Sweden – France
Written by: kaltz
France, who had reached the semi-finals of the World Cup both in ’82 and in ’86, and who had indeed won the 1984 European Championships on home soil (as well as winning the more or less B select Olympic football tournament in Los Angeles the same year), were struggling to make an impact in their Group 5, where five out of eight matches had yielded a meagre four points. This left them trailing Yugoslavia and Scotland, and only vague theory still kept them in contention for one of the two qualification berths. Manager was the legendary Michel Platini, one of the finest footballers Europe has ever raised. It was him who led the French charges in ’84, where the captain scored a sensational nine goals in five matches on their way to claiming their first ever international success. However, this great generation, including players like central defenders Bossis and Battiston, midfielders such as Giresse, Tigana, Fernández and Platini himself, as well as flamboyant forwards like Six and Rocheteau, had quit the international stage, and were at the end of their careers, if they had not quit playing already. So it was up to the great Platini, three times in succession a winner of Ballon d’Or, from ’83 to ’85, and the master piece behind the great Juventus side that went on to win that ill-fated European Cup final in Brussels in 1985, to restore the French’ faith in les Bleus once again. France had failed badly in their attempt to try and reach the 1988 European Championships, where they had only won once from eight matches, at home to minnows Iceland, twice drawn against another poor Nordic nation in Norway, and lost both home matches against the group’s two best teams Soviet Union and East Germany. Platini had a big job on his hands, and so far he had not done very well.
This was the fourth French international of 1989, and their three previous matches had brought two draws and a defeat. Worse still: they had not scored a single goal. Since their last outing, legendary centre-back Battiston had retired from international duties as the penultimate player from the team that had given so much cause for celebration in the 1982 World Cup. The only one remaining from that era was right back Amoros, who was only 20 during the Spain World Cup, and who was now the French captain. Goalkeeper Bats had featured during their 1984 success on home territory, and there was also right-sided playmaker Ferreri, who had played a bit-part in the ’84 title. Then there was the relatively established Papin up front, who had emerged on the international scene during France’ 1986 World Cup campaign, where he had scored twice on their way to finishing third in Mexico. France’ friendly with Sweden was their final test ahead of their coming trip to neighbouring Oslo for the meeting with Norway in September. Monsieur Platini should get things right.
Platini’s rebuilding process included a lot of fresh talent. There was the long-haired Marseille debutant Di Meco at left-back, and he had his club colleague Sauzée inside of him. The latter was already becoming a mainstay under Platini, and he was forming a central defensive partnership with the big Le Roux, who had also indeed played a part during the French success in ’84. In central midfield, Platini relied on two untested players in the deep-lying Pardo from Bordeaux as well as Deschamps from Nantes. Both were winning their second caps in Malmo. Down the left flank 26 year old Perez was currently seen as the best alternative, whereas a 23 year old Montpellier forward called Cantona was given the role alongside Papin up front. It was ‘fortunate’ for Platini that he still had a lot of goodwill among the French following his escapades as a player, otherwise his job could’ve been on the line.
Sweden were facing a big autumn run-in in order to try and qualify for the World Cup. They had done well with five points from their opening three matches, and had experienced mixed fortunes during the summer. The 6-0 defeat against arch-rivals Denmark had been a massive blow to their confidence, but they had restored some pride in beating a largely second string Brazilian team a couple of days later. The visit of France was their final test before facing England in Stockholm the following month. Manager Nordin had picked the strongest side available to him, perhaps with the exception of including Norrköping forward Hellström alongside Magnusson up front, something which must have been seen as a bit of a gamble. Ekström was on the bench, and so too was 22 year old Halmstad forward Lindqvist, who had yet to make his international debut.
|1 Thomas Ravelli||IFK Göteborg|
|2 Roland Nilsson||IFK Göteborg|
|3 Glenn Hysén (c)||Liverpool|
|4 Peter Larsson||Ajax|
|5 Roger Ljung||Young Boys|
|6 Anders Limpar||sub 67′||Cremonese|
|7 Glenn Strömberg||Atalanta|
|8 Jonas Thern||Benfica|
|9 Joakim Nilsson||Malmö FF|
|10 Jan Hellström||IFK Norrköping|
|11 Mats Magnusson||sub 52′||Benfica|
|12 Sven Andersson||Örgryte|
|13 Dennis Schiller||Lillestrøm|
|14 Niclas Nylén Larsson||on 67′||Malmö FF|
|15 Klas Ingesson||IFK Göteborg|
|16 Stefan Rehn||Djurgården|
|17 Johnny Ekström||Bayern München|
|18 Stefan Lindqvist||on 52′||Halmstad|
|1 Joël Bats||Paris Saint-Germain|
|2 Manuel Amoros (c)||Marseille|
|3 Éric Di Meco||26′||Marseille|
|4 Yvon Le Roux||Paris Saint-Germain|
|5 Franck Sauzée||Marseille|
|6 Bernard Pardo||Bordeaux|
|7 Didier Deschamps||Nantes|
|8 Christian Perez||Paris Saint-Germain|
|9 Jean-Pierre Papin||Marseille|
|10 Jean-Marc Ferreri||sub 69′||Bordeaux|
|11 Éric Cantona||Montpellier|
|12 Franck Silvestre||Sochaux|
|13 Bernard Casoni||Toulon|
|14 Laurent Blanc||on 69′||Montpellier|
|15 Stéphane Paille||Montpellier|
|16 Gilles Rousset||Sochaux|
|17 Jean-Philippe Durand||Bordeaux|
Nothing surprising about the Swedish tactics: they were in 4-4-2 as always. Beforehand, it was interesting to see who would take the most defensive responsibility of their two central midfielders Thern and Strömberg, and it could be said as the game progressed that it was hardly the latter, even if Thern also did not excel in this particular exercise. Their two substitutes used would both be direct swaps.
For the visitors, they played with zonal marking in defence, so their central defenders were not attached to each their forward. Both Amoros and Di Meco, with the former in particular, liked to advance across the halfway line, but it was the interesting dynamics of their midfield which seemed to catch the eye of the audience in the opening half: Pardo would usually be the most holding of the two central midfielders, whilst Ferreri, originally on the right hand side, would often seek inside to be the creative force behind their two forwards. However, it was the lively Perez down the left who gave the home side the most reason for concern. With 20 minutes remaining, it was interesting to see Montpellier libero Blanc come on and replace Ferreri wide to the right in midfield.
The match kicked off through Swedish forward duo Magnusson and Hellström.
Sweden were happy to have Larsson back to accompany Hysén at the heart of their defence. The latter had been taken off with Denmark only 1-0 ahead in that 6-0 mauling, whereas the blonde figure of Larsson had been out injured. However, Mr Nordin had also wanted some proof of their central midfield being able to track an opponent’s run, something which had been so absent in the thrashing they had been exposed to in Copenhagen. This meant in practice that a lot was resting on this performance for the experienced Strömberg, whose showing in the Danish capital had been a disappointment. The visitors had a relatively small team out, and their two central midfielders of Pardo and Deschamps would hardly challenge the Swedish in the air. The first few minutes showed a home side wanting to be in charge, whilst France were either looking for Ferreri towards the right of their midfield or for a run from the quick Papin to cause concern for the home side’s central-defensive pairing.
The game had hardly settled when Sweden went ahead. J Nilsson, the tricky left-sided midfielder, was quick in his perception after Strömberg had been hindered by the tall Le Roux after a run into the left-handed channel. Nilsson’s speedy free-kick in field for the forward storming Thern saw a perfectly executed right-footed shot into the top right corner. It was the Benfica midfielder’s first international goal on home soil, and his fourth in Swedish colours altogether. The distance from which he had struck was a full 25 yards, and even a ‘keeper of Bats’ stature stood no chance whatsoever. It was a peach of a goal. Pardo had been the nearest to Thern at the time of execution, but the French midfielder did not get close enough to be able to block the shot.
How the referee failed to book the visitors’ debutant at left-back, Di Meco, after a bad foul on Magnusson soon after the opening goal, seemed a strange non-decision by the Israelian. The Marseille defender had inside the opening minute put a tackle in on Strömberg, so he was clearly out to impress his manager.
The French toiled; their short-passing game pretty, but hardly efficient. Sweden appeared to be happy to sit back to try and catch France on the counter. It was probably not what the crowd had anticipated, as Sweden would have been expected to dominate against a team in the middle of their rebuilding process. However, the away side seemed hungrier in central midfield areas, where both Pardo and Deschamps were looking for control. It was the former who was the deeper, whilst the Nantes man sought to take on a two-way role, covering both in defence and attack. When going forward, though, France would look for their flanks, and the diminutive Perez down the left caused R Nilsson a great deal of trouble. Ferreri on the other flank would time and again come inside, and far from operate as an outright winger. Of the two strikers, Papin was playing off the shoulders of the home side’s central defenders, whilst Cantona would be seen slightly more withdrawn. The two would combine as Papin had run himself free from Larsson in the right hand corridor, and though a striker with a lot of confidence could have tried to bear down on goal himself, Papin instead chose to pick out Cantona with a low pass to the far post. Hysén managed to block the latter’s shot away and the opportunity had been wasted. The simplicity of the attack should be a concern to the Swedish manager, though. It had been Ferreri’s pass from around the halfway line which had found Papin, and neither Strömberg nor J Nilsson had put much effort into trying to close down the Frenchman.
Often there is not a lot of pace to the game. The French, who are in possession a lot, like to play the ball to feet rather than into space, and a lot of their players also like to run with the ball at their feet. In doing so, they are unable to create much against the Swedish defence. However, when Ferreri choses to take on Larsson and whip a low cross in towards the back post on 20 minutes, it takes a fine parry by Ravelli to stop Perez’ left-footed effort. Down the other end, Sweden are much more direct in their approach: if playing through midfield, it will only be through one player who will in turn seek a run from one of the two strikers. Magnusson and Hellström are being well monitored by the French defence, so Sweden create little in terms of worry for the visitors for most of the opening half.
Sauzée hacks Hellström down from behind and receives a lecture from the referee. When Di Meco makes his third bad tackle of the game, this time on the ill-fortuned Hellström, he will receive a yellow card. It could be argued that his earlier tackle on Strömberg had been a more vicious one, but when putting forward a number of applications, your name will eventually be put down for repeated offence.
There is no recordings available from the final 15 minutes of the first half, as the Swedish national broadcast corporation needed to free space for international athletics, which has always been a big event in that part of Scandinavia, but we’re being assured by the legendary Swedish TV commentator Bosse Hansson that there is ‘absolutely nothing of any interest whatsoever’ that takes place in the final third of the opening half. Grim clouds have threatened to pour their contents onto the southern parts of Sweden all afternoon, and for the start of the second half the rain has started.
No changes for either team at half time. It is the visiting forward constellation of Cantona and Papin to kick the game back into action. And the rain that was earlier announced, had started pouring down over the Malmö Stadion pitch. Those among the spectators not stood under roof will have been soaked to the bone after only a couple of minutes’ exposure. This level of rain was untypical of these shores. Thunder could be heard as well. The elements could even play their part in the outcome of this game, so it did seem ‘fortunate’ that no qualification points were at stake.
French captain Amoros went in a bit high on J Nilsson according to the referee. A couple of minutes into the second half the home side were awarded a free-kick almost by the touchline, some 25 yards out from the byline. J Nilsson, plying his trade on this very ground for Malmö FF, gambled on the slippery surface giving him an advantage on goalkeeper Bats, as he tried to trick the latter by having a surprise effort on goal. However, he was unable to get both power and precision behind his strike, so it went wide of the ‘keeper’s right hand post. And rather than subsiding, the now tropical-like monsoon weather had seemed to increase in strength. This would lead to conditions getting more and more difficult, and even visibility suffered. Lightning was immediately succeeded by loud shouts of thunder, clearly telling a tale of Malmo Stadium being right in the eye of the storm. Seven minutes and 15 seconds into the second half, the referee decides to halt play and bring the teams back to their respective dressing rooms. Not only does the level of rain give events an element of lottery, but there is also no need to take any unnecessary risks with the safety of the players, with the thunderstorm hovering just above their heads.
The match is not abandoned. Nearly 15 minutes later the teams reappear, and they continue where they had let off: for a Swedish right wing corner. Just prior to the abruption, the hosts had decided to take off the increasingly frustrated Magnusson, who clearly was a misfit on such a drenched pitch. On came Halmstad striker Lindqvist for his debut. The referee had given as reason for his taking the teams back into the dressing rooms that he had been unable to see the entire pitch; such had been the brute force of the rain. From Limpar’s flag kick, Hellström comes desperately close to enhancing the Swedish advantage as his header from an unmarked position right in front of goal is cleared on the goalline by Perez, who was handily placed on Bats’ right hand post to head away. France, who had dominated possession during the first half, had hardly been allowed to touch the ball during the first seven minutes. Collectively, the conditions did not seem to suit them. They certainly needed to up the ante to try and rescue a positive result.
The simplicity of the French equalizer 12 minutes into the second half seemed eye-catching, as Cantona was allowed a tap-in from close range after Ravelli had only managed to parry Perez’ low left-footed shot into the path of the Montpellier striker. However, Larsson had wandered out of position high up in the pitch, allowing Cantona to accelerate through midfield, leaving Strömberg trailing in his wake. R Nilsson had done a poor marking job on Perez as Cantona fed his left wing, and the usually dependable right back only did a half-hearted job in trying to block the shot. Several people had been to blame for the goal. The French will not have cared much. They had their first goal of 1989.
The equalizer had seemed to install some confidence into the visitors, who went in front only four minutes after 1-1. Perez is again involved when his cross from the left deflects off R Nilsson and into the path of Papin, whose volley might not be too firmly struck, but on the slippery surface the ball just trickles across the goalline off the upright after striking Ravelli’s heel. The Swedish had been hit by a smash and grab, and 15 minutes into the second period the visitors were ahead. Flashbacks from the heavy defeat in Denmark were appearing. Sweden had conceded five of the six goals in Copenhagen without their central defensive duo of Hysén and P Larsson on the pitch. Now, even with those two in the side, they looked all but convincing at the back.
Less than two minutes after falling behind, the home side strike level. J Nilsson cuts across from his wide left position and over to the right, something which unsettles the French defence. R Nilsson feeds him in the right hand channel, he gets away from Le Roux, sees debutant Lindqvist on the far post, and with some luck finds him as the ball ricochets off both Sauzée and the near post, and proceeds to roll almost along the goalline behind Bats’ back. Amoros is unable to prevent Lindqvist from finishing into an empty net. With three goals after 18 minutes of the second half, the crowd is getting value for money. The French had seemed improved as the rain had stopped, but dark clouds were informing everyone present at Malmo Stadium that more showers were imminent.
The quality of football on show is not great. Sweden look for J Nilsson down their left hand side. He can be a big spark when in the right mood, and he did have his moments against the experienced Amoros. However, he had come across to the opposite flank in the build-up for the equalizing goal, and it did seem a tad more easy to get into crossing positions from Di Meco’s side rather than from the French captain’s territory. Crossing, though, was not always the greatest feature of Limpar’s game, so Mr Nordin decided to take off his right-sided midfielder and replace him with N Larsson, another Malmo player. The French soon made a change to the same position themselves when Mr Platini took Ferreri off for tall defender Blanc, who was placed in a surprise wide right role. In central midfield, France were looking superior through the lively Deschamps, while Strömberg again was looking off the pace for the hosts.
More thunder was audible still with 15 minutes left for play, but fortunately it kept its distance, and even though the rain had returned and in force, it was not anywhere near as strong as it had been at the start of the half when the referee had been forced to take the teams off the pitch. Platini’s decision to play the tall Blanc as a right-sided midfielder seemed an interesting one. It could be thought that someone his size would struggle on such a heavy surface, but he kept being a threat to left-back Ljung whenever Pardo or Deschamps were looking to feed him. He would make strong runs in behind the Swedish defence, and his later trademark, the rolled-down socks, were already on display. Down the other end of the pitch, Sweden were struggling to make an impact. Despite the presence of the rain, the French defence now stood firm, and they were well aware by now of the little triangles that J Nilsson tried to play with Thern. Neither Hellström nor Lindqvist up front were much of a threat to Sauzée and Le Roux.
With eight minutes left on the clock, the French strike again: Papin feeds Cantona down the right, and when the striker gets to the byline, he holds P Larsson off and plays the ball back to Papin, who’s come storming into the area. The latter connects with a crisp strike which takes a big deflection off Ljung, and Ravelli stands no chance to keep the ball out on the near post. The visitors, who have struggled for goals for such a long period of time, have all of a sudden scored thrice within the same half. The forward duo of Papin and Cantona are giving the Swedish defence a run-around, and the boys in yellow and blue have no answer to the visiting strikers’ efficiency. A further three minutes later there’s yet another French goal when Cantona gets his second, this time as his Montpellier team mate Blanc has run himself free from Ljung down the French right and crossed for the striker. Cantona barely gets a touch with his left foot, but Ravelli’s got way too much weight on his right foot to be able to keep the ball from crossing his goalline an agonizing couple of yards away from him. Hysén’s marking this time had been absent.
The visitors saw more of the ball in the first half, but came in at half time a goal behind thanks to Thern’s dream strike early on. Early in the second half the referee decides to temporarily abandon the game due to lightning and torrential rain, and as the teams reappear a few minutes later with the rain gone (only to return again a bit later), the home side seem to have left its defence in the dressing room. France strike four times, twice each from their two forwards Papin and Cantona, as some truly sloppy defensive play by the hosts contribute to give the French their first win of 1989. Lindqvist had marked his debut with an equalizing goal for 2-2. Two months after shipping six goals against Denmark, Sweden’s defence was again breached on numerous occasions. The lack of midfield mobility was another worry, and Strömberg, who had been poor against the Danish, was once again static. Olle Nordin will have had his reasons for being concerned for the upcoming qualifier against the English.
1 T Ravelli 6.4
2 R Nilsson 6.5
3 Hysén 6.6
4 P Larsson 6.3
5 Ljung 6.4
6 Limpar 6.3
(14 N Larsson -)
7 Strömberg 6.2
8 Thern 6.7
9 J Nilsson 6.7
10 Hellström 6.3
11 Magnusson 6.2
(16 Lindqvist 6.4)
1 Bats 6.7
2 Amoros 6.9
3 Di Meco 6.7
4 Le Roux 6.8
5 Sauzée 6.9
6 Pardo 7.0
7 Deschamps 7.1
8 Perez 7.1
9 Papin 7.4
10 Ferreri 6.8
(14 Blanc -)
11 Cantona 7.3