Sweden – Portugal
Both teams would play out their final preparation match ahead of the World Cup qualification. Sweden would make their bow just one week later when they would face off with England at Wembley, whereas Portugal would make their initiation at home to rank outsiders Luxembourg some five weeks in the wake of this tie in Gothenburg, the second city of Sweden.
As it were, Portugal had not played one single international fixture earlier in the calendar year of 1988. Thus, a lot hinged on their performance in Sweden regarding manager Juca’s team selection for the qualifier against Luxembourg. Portugal were not unfamiliar with facing Sweden, as the pair had come head to head in both of the last two qualification groups, and this afternoon’s visitors had won the away fixture on both occasions by the score of 1-0. Furthermore, legendary Porto forward Fernando Gomes had scored the winner in both the match ahead of the 1986 World Cup and ahead of the 1988 European Championships. The most superstitious among the Swedish football fans will have been pleased to see that Gomes began the match on the visitors’ substitutes’ bench. This pair of away wins were indeed the only two times that Portugal hitherto had defeated the Swedish.
With Sweden’s important opening qualification fixture away to England only seven days later, manager Olle Nordin had wanted to put out his strongest select. As always, Sweden lined up in their trusted 4-4-2, and there were few surprises among their starting eleven. With the now retired Stig Fredriksson absent at left-back, this position became Roger Ljung’s. Ljung, a centre-back with his club side Malmö FF, had featured at left-back for the national team in their previous outing, the disappointing 2-1 home defeat against arch rivals Denmark a month and a half earlier. His team mate at the southernmost outfit in the Swedish topflight, midfield starlet Jonas Thern, would take up a position on the right of the home side’s midfield, with the two central berths being occupied by Serie A duo Strömberg and Prytz, companions in Bergamo with Atalanta. Centre midfield was undoubtedly Thern’s best position, but he was yet a fledgling at this level, and so had to make do with playing out wide. Nordin had a more natural kind of wide player down the other flank in Swiss based Anders Limpar. An option was yet another Malmö midfielder in “Jocke” Nilsson, only 22 years of age, but with a lot of promise and tricks up his sleeve.
The Portuguese defence appeared to be an experimental one, with a debutant at right back in Toni and with two rather inexperienced central defenders, at least for this level: both Oliveira and Morato had four matches prior to the trip to the west coast of Sweden. Left-back Fernando Mendes was also winning his fifth cap, and the Sporting player had featured on three occasions during the qualification for the 1988 European Championships. There was no Frederico Rosa, no Dito and at left-back the fine Álvaro was missing. Indeed, the same could be said for Álvaro’s Benfica comrade António Veloso. Further afield, flamboyant Atlético Madrid forward Paolo Futre was absent having picked up an injury for his Spanish club side during the previous weekend.
The home side’s defence had a familiar look about it, at least for right-back and central defence. The former IFK Göteborg duo Hysén and Larsson had split just over a year earlier, with the skipper electing Italian football in Florence, whereas Larsson had come to Johan Cruijff in Amsterdam. The steady and deceptively quick Roland Nilsson was the only starting player from the leading domestic Gothenburg club.
Referee was an emerging star in Norwegian Egil Nervik, a 31 year old from Trondheim. Less than a year earlier he had made his international debut during a 3-0 win for Belgium in a European Championships qualifier, which had so far been his only previous appointment.
|1 Thomas Ravelli||29||Östers|
|2 Roland Nilsson||24||IFK Göteborg|
|3 Glenn Hysén (c)||28||Fiorentina|
|4 Peter Larsson||27||Ajax|
|5 Roger Ljung||22||Malmö FF|
|6 Jonas Thern||21||Malmö FF|
|7 Glenn Strömberg||28||Atalanta|
|8 Robert Prytz||sub 78′||28||Atalanta|
|9 Anders Limpar||23||Young Boys|
|10 Hans Holmqvist||28||Cesena|
|11 Stefan Pettersson||sub 69′||25||Ajax|
|14 Joakim Nilsson||on 78′||22||Malmö FF|
|15 Johnny Ekström||on 69′||25||Ajax|
|2 Toni Conceição||38′||26||Braga|
|3 António Oliveira||30||Marítimo|
|4 António Morato||23||Sporting Lisboa|
|5 Fernando Mendes||22||Sporting Lisboa|
|6 Adelino Nunes||60′||28||Marítimo|
|7 Jaime Magalhães||sub h-t||26||Porto|
|8 Oceano||26||Sporting Lisboa|
|9 António Sousa||31||Porto|
|10 Chalana||sub 79′||29||Benfica|
|11 Jordão (c)||60′||36||Vitória Setúbal|
|14 Vítor Paneira||on h-t, 50′||22||Benfica|
|16 Fernando Gomes||on 79′||31||Porto|
Sweden came in their 4-4-2 and zonal orientation. The only relative twist to a classic 4-4-2 is Thern’s right-sided midfield role, which is not that of a traditional winger. Thern’s prefered position is central midfield, and so has little or no desire to try and advance past the Portuguese left-back to get into crossing positions. He has a tendency to come in field, at times almost operating as a third central midfielder, though he is trying his best to keep width.
Portugal are in a surprise 5-4-1, with Nunes, usually a defensive midfielder, in a third central defensive role, thus pinning Morato to the libero position. Nunes appears to look after Pettersson, with Oliveira, his equally thin-haired partner at the back, attending to Holmqvist. With Jordão acting as the sole striker, Chalana, whose original position is to the left in midfield, is the player tasked with the greatest support responsibility. Chalana is not tied down to the left-sided position, but likes to push in field and also appear somewhat more advanced than the central midfield duo of Oceano and Sousa. Juca probably would have liked to see his full-backs push forward, but both Toni and Fernando Mendes are often sat very deep, making the visitors extremely back heavy.
The two teams took to the pitch in wet, blustery conditions. Already prior to kick-off the pitch appeared to be badly cut, and things would hardly improve throughout the match. These were factors which seemed to be playing into the advantage of the hosts, as Portugal would have their emphasis on short passes and movement, something which was difficult to master on the Nya Ullevi surface. The bubbly pitch would make keep control of the ball difficult. The home side, in their favoured yellow and blue, would kick off through forward duo Pettersson and Holmqvist.
The early exchanges would reveal what direction the game would take: Sweden would keep the ball in their team, with Portugal more than happy to lay back and invite the Swedish onto them. And as soon as the visitors were in possession, either through a sloppy pass or a wayward finish from the home side, the hosts would give chase; never allowing for a moment’s peace. Portugal would appear stressed and rushed, and were never allowed any fluency. The conditions hardly favoured them, and they would be on the back foot for not just the early exchanges, but throughout.
Oddly, Portugal manager Juca had set out his team with five at the back. And it did not appear as he had wanted his full-backs to push forward. Nunes, who was usually in control at the back of Marítimo’s midfield, had been told to play in a three man strong central defensive unit, where Morato would feature as the spare man. Nunes, a tall, athletic figure, bore canny resemblance to a central defender in stature, but at the same time had enough confidence whilst in possession to strike you as a central midfielder. Not that Sweden gave him the opportunity to dally much on the ball. Nunes was tasked with looking after Swedish forward Pettersson, a striker well known for his ability in the air. At the other side of libero Morato was Oliveira, quite similar to Nunes, especially from a distance, as both were rather sparsely equipped on top of their head. Oliveira was looking after Holmqvist, a more agile and technically gifted forward than Pettersson, and the one of the two home strikers who would come a bit deeper to try and ignite something through a low centre of gravity and good vision. However, Oliveira would not allow Holmqvist time on the ball, and was indeed seen scything down the Swiss based striker on a couple of occasions during the opening half.
Sweden’s central midfield duo of Prytz and Strömberg knew each other from club football, where they were both featuring regularly in Serie A with Bergamo club Atalanta. Strömberg was undoubtedly the more skilfull of the two, with his long, blonde hair giving him a look of a Jesus figure. The soggy pitch would not help his cause, though, and despite a promising opening, where he seemed to be quite heavily involved, Strömberg would gradually disappear as the first half wore on. Prytz, a more eager runner, saw something of a contrasting development, as he was not much of a feature early on, struggling to make his presence felt. His strong running appeared to be a demanding style of play given the heavy conditions, but he would gradually be making his mark on the game, also having a shot from distance well over some 20 minutes into the game, with the home side well on top, albeit unable to cause visiting ‘keeper Silvino a lot of headache. Portugal defended well, and (lack of) movement off the ball was a worry for the dominant hosts.
Portugal are always aware of the home side’s ploy. The visitors’ defensive approach to the game does leave you with a feeling that they are worried about Sweden’s expected physical superiority. However, deploying defensive tactics sees Portugal so back heavy that they hardly are able to make it out from their own half inside the first 30 minutes. Sweden use a lot of energy in keeping Portugal pinned back, and are usually able to win back possession before the red and green brigade can make it past the halfway line. Portugal’s four man strong midfield does not possess an awful lot of physique to match the home side’s tenacity, and the once so promising Chalana on the left hand side seems a misfit in the troublesome conditions. He likes to drift inside, and at times does resemble a third central midfielder. Chalana is of a more attacking nature than both Sousa and Oceano in the centre, and his tendency to come into more central areas does free space for left-back Mendes to try and exploit. However, as we have already made clear, the Portuguese full-backs were reluctant to venture forward too much.
Despite a high level of possession percentage, Sweden are unable to muster any clear cut opportunities before the break. There’s the odd shot from distance, but neither Holmqvist’s free-kick from 25 yards nor Prytz are able to cause Silvino any concern. Thern also has a shot at goal comfortably dealt with by the Portuguese shot stopper, and the largely anonymous Pettersson a headed effort from only a few yards out which is lacking in power. The visitors are so compact that it is difficult for the home side to break them down. After the opening half an hour, Portugal even become a bit more daring, but only for a few minutes, before they again get pegged back until the half-time whistle. They seem to momentarily push higher with their full-backs, and in particular Toni along the right hand side is seen deep inside Swedish territory on a couple of occasions. He’s a big factor in opening up space along his flank which will eventually lead to a cross from the woefully disappointing Magalhães. Swedish right-back Nilsson deals with it poorly; he can only head it out to the edge of the penalty area, where Jordão and Sousa get into a tangle for a shooting opportunity. As they can’t agree, Hysén makes a strong challenge, something which sees the solid Norwegian referee award the away side a free-kick from 19 yards. Sousa’s effort’s eventually blocked away for a corner, which will lead to an opportunity for the hosts to break. This earns Toni the only booking of the first half as he tugs Limpar back and denies Sweden the chance to break at pace. No one in attendance seems too disappointed to exit a drab opening 45 minutes as Mr Nervik sounds his whistle one last time. Surely, the second half must be an improvement.
During the 15 minutes long half-time break, the rain’s gathered in strength, and the odds are hardly in favour of an improved match in the final 45. It is the visitors who kick the half into action through Jordão and Chalana, and they’re the only ones to have made a substitution at half-time with Benfica starlet Vítor Paneira on for Porto’s Magalhães to make his international debut. Whereas Magalhães can be seen as something of a hard worker, Paneira is more a playmaking kind of player, and he seems to slot directly into the position left vacant by Magalhães. Apart from that, there’s been no tactical tinkering by either manager during the break.
Less than three minutes into the second half, a sloppy pass from Portugal libero Morato sees the visitors concede possession inside their own half, and Thern is quick in perception, seeking out Pettersson at the far post. The right-sided midfielder’s deep cross reaches the Ajax forward, who has for once escaped the attention of his marker Nunes, but the conditions play their part as the striker can not connect cleanly for his left-footed volley. With only Silvino to beat, it was a huge opportunity for Sweden to go ahead, and indeed the best opening of the match thus far. As it were, Pettersson would not again get into a scoring position, as he was struggling to shake the sturdy Nunes off. Pettersson’s forward colleague Holmqvist was also kept rather well in tow by the visiting defence, with Oliveira mainly challenging the more agile of the two home strikers.
Paneira, the Portuguese substitute, was unable to make an immediate impact on the game, and five minutes into the second half he would become the second visiting player to have his name taken by the referee for a tug back on Limpar. Paneira had lost possession on the halfway line due to the ball taking an unexpected wobble, and he saw yellow for his efforts as he was reluctant to let Limpar get away. The Swedish number 9 was perhaps not playing at his spectacularly best, but nevertheless gave a solid impression with his workrate. Advancing past Toni down his left hand side seemed difficult, and again the conditions seemed to play their part. Any crossing from Swedish wide areas would typically come from deep positions, performed by full-backs Nilsson and Ljung.
The first 15 minutes of the second half are drab, uneventful. Portugal continue to sit deep and deny the hosts space, and Sweden are unable to inject pace into the final third of the pitch, thus becoming easy fodder for the five man strong away defence. However, there’s a lapse of concentration to the right in the Portuguese defence 13 minutes into the half, which sees Limpar and Ljung combine for the latter to get into a crossing position almost from the byeline. The ball’s headed clear by Oceano, but only as far as to the edge of the area, where Strömberg is scythed down by Nunes. Sweden have an opportunity from a direct free-kick in a similar position as Sousa had had towards the end of the first half, and Nunes receives a yellow for his efforts. In being slow to retreat, the visiting skipper, forward Jordão, also sees his name taken by the authoritative referee. Prytz’ eventual shot is blocked away for a resultless left wing corner. Another potential spark had resulted in nothing.
Going forward, Portugal offer little. It seems to baffle most people present that the slow and immobile Jordão is kept faith in as their sole striker, when a player such as Fernando Gomes is sitting on the substitutes’ bench. Jordão struggles to make an impact against the Swedish central defence, where the blonde figure of Larsson is seen sporting a black eye following a couple of clashes during the previous weekend, when his Ajax had won impressively in the big game in Holland against PSV. In a rare moment of Portuguese possession inside the Swedish half, Sousa and Oceano in the visitors’ midfield lose the ball as the tigerish Prytz harries, and the diminutive Sweden midfielder treads forward Holmqvist through. However, the striker lacks pace to leave Oliveira in his wake, and so has to shoot from distance. His left-footed effort’s easily gathered by Silvino, though. Halfway through the second period the game’s in desperate need of ignition. Will it come through home substitute Ekström, who replaces the disappointing Pettersson up top?
Chalana had been unable to make a mark in his comeback at international level, usually hiding towards the left of the Portuguese midfield. He did not appear fully match fit, and the heavy pitch will hardly have suited his style of play. And so it was no great surprise when he became the second visiting player to be substituted, with striker Gomes to come on in his place. So would this mean that Portugal would play with two men up front? No. The Porto forward came on in a central midfield capacity, pushing Sousa into Chalana’s left-sided berth. The home side also made their second substitution, with centre-midfielder Prytz leaving the field to be replaced by winger Joakim Nilsson. This saw Thern move into the engine room alongside Strömberg, with the most recent substitute taking up an unfamiliar right wing role, Limpar already occupying the Nilsson’s favoured left hand side. As for the hopes of previous substitute Ekström making an impact, alas, he too was well kept in check by the Portuguese defence, as Nunes continued to excel in his man-marking role.
Most people inside the ground, those among the crowd who had not yet left by the sound of the full time whistle, will have been happy to see the back of this game. The only note worthy of a mention from the final ten minutes was Larsson’s attempt from distance. The Swedish central defender has a wicked shot on him, but he was unable to find the target on this occasion from 30 yards, his effort drifting harmlessly and low wide to the left of Silvino’s goal. With a minute of time added on completed, the ref called the game off.
Portugal set their team out to get a draw, and with the hosts unable to be imaginative enough to break them down, they got what they came for. There was preciously little happening inside either penalty area, despite the home side enjoying most of the possession throughout. The difficult conditions did not make it easy on the players, but nevertheless it was disappointing to see such a potentially gifted side as the Portuguese only play for a draw. Sweden’s defence was never tested, and both could still be left with questions ahead of their respective World Cup qualifying bows.
1 Ravelli 6.7
2 R Nilsson 6.6
3 Hysén 6.8
4 P Larsson 6.9
always controlled Jordão, but did not wear his shooting boots this time around
5 Ljung 6.7
6 Thern 6.6
no threat from a wide position, and appeared tired after a long, challenging season
7 Strömberg 6.9
seemed stronger the longer the game went on, and was, surprisingly, the one of him and Thern, after Prytz had been substituted, who made runs off the ball
8 Prytz 6.8
(15 J Nilsson -)
9 Limpar 6.6
10 Holmqvist 6.5
11 Pettersson 6.2
never managed to shake off the attention of Nunes, and movement off the ball was scarce
(14 Ekström -)
1 Silvino 6.7
2 Toni Conceição 6.8
3 António Oliveira 6.9
4 António Morato 6.7
5 Fernando Mendes 6.7
accomplished display, though not troubled along his left hand side by Thern
6 Adelino Nunes 7.0
gave away a host of free-kicks, but was a tough nut to crack for both Pettersson and Ekström. Won a lot in the air, was strong in the tackle, and positioned himself wisely
7 Jaime Magalhães 6.0
(14 Vítor Paneira 6.5)
8 Oceano 6.4
9 António Sousa 6.6
10 Chalana 6.2
(16 Fernando Gomes -)
11 Jordão 5.9
usually operating with his back to the wall, and did not possess pace enough to be a threat to the home defence