Group 1 of the European qualification for Italy'90 looked to be relatively open, as there were no very strong or very weak team. Denmark were 1st seeded, and the only team to have qualified for the 1988 Euros of the four. Its golden generation from the mid 80s was however already past their prime, with several start players retiring from international duties. It was widely acknowledged that manager Sepp Piontek needed to rebuild the team. Uniquely, all three of Denmark's opponents in the campaign for Italia'90 had been runner-ups in the qualification groups for the 1988 Euros. Bulgaria, led by the somewhat unproven Angelov, were a feared opponent in the 80s and did have some emerging new talent that could get them to another World Cup. Romania had been very close to qualify for the latest international tournaments, and building on two strong domestic teams in Steaua and Dinamo, Jenei had forged a very strong unit that should be able to challenge Denmark. Greece were the least fancied of the four sides, but had in fact finished as runner-ups to Netherlands in their European Championships qualification group, and perhaps could Saravakos shoot them to their first World Cup?
Match 1: Greece 1-1 Denmark
19 October 1988, Olympiakó Stádio (Athens)
An aggressive home side earn a deserved point despite the visitors' fight back.
Match 2: Bulgaria 1-3 Romania
19 October 1988, Vasil Levski (Sofia)
Romania off to a brilliant start after an attacking display in Sofia.
Match 3: Romania 3-0 Greece
2 November 1988, Standionul Steaua (Bucharest)
Romania in total control against poor away side.
Match 4: Denmark 1-1 Bulgaria
2 November 1988, Idrætsparken (Copenhagen)
Denmark denied by cautious, fighting Bulgarian side.
Match 5: Greece 0-0 Romania
26 April 1989, Olympiakó Stádio (Athens)
Romania the better side for an hour, until Greece decide to put pressure on Romania in the build-up phase. A draw probably just about fair in the end.
Match 7: Romania 1-0 Bulgaria
17 May 1989, Standionul Steaua (Bucharest)
Leaders Romania escape with a scare after Stoichkov's shot hit the bar.
Match 8: Denmark 7-1 Greece
17 May 1989, Idrætsparken (Copenhagen)
The visitors are nowhere near as the hosts turn on the style after the break and score five times against ten men.
Match 9: Bulgaria 4-0 Greece
11 October 1989, Yuri Gagarin Stadion (Sofia)
Greece have three players sent off in the second half and fall to graceless defeat against a home side turning the screw late on in miserable conditions.
Match 10: Denmark 3-0 Romania
11 October 1989, Idrætsparken (Copenhagen)
The Danes' good form continues, comprehensively beating Romania to take the lead before the last match.
Match 11: Greece 1-0 Bulgaria
15 November 1989, Olympiakó Stádio (Athens)
Greece climb above Bulgaria in the final table.
A group with exciting development, capped off with a brilliant decider in the last match between Romania and Denmark. Romania were the early leaders, but Denmark found their shape during spring 1989 and climbed to the top spot, only to lose it all on the last day.
The story of this group was also a story of the impact of two star players. With Miodrag Belodedici, Romania got off to a perfect start in autumn 1988, securing two wins against Bulgaria and Greece. At the same time, Denmark still looked shaky with their "new" national team and only managed to get two points from their first meetings with Greece and Bulgaria. After the exit of Belodedici, Romania started to look more insecure. They were surely the better side again vs Greece (a) and Bulgaria (h), but could have lost more than the one point. With Denmark it was the opposite trend: with the return of Morten Olsen to the national team, they regained self-confidence, first beating Bulgaria in Sofia and then hammering Greece in Copenhagen. The final encounters between the two teams saw neither Belodedici nor Olsen take part: the latter retired from playing in summer 1989. The teams won each their home fixture and so Romania scraped through to Italy'90.
Did the best team progress? Romania surely impressed during their qualification and played some of the best football seen in the UEFA zone: free-flowing, attacking football, looking particularly dangerous on swift counterattacks. But the Danish side as of 1989 was also a good one. They would have done well in Italy'90. Too bad that they got off to a slow start when the players still looked to blend in. The draw against Bulgaria in Copenhagen was fatal.
Greece, who had endured slaughter on their travels, would finish third on the back of that final game in which they managed to avenge the 4-0 drubbing in Varna, scoring the only goal of the game through a placed finish from midfield man Nioplias. Bulgaria clearly had the higher potential of these two, but they were second best in matches against the big two, even if they, somewhat fortunately, held Denmark to that draw in Idrætsparken. The Bulgarian FA had sacked Boris Angelov halfway through the qualification, and they had looked slightly improved when making the away trip to Romania in Ivan Vutsov's first game back in charge. In a riot game in the coastal city of Varna, four late goals had seen Bulgaria finish Greece off for their first win, and then they'd followed that up with an, alledgedly, dreary performance in Athens.
At home, Greece had put up strong resistance, not losing either of their three qualifiers, and holding both Denmark and Romania to well-deserved draws. They had players who relished a battle, but also players who would switch off once morale was allowed to drop. They'd disgraced themselves in Copenhagen during that awful 7-1 defeat. In Bucharest, they had simply faced a much, much better team. In Bulgaria, they'd had three players sent off by the time Stoichkov netted the hosts' fourth of the evening. Three managers had done their best to enhance their reputation during the qualification, but it looked likely that they would need further improvement to provide a threat for their next qualification campaign. Still, that win in their final match had boosted them somewhat in that they would finish third rather than prop the table up.
Total number of players used: 112
Total number of players including unused substitutes: 130
Ever-presents (540 mins): 6 (Schmeichel, L Olsen, K Nielsen, Povlsen, Iovan, Popescu)
Leading goalscorer: Povlsen 5
Yellow/red cards: 38/7
Flemming Povlsen (Denmark)
Brian Laudrup (Denmark)
Kent Nielsen (Denmark)
Gavril Balint (Romania)
Rodion Cămătaru (Romania)
Dorin Mateuț (Romania)
Ioan Sabău (Romania)
Henrik Andersen (Denmark)
Jan Bartram (Denmark)
Lars Elstrup (Denmark)
Michael Laudrup (Denmark)
Kim Vilfort (Denmark)
Gheorghe Hagi (Romania)
Gheorghe Popescu (Romania)
Kalin Bankov (Bulgaria)
Bozhidar Iskrenov (Bulgaria)
Trifon Ivanov (Bulgaria)
Hristo Kolev (Bulgaria)
Ayan Sadakov (Bulgaria)
Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria)
Kostas Mavridis (Greece)
Tassos Mitropoulos (Greece)
Nikos Nioplias (Greece)
Top 20 ratings list
1 Brian Laudrup (Denmark) 7,50 (4 apps)
2 Gheorghe Popescu (Romania) 7,30 (6)
3 Gheorghe Hagi (Romania) 7,26 (6)
4 Jan Bartram (Denmark) 7,20 (5)
5 John Jensen (Denmark) 7,16 (6)
6 Ioan Sabău (Romania) 7,15 (6)
7 Dorin Mateuț and Rodion Cămătaru (both Romania) 7,08 (5)
9 Flemming Povlsen 7,06 (6)
10 Peter Schmeichel (Denmark) 7,03 (6)
11 Iosef Rotariu (Romania) 7,02 (5)
12 Lars Olsen (Denmark) 7,01 (6)
13 Ştefan Iovan (Romania) 7,00 (6)
14 Ioan Andone and Marius Lăcătuș (both Romania) 6,97 (4)
16 Trifon Ivanov (Bulgaria) 6,96 (3)
17 Jan Heintze (Denmark) 6,95 (4)
18 Michael Laudrup (Denmark) 6,94 (5)
19 Kent Nielsen (Denmark) 6,90 (6)
20 Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria) 6,90 (5)