paolo Maldini||20||AC Milan|
|4 Franco Baresi||28||AC Milan|
|5 Riccardo Ferri||25||Internazionale|
|6 Nicola Berti||21||Internazionale|
|7 Roberto Donadoni||sub 36′||25||AC Milan|
|8 Fernando De Napoli||24||Napoli|
|9 Gianluca Vialli||24||Sampdoria|
|10 Giuseppe Giannini||24||Roma|
|11 Roberto Mancini||sub 77′||23||Sampdoria|
|12 Stefano Tacconi||31||Juventus|
|13 Ciro Ferrara||on h-t||21||Napoli|
|14 Giovanni Francini||25||Napoli|
|15 Luigi De Agostini||on 36′||27||Juventus|
|16 Roberto Baggio||21||Fiorentina|
|17 Ruggiero Rizzitelli||on 77′||21||Roma|
|1 Erik Thorstvedt||25||IFK Göteborg|
|2 Karl-Petter Løken||22||Rosenborg|
|3 Rune Bratseth||80′||27||Werder Bremen|
|4 Terje Kojedal||31||Valenciennes|
|5 Gunnar Halle||23||Lillestrøm|
|6 Kjetil Osvold||27||Djurgården|
|7 Sverre Brandhaug (c)||29||Rosenborg|
|8 Kai Erik Herlovsen||29||Borussia Mönchengladbach|
|9 Tom Gulbrandsen||24||Lillestrøm|
|10 Gøran Sørloth||sub 64′||26||Rosenborg|
|11 Simen Agdestein||sub 79′||21||Lyn|
|13 Kjetil Rekdal||on 79′||19||Molde|
|15 Jahn-Ivar Jakobsen||on 64′||22||Rosenborg|
|x Thor André Olsen||24||Molde|
|x Tor Pedersen||24||Tromsø|
Firecrackers and smokebombs were part of the pre-match entertainment among those who had turned up in Pescara. The stands were far from full, as Norway were probably not the most enticing of opponents. Nevertheless, this was gli Azzurri back on the pitch for the first time since the European Championships, and to Vicini the match must surely have been an important fixture to start preparations for the upcoming event on home soil. Conditions appeared ideal for this evening kick-off, as there was no downpour or wind. The stadium was lacking somewhat in intimacy, due to being fitted with running-tracks. However, sections of the home fans seemed enthusiastic enough once the national anthem, performed pitchside by the local marching band, got going, and in the centre circle we were introduced to ‘Ciao’, the World Cup mascot. Italy were to proceed with kick-off through forward duo Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini, who, of course, were very familiar with one another even from club football.
Few had probably expected either team to come out in an all-attack fashion, though the hosts went straight up the pitch, and after some combinations along the left hand side, the youthful Paolo Maldini was able to get into an advanced position from which he could deliever a cross into the box. He managed to pick out Roberto Mancini, who had entered the area slightly to the left, and his right-footed first time effort was struck with some venom, although it eventually cleared the bar by a couple of yards, and thus did not manage to test goalkeeper Thorstvedt. Italy had sounded an early warning call, and Norway, whose players had just rounded off their domestic season, needed to realize that they were up against a highly competent opponent. Had Mancini hit his volley even sweeter, the visitors could’ve gone behind within the opening minute of the game. It had been a technically impressive feat by Mancini even to get that close to hitting the target.
For those who had hoped that this was a sign of what was to immediately follow, then they would’ve have been disappointed. Italy do, unsurprisingly, maintain majority of possession, but their shifting of the ball around their team is not done at a particularly high tempo, and so Norway find it a relatively comfortable exercise to fend the hosts off early doors. Italy also attempt to play balls in behind the visitors, as the two Norwegian full-backs at times are caught a bit high up in the field. The two teams have deployed seemingly identical formations, although with a likely ‘favourites’ tag having gone to the hosts pre-match, it could be said that they were somewhat higher with their full-backs, and thus their numbers combination could read 3-5-2 versus Norway’s 5-3-2. In particular Maldini to the left appeared to be of attacking intent. The young Milan defender will be the next Italian to have an effort goalwards, as he heads a Roberto Donadoni cross from the left, after a left wing corner had been cleared back into his direction, well over with just over ten minutes gone. The visiting ‘keeper’s yet to be tested.
The Italian set-up
As we’ve established, the home formation was 3-5-2, and it goes without saying that the experienced Franco Baresi was the more central among their three centre-halfs. He was operating in his customary libero position, with another set of easily recogniseable defenders in his immediate vicinity: Completing the back three were Inter stoppers Riccardo Ferri, to Baresi’s advanced left, and team captain Giuseppe Bergomi. It was a very experienced defensive line, and one which would do their utmost to make sure that goalkeeper Walter Zenga did not have a lot of work to do.
Captain Bergomi was definitely capable of playing as a right-sided defender, but with Italy having put three men across the centre of their defence, Bergomi, capped for the 51st time, had seen this position go to Napoli’s only starting inclusion: Fernando De Napoli. The versatile 24 year old was establishing himself as one of Vicini’s favourites: In the manager’s 22nd match in charge, De Napoli was now featuring for the 21st time since life after the 1986 World Cup. He was someone who could play in a number of positions and never let you down. Here, he would combine well with Bergomi, Donadoni and Vialli to maintain a certain threat level from the Italian right hand side. 20 year young Maldini would do likewise on the opposite flank. He was one of three Milanese in the starting eleven; they were reigning Italian champions.
The three men in the centre of the Italian midfield were Giuseppe Giannini, Roberto Donadoni and Nicola Berti. The latter was making his debut, but being surrounded by three other Internazionale men in the starting eleven, he must have felt a definite level of understanding with at least some of his national team mates. The elegant Giannini was the deeper of the three, sitting in the centre and meant to be the player directing traffic. He was well known for his excellent vision and his ability to pass short and long. It must have been a reassurance to Berti to know that he had someone like the Roma captain just behind him. Berti was working in the inside left midfield role, with Donadoni occupying the inside right berth. Up against an opponent of alledgedly physical nature, they’d need to be on their game to make sure that the hosts would be allowed to dominate possession. Donadoni was full of endeavour and went through the miles, but was also no stranger to skill. He was a more prominent user of the ball than Berti, whose greatest asset appeared to be his runs into enemy territory. He could make runs both straight and diagonally, and clearly posed a threat to the visitors’ defence through this exact unpredictability.
The two forwards were team mates from club level Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini. I have yet scant knowledge of how they shaped when playing for Sampdoria, but in action for gli Azzurri, they were both operating quite wide: Vialli towards the right, Mancini towards the left. This seemed ideal in bringing the two inside midfielders into attacking play, and they were circumstances which definitely seemed to benefit someone like Berti. Vialli was someone who would never stop running. He was not someone blessed with enormous skill levels, but he had it in him to take on and beat a man, though more through sheer will and determination rather than a wide range of tricks. He also possessed the ability to strike a ball with precision. Mancini did sometimes have the look about him as someone who would perhaps make for an excellent player ‘in the hole’. He was not particularly quick, but he was equipped with a fine footballing brain. His level of intelligence on the pitch made him predict the next passages of play, and his combinational play with Vialli was obviously second to none. There was clearly a reason why Vicini wanted to continue using the pair, despite their far from convincing goal contribution at international level. They had struck once each during the European Championships, and, incredibly, this had been Mancini’s sole strike in Italy colours (this was his 18th cap). Vialli had nine goals from 29 before tonight.
Donadoni left crippled
With a little more than 15 minutes gone, Norway’s big central defender Terje Kojedal clatters into Donadoni upon the halfway line. The Italy number 7 had played a quick pass in the direction of De Napoli ahead of him, but he fails to see the freight train coming in his direction. Immediately after the ball had left the inside right’s foot, he was flattened by the Norway destroyer. It was a nasty and very late tackle, and one which definitely ought to have been rewarded by a yellow card. The referee, though, lets it pass with only a home free-kick to show for. The challenge leaves Donadoni in need of treatment, and he will never properly recover until he’s replaced with some ten minutes remaining of the first half. Donadoni would continue on the pitch a further 20 minutes after the tackle, but he was never really the same, and clearly seemed hampered by the ambush. He would later switch places with De Napoli in order for the latter to bolster up again the Italian midfield until the substitution be made.
Italy go in front
Berti’s ability to make diagonal runs into the area had been mentioned, and one such foray would win the hosts a penalty with 18 minutes played. Italy had just had a couple of attacking throw-ins along their right hand side, upon which the ball had eventually found its way into the path of Giannini in an inside right position. Spotting Berti’s clever run, Giannini had slipped a precise ball through with his left foot, and tracked by Norway defender Bratseth, Berti went to ground in what seemed like very simple fashion. Replays showed there was only minimal contact, and the referee had awarded the Italians an all too soft penalty. Giannini accepted penalty taking responsibility, and made sure to give the hosts a 1-0 lead through his fine kick just inside the left hand post. This was the second goal for his country in what was the Roma ace’s 20th cap.
A closer look at the away team
How about the visitors? Is there something in their play so far which has hinted in the direction of them being able to cause the hosts harm? Well, certainly harm in the way that Kojedal had gone barging into Donadoni, but what about their attacking play? So far, with the halfway point of the first half approaching, they’d only had a free-kick from the left edge of the penalty area to show for in terms of potential danger. Libero Bratseth had advanced ball at feet and been brought down by De Napoli on twelve minutes, but Brandhaug’s set-piece delievery had been of poor quality and easily headed away by Baresi. On 22 minutes, there’s a free-kick in an identical position to the right of the penalty area, when Maldini had been too careless in a challenge with right-back Karl-Petter Løken. However, on this occasion midfield man Kjetil Osvold’s kick into the area had been aimed too far and cleared everyone.
Norway’s five man defensive line is somewhat differently shaped than that of the Italians. They do operate with Werder Bremen’s fine defender Bratseth in something of a libero role, although he does not sit very deep. He has another West Germany based player in Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Kai Erik Herlovsen to his right, and the experienced 29 year old is predominantly responsible for Mancini. The third central defender is currently plying his trade in the French second division with Valenciennes, and the player in question is 31 year old Terje Kojedal, the most senior member in the Norwegian starting eleven. He is also the highest cap, with this the rugged defender’s 55th international. He has six more than the next on the list, which is goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt, one of five Norwegians who play outside of the country’s borders. Thorstvedt is based with leading Swedish club IFK Gothenburg. On Kojedal, it must be added that a big feature of his play was to step up into midfield when Norway were in possession. At times, he resembled just as much a defensive midfielder as a central defender. He would certainly also put himself about, as seen when he had felled Donadoni with that poorly timed tackle.
The two Norway full-backs are both playing in the domestic league, with Karl-Petter Løken along the right and Gunnar Halle opposite. They belong to Rosenborg and Lillestrøm respectively, the two teams occupying the top two berths in the recently concluded Norwegian league. Neither has a wealth of international experience, and they are two among the four visitors who are below double cap figures (the others are Gulbrandsen and Agdestein). However, at 22 and 23, could they perhaps be something of a future for Norwegian football? Both lend a decent impression thus far, with Løken a more willing attacking participant than Halle, who seems to relish a battle.
The three men in the visitors’ midfield are captain Sverre Brandhaug (centre), inside right Tom Gulbrandsen and inside left Kjetil Osvold. Brandhaug holds the same position for his club side, which has just won the Norwegian league, and which is looking for a league and cup double. At 29, he is winning his 26th cap, but he has not always played a major role in their midfield. On this occasion, though, quite a lot of build-up responsibility seemed to be with the stylish number 7. Gulbrandsen to his right had mostly been running inbetween thus far, and he did not seem to possess enough in terms of technical ability whenever the ball came his way for him to pose much of a threat alone. Osvold, in the other inside midfield position, at least had a fine left foot with which he could spray some delicate passes. In Norway, Osvold’s major claim to fame had been his match winning goal (1-0) against upcoming world champions Argentina in the South Americans’ penultimate friendly ahead of the ’86 tournament in Mexico.
Norway had a debutant of their own up front in Oslo club Lyn’s exciting young striker Simen Agdestein. His club were featuring in the second tier, but the 21 year old, already a grand master at chess, had done enough to warrant a starting place as a partner for Rosenborg’s Gøran Sørloth. The latter, 26, was making his 15th international appearance, though his goal return had been disappointing with only a single notch. However, Sørloth’s main strength appeared to be in his hold-up play rather than in a poaching capacity.
Italy want another penalty
On 27 minutes, the referee fails to award the hosts a second penalty when it appears that Bratseth clips Mancini’s heels inside the area. Italy had executed a fine counter directed by Vialli, who had wandered across to the left hand side, and having carried the ball deep into the Norwegian half, he had played his Sampdoria mate in. There had seemed to be more contact on this occasion than when Bratseth had tangled with Berti for the penalty, though the referee had waved ‘play on’. The Norway libero had even wanted Mancini booked for diving, demonstrating in the direction of the Greek official with an imaginary card held aloft.
Counter-attacks had not occured often; neither side had appeared willing when the opportunity had come along. Italy were focused on possession and occasionally on attempting to exploit the space left behind the visitors’ full-backs, whilst Norway were looking to bring either Brandhaug or Osvold into play, to try and direct balls either in the forward direction for Sørloth to hold it up or wide for a full-back to deliever a cross. They struggled to make much of an impact against a compact host team. The lanky Agdestein tried to muster something on his own, but he would too often be thwarted when attempting a dribble. The feeling remained that Norway’s best opportunities would have to come from a set-piece.
A second Italy goal
Rather than anything happening in front of Zenga, it is Italy who strike again. Riccardo Ferri, who so far has mainly concentrated on battling with Sørloth, had broken up play with a fine interception halfway inside his own half after Brandhaug’s pass had been addressed poorly. Spotting Vialli make a run ahead of him, Ferri played a simple, lofted ball over the Norway defence, where however Bratseth was able to keep up with the Italy striker. As Vialli sought to take the ball past the defender, Bratseth fouled him about 22 yards out. From the subsequent free-kick, Giannini poked the ball on for Ferri to have a vicious strike entering the back of the net high to the left in goal. The centre-back had scored a peach, leaving Thorstvedt with no chance of saving. On his 18th international appearance, the Internazionale hard man had got his third Italy goal. Perhaps a two goal cushion was flattering the hosts, but they had definitely been the better side in a not too exciting contest.
De Agostini on for Donadoni
The Norway defence managed to lure the Italians into a few offsides by making a step or two in the forward direction when the hosts wanted to play someone through. Typically, the pass from the home team’s players would be made a fraction too late. On one such occasion, around the 35 minute mark, it is Baresi who wants to make a forward dart, and Berti appears to be playing the ball ahead just as the libero crosses the halfway line. However, the visiting defence had stepped out early, something which possibly had inflicted on the linesman’s mind. An onside looking Baresi had been denied free access on Thorstvedt’s goal. Immediately in the wake of this, Italy make their first substitution of the game, something which had been forced upon them through the tackle by Kojedal on Donadoni 20 minutes earlier. How Vicini would let a hobbling Milan midfielder continue for so long before replacing him remains a mystery. On comes Juventus’ Luigi De Agostini, and the internal shuffle could be an interesting one, as the likelihood of De Agostini coming into the right-sided role that Donadoni had been occupying for the last few minutes was slim; few of the Italian players were as left-footed as the 27 year old on for his 15th cap. By the way, De Agostini was one of four players among the Italian substitutes who had been part of the Olympic squad in Seoul the previous month.
The minutes which succeeded the Italian substitution turned out to be by far Norway’s best spell so far in the game. It is difficult to say why it was like this, as the hosts had more or less been acting with ten men prior to replacing Donadoni with De Agostini, but perhaps there were moments of confusion as the substitute sought to find his place within the midfield? There needed to be a change around, with De Napoli returning to his right-sided wide role, and with Berti moving from inside left to inside right in order to accommodate the left-footed De Agostini for the inside left midfield position. The Norwegians took advantage as the Azzurri were regrouping, with left-back Halle first testing Zenga with a low drive from 25 yards, and then the ‘keeper made a meal of collecting a high ball in his area after a Gulbrandsen shot had been blocked by Baresi upon which the ball had spun up into the air for Agdestein to challenge Zenga. The Norway debutant striker had got his head to the ball before the ‘keeper had managed to gather, but his header, with the goal exposed, crept a couple of yards wide to the right.
Norway were not to be denied, though. They won a second corner within a minute when Maldini had lost track of his whereabouts and proceeded to head the ball out for a completely unnecessary right wing flag kick. Midfielder Osvold’s left footed kick saw Sørloth flick on at the near post despite a challenge from Ferri, and as defender Kojedal attempted to throw himself at the ball to guide it home on the far post, he was tugged back by Vialli. The referee was impeccably positioned and spotted the foul. Brandhaug converted the penalty with as much aplomb as Giannini had done down the opposite end earlier. In fact, his penalty was a replica of that of his Italian counterpart. Norway were right back in it with just over four minutes to go until half time.
The remaining few minutes contained little in terms of crowd entertainment, as the home side grasped the opportunity to see the half out 2-1 in front. They maintained possession inside their own half, taking few risks when crossing the halfway point, not letting their opponent have another sniff. They also allow for De Agostini to get a couple of touches, something which should put him in good stead for the second half. Mr Germanakos blew his whistle for half time after 47 seconds of added time.
With the teams back out on the pitch for the start of the second half, it appears as if the hosts have made another substitution, and a closer look reveals that it is indeed so: Captain Bergomi has departed, and on in his place has come Napoli defender Ciro Ferrara. It is a straight swap, with the 21 year young replacement coming into Bergomi’s right-sided central defensive position. It also means that the hosts will have forward Vialli as their captain for the second period.
The initial stages of the second half are very much stop-start, with plenty of free-kicks both ways. Italy lack rhythm in their attacking play, and so appear to be left to dishing out counters, something which they are not bad at. They seem to have a certain amount of respect for the visitors when it comes to aerial play, although there’s only really Agdestein among their more attacking Norway players which is of above average size. However, whenever there’s a set-piece to be hit into the box, then there will also be the added presence of defenders Bratseth and Kojedal, who both represent major threats due to their sheer height. Bratseth, at fault for both set-pieces which led to Italian goals, had perhaps looked a bit wobbly defensively, but he never gave up belief that there was a possible goal at the attacking end. Precision in delievery was not always of the highest order, though, and eventually it became comfortable for the visitors even to defend against Norway’s free-kicks and corners.
Italy look to regain control
There is an opportunity for the navy blue clad hosts to display their counter-attacking prowess when Baresi blocks a shot from left-back Halle halfway inside Italian territory. Upon winning the ball, the home libero decides to advance quickly, and he feeds De Napoli who comes barging across the halfway line. The right-sided alibi then spots Vialli making a run in between Kojedal and Herlovsen, and the second half skipper collects the ball and bursts into the area. However, it is a fine job by the seasoned Herlovsen to pursue him all the way to the byline and block Vialli’s attempted low shot. From the ensuing corner kick, Mancini will have an effort high and wide after making a sharp turn inside the area following Vialli’s pass back.
In a second half of limited fluidity, Italy finally manage to string some passes together inside Norway’s half, and it is along their left hand side which it happens. De Agostini has had a decent start to the half, and it appears that he’s struck up a good level of understanding with left-sided midfielder Maldini. The pair combine in releasing Mancini with a ball into the area, upon which the forward returns the favour for Maldini, who’s in a fine shooting position only 12-13 yards out. However, possessing only a valid left foot for shooting, the young Milan defender slices his right boot effort well wide when under no pressure from any opponent. This happens on the hour mark, and after a somewhat troubled start to the final 45, Italy are about to seize the initiative once again. Giannini, who is sporting a considerably shorter haircut than normal, with no trailing hair at the back, has often been found too deep in his midfield position, and so he’s found it difficult to control the engine room. Berti is also someone not always hugely visible, but substitute De Agostini’s risen to the occasion and put in some fine minutes in his inside left position. Time for others to follow suit?
Visitors make their first change
Next to make a substitution are the visitors when they replace striker Sørloth with Jahn-Ivar Jakobsen. In his native Norway commonly referred to as “Mini”, the diminutive forward is a like for like swap. Sørloth had not enjoyed an awful lot of success against either of Bergomi, Ferri or second half substitute Ferrara, and so Norway manager Stadheim had felt the need to bring on another kind of player in Jakobsen. The substitute, a Rosenborg player just like the man who had departed, could perhaps be a bigger threat should the Norwegians look to get into the channels on a more frequent basis than had been the case thus far. They had not been able to push either full-back high enough for Løken or Halle to deliever much in ways of threat from the flanks, and so their play had too often been gathered through the centre. Brandhaug had shown some qualities on the ball, but Gulbrandsen had kept being rather anonymous, although he had made an improvement since the break, and on 70 minutes he had a half volley from 22 yards a few meters wide to the left after Ferri had headed back out Osvold’s free-kick into the area. Osvold kept toiling in his inside left role, although it was his delievery which was his most prominent feature. Neither striker had made much of a mark, though this they had hoped to address with Jakobsen on for the final 27-28 minutes.
Thorstvedt brought into action
Italy are undoubtedly at their most potent when they can break quickly, and on one occasion Norway stopper Thorstvedt has to race far out from his penalty area to deny Mancini to get on to a through ball from Vialli. Had the roles been reversed, with the quicker Vialli in Mancini’s place, the attempt could perhaps have been a successful one, although credit must go to the sweeping goalkeeper, who had read the plot and acted assuredly. A few minutes later, on 73 minutes, it is Mancini again who raises the threat level, when he takes the ball past both his marker Herlovsen and midfielder Gulbrandsen before delievering a shot which Thorstvedt has few problems collecting on the near post. It would’ve gone wide anyway.
A final Italian substitution
13 minutes from time, Vicini introduces his third substitute for the evening, when a third squad member from the Olympics team which, like their full international counterparts at the European Championships, had bowed out at the semi-final stage to the Soviet Union enters the pitch: Young Roma striker Ruggiero Rizzitelli replaces Mancini. The Sampdoria connection up front for the hosts had worked ok, though they had rarely been allowed efforts on target. An exception had come in the first half, when Mancini had played Vialli in with a square pass from the right hand side, and the second half captain had tried to outwit Thorstvedt with a cheeky heel-flick. The ‘keeper had been alert to the danger and foiled the striker. Now it was Rizzitelli who would try to make the most of his collaboration with Vialli. This was the Roma striker’s fourth cap. Just over a minute after he had come on, he almost played his part in a third host goal as he cheekily flicked the ball over the head of Bratseth with his heel, before heading it on for Vialli to have a pop from close range. Vialli had only been able to get to the ball due to an error by Løken, and the Norway full-back had to see Thorstvedt pull out a ‘worldie’ from the striker’s toe-poke at goal as he got down very quickly to his left to palm the ball away.
Norway substitution and booking
With 79 minutes on the clock, the visitors make their second and what turns out to be final substitution of the game: Striker Agdestein, who had not had an easy debut, came off to be replaced by midfielder Kjetil Rekdal. The latest introduction was a 19 year old who was on the cusp of leaving his native country to go in search of fortunes abroad. He had agreed a move to West German Bundesliga club Borussia Mönchengladbach, and so would be a team mate of defender Herlovsen from the turn of the year. Rekdal had just seen the domestic season out with Molde, where he had been a first team member since the age of 16. He was a tall, gangly player, and was indeed introduced as a striker rather than a midfielder. Rekdal would see the game out in a role next to Jakobsen.
Shortly after the game’s fifth substitution, Norway libero Bratseth becomes the first player into the referee’s book. He’s agitated as he’d been pushed aside by Vialli in an aerial challenge out on the Italian right hand side. The home striker had set up De Napoli to have a half volley at goal from inside the box, an effort which had been caught safely by Thorstvedt, and perhaps somewhat out of character the Werder Bremen defender had earned himself a yellow card for dissent. He appeared to have a go at Germanakos for not awarding him the free-kick, and even after having been showed the booking he refuses to keep his mouth shut.
Five minutes from time, a minute after Rekdal had had a tame header four yards to the right of Zenga’s goal from Brandhaug’s lift into the box, Norway finally get their opportunity through the speedy Jakobsen. The forward is in behind Maldini following fellow substitute Rekdal’s excellent ball into space, although he is too wide to be in a favourable position for an effort on goal. However, the little forward darts goalwards, although great credit must go to Maldini for recovering to the extent that he is able to disturb Jakobsen so much that the Rosenborg man can only strike into the side netting when a few yards out from Zenga’s goal. The ‘keeper, in familiar fashion when he felt decisions did not go in his favour, decided to blame the linesman for failing to give the home side an offside award. Jakobsen had probably been marginally onside, though Zenga suggested that the flag official got his specs out.
Early full-time whistle
The remaining minutes are without any remarkable incidents, and with more than a minute left for play, the Greek referee decides to call it a day. He blows the full-time whistle on 43.54, something which stuns players and spectators alike. Even some of the Italian players point towards the stadium clock as if to say “we’ve got a minute left, ref”, but Mr Germanakos just smiles it off and picks up the match ball with the hosts 2-1 to the good.
Norway conceded two set-piece goals, with defender Bratseth the culprit for both offences. Giannini and Ferri had dispatched very well their penalty and free-kick respectively, although there had not been a whole lot about the Italian open play to suggest that they were a future World Cup force to be reckoned with. This despite the fact that they fielded almost an identical line-up to what had been seen during the European Championships. The plucky visitors found a goal back through a late first half penalty of their own, but they could not punish the Italians further in a second half which did not bring about a whole lot in terms of quality either way. It was another ‘honourable’ defeat for the Norwegians, whereas the Italians had eventually got under way their march towards their own World Cup.
1 Zenga 6.8
doesn’t have a lot to do, and stands no chance with the penalty. Some proof of his usual antics. Overall a basic performance
2 Bergomi 6.8
unremarkable performance. Not a whole lot of attacking threat against his side, and he has solely a defensive focus
(13 Ferrara 6.9
slightly raw, but what he lacks in positional sense he makes up for in aggression and physicality. Sound job on Sørloth)
3 Maldini 7.1
delightful close control on a couple of occasions, and links up particularly well with De Agostini. Some interesting tussles with Løken along his side
4 Baresi 7.3
some decent interceptions, and offers an interesting outlet in moving forward. Fine libero performance
5 Ferri 6.8
does little above the ordinary; quite and calm game
6 Berti 6.9
wins a soft penalty, makes some fine diagonal runs from his inside midfield role, but seems less comfortable after shifting to inside right following Donadoni’s substitution
7 Donadoni 6.8
a couple of fine passes, but takes a heavy knock from Kojedal after 15 minutes, and hobbles around until substituted
(15 De Agostini 7.1
likeable performance after coming on, where he has fine understanding with Maldini along the left, and offers plenty of running and midfield aggression)
8 De Napoli 7.1
charged in battle, full of running, and has a steady all-round game
9 Vialli 6.9
should’ve sealed the game late on. Is often on the move, though does not always enjoy so much luck
10 Giannini 6.7
fails to control the midfield like he’s capable of; generally sits very deep. Fine penalty, but needs to be involved more in open play
11 Mancini 6.9
uses his football smartness well at times, links up well with Vialli, but has little pace, and rarely poses much of a goal threat. Good battle throughout with Herlovsen
(17 Rizzitelli –
replaces Mancini as the wide left striker, and has a good involvement before Vialli’s big opportunity, otherwise anonymous)
1 Thorstvedt 7.4
confident when claiming high balls, a couple of close range saves, and rushes out of his area to foil Mancini. Not much chance for either goal
2 Løken 7.2
provides an attacking outlet from his right-back role, and is often in battle with Maldini. Sound positioning defensively, and rarely concedes possession
3 Bratseth 6.7
at fault for both set-pieces which led to goals against, though the penalty was too soft to critisize him for. Not as assured in the libero role as he should be, although he was an asset in the air at both ends, and also had a fine forward run which was halted by a De Napoli foul on the edge of the area
4 Kojedal 7.0
the Norway enforcer really put himself about in the centre circle. Used his physique to good effect, although he was too often responsible for angling passes wide or into space
5 Halle 6.9
decent aggression levels, strong tackler, but could’ve provided more assistance going forward
6 Osvold 6.7
too much dallying on the ball, and not always efficient when chasing. Decent set-piece delieveries
7 Brandhaug 6.9
skillful on the ball, some elegant touches, but one-paced and did not always find his best position. Should’ve taken more responsibility in passing from midfield. Converted an excellent penalty
8 Herlovsen 7.0
street wise, often kept Mancini in check. Rarely broke out from defence, but positioned himself excellently throughout
9 Gulbrandsen 6.3
much running inbetween, not in possession of the technique levels required for this level. A wasteful second half pop at goal
10 Sørloth 6.6
flicks ball on when Kojedal wins penalty, but too often with his back towards goal, and though he competes well, he is a minimal goal threat
(15 Jakobsen 6.3
easily taken care of by Ferrara, but gets one opportunity to run in behind late on, when Maldini disturbes him enough for him to finish wide)
11 Agdestein 6.7
decent debut in which he proved his mobility, although he was too often bundled off the ball by physical defenders. Showed his jump when he won in the air against Zenga
(13 Rekdal –
wins a couple of headers, but otherwise does not show much after coming on up front)