Denmark – Bulgaria: The Danes denied by mettlesome Bulgarians

1990 World Cup Qualification
UEFA - Group 1
Wed. 2 November 1988
Kick-off: -
Idrætsparken, Copenhagen
Att.: 34,600

Denmark 1 - 1 Bulgaria
1-0 (8) Lars Elstrup
1-1 (38) Ayan Sadkov

Ref.: Mr George Smith 
L 1: James McCluskey 
L 2: Donald Wilson 
(All Scotland)

Preview

Denmark had got off to a decent start in the 1990 World Cup qualification with 1-1 in Athens and were looking for a win here that would ensure that they didn't lose contact with Romania, who earlier that day had soundly beaten Greece and taken the driver's seat in the group.

PosTeamPlWDLGFGAPts
1Romania2200614
2Denmark1100111
3Greece2011141
4Bulgaria1001130

Denmark team news
Piontek continued with the 5-3-2 formation that had contributed to changing the game in Athens after starting out in an ultimately disappointing 4-4-2. It was in fact also the same eleven players that went off the pitch in Athens that now started in Copenhagen, indicating that Piontek must have been happy with that second half performance.

This meant that Kristensen replaced Bartram from start, and Elstrup came in for Brylle. There was however a lot of discussion in Danish media before the game whether Elstrup or Brylle should partner Flemming Povlsen up front. In the end, Elstrup, with his stronger aerial presence, was preferred. Just behind Povlsen and Elstrup would be Michael Laudrup, who earned his 50th cap for the Danish national team.

Bulgaria team news
Angelov also changed his formation from 4-3-3 to 5-3-2. He was evidently not happy with defending in the first match, as only libero Iliev of the defenders remained in the team. In came Kiryakov (a substitute in Sofia), Dochev, Bezinski and, notably, Trifon Ivanov. Even the goalkeeper was replaced, as it was reported that Mihaylov was injured. His stand-in was Valov. There was also no place for Plamen Getov, who had just returned to the national team in the previous match. His place in the midfield trio was taken by Ivailo Kirov, a central midfielder who was part of the successful Sredets Sofia side.

Referee
UEFA had appointed George Smith (Scotland) as referee. The scotsman had officiated cup finals and the int. friendly between England and Rep. of Ireland in 1985, but never a qualifier.

Denmark (5-3–2)

NameNotesAgeClub
1 Peter Schmeichel24Brøndby
2 Jan Heintzesub 77'25PSV Eindhoven
3 Kent Nielsen26Brøndby
4 Lars Olsen (c)27Brøndby
5 John Sivebæk27St. Étienne
6 Bjørn Kristensen25Newcastle
7 John Heltsub 66'28Lyngby
8 John Jensen23HSV
9 Flemming Povlsen211. FC Köln
10 Michael Laudrup24Juventus
11 Lars Elstrup25Odense

Substitutes   
12 Jan Bartramon 66'26Brøndby
13 Kim Vilfort25Brøndby
14 Henrik Larsen22Lyngby
15 Kenneth Brylleon 77'29Club Brugge
16 Troels Rasmussen27AGF
Manager: Sepp Piontek

Bulgaria (5-3-2)

NameNotesAgeClub
1 Iliya Valov26CFKA Sredets
2 Iliyan Kiryakov21Etar
3 Pavel Dochev23Lokomotiv Sofia
4 Krasimir Bezinski27CFKA Sredets
5 Nikolay Iliev24Vitosha Sofia
6 Trifon Ivanov, 81'23CFKA Sredets
7 Ivaylo Kirov22CFKA Sredets
8 Ayan Sadakov27Lokomotiv Plovdiv
9 Lubo Penev22CFKA Sredets
10 Georgi Yordanovsub 86'25Vitosha Sofia
11 Hristo Stoichkovsub 89'22CFKA Sredets

Substitutes   
12 Nikolay Donev30Etar
13 Emil Dimitrov28CFKA Sredets
14 Zapryan Rakovon 86'26Trakia Plovdiv
15 Krasimir Balakovon 89'22Etar
16 Petar Aleksandrov25Slavia Sofia
Manager: Boris Angelov

Tactical line-ups

Match report – 1st half

5-3-2 x2
With both teams lined up in a 5-3-2 formation, both had a spare man in defence and one would expect many battles face-to-face in midfield, 3 v 3. The Bulgarians had agreed on a defensive strategy and would sit back and wait for counter-attacking opportunities, as they were renowned for. It therefore looked set for a tight match where Denmark would need to penetrate through the Bulgarian block, and the guests given the occasional opportunity to hit back on counters.

1-0: Elstrup
However, there was an early goal (8') that eased Denmark's initial trouble to find a way through the defensive Bulgarian structure. A long throw-in by Bjørn Kristensen was never cleared away by the Bulgarian defence, and the ball ended up by Elstrup who gave Denmark 1-0. A feather in the cap for Piontek, who had drafted Kristensen and Elstrup into the XI for this match: The goal was a result of both players using their strengths to give the Danes the lead in the match. 

Very cautious Bulgarians
And yet, despite Denmark taking the lead, the rest of the half unfolded much as would have been expected in a 0-0 scenario. Bulgaria defended cautiously, Denmark continued to have the initiative, trying to break through the Balkan block. It seemed at least like Bulgaria had decided to stick with their game plan no matter what, as there was no visible change after the early goal they conceded, with little will to send men forward.

The Danes were given a hard time: The Bulgarians were highly aggressive in their tackling as soon as the Danes crossed the halfway line, and they generally managed to restrict spaces in midfield to a premium. It was interesting to see that Bulgaria often allowed the deep-lying John Helt to dwell on the ball, without interferring. Helt appeared both somewhat slow and lost for options, and he kept looking in vain for alternatives further upfield. Michael Laudrup was the least busy of the three Danish midfielders, and their play probably suffered from this, as Helt didn't orchestrate play very well and Jensen (the most active of the three) lacks Laudrup's vision.

With two wing-backs helping the midfield trio, the Bulgarians did well to deny the Danes any space. As Denmark had problems in gaining yards past the halfway line, the strikers looked isolated. Elstrup disappeared completely from the game after his goal, while Povlsen often came deep to attempt link-up play. One of the great battles in this match was the tussle between him and Trifon Ivanov, with Povlsen trying to get free and Ivanov giving it all to get in a tackle from behind.

Bulgaria struggle going forward
While Bulgaria seemed happy to sit back, they did of course need a goal. Unfortunately, it was hard to imagine how that would happen. Neither of the three midfielders did excel in their passing this night and wasted many passes in the transition phase from defence to attack. Stoichkov initially showed some promise when the Bulgarians managed to hit the ball long towards him. Their only chance produced was a long ball from Valov that Stoichkov picked up and fired from distance (safely saved by Schmeichel, though).

Lubo Penev was played as a target striker, but kept backtracking with the ball without knowing where to distribute it. The midfielders were stopped or wasted the ball, and the full backs were very reluctant to go forward. For some reason, they didn't risk much despite trailing one-nil, the Bulgarians.

Lars Olsen's inroads
The only times the Danes looked dangerous were when libero Lars Olsen and the two wing-backs came shuttling forward. That's why it seems the more strange that this happened so rarely in this first half. As mentioned, the Bulgarian attack was very quiet and the Danes defenders were largely in surplus. Only when Olsen and particularly Heintze took initiatives going forward, the Danes in fact loked like creating something.

For example when Olsen created havoc in the Bulgarian lines by making a run with the ball, and found Laudrup in a large space: shot went wide, but it was a good chance created. There were also signs that Bulgaria didn't enjoy defending in the aerial department (as the goal also showed). But this is unfortunately not a favoured Danish tactics, and so the Bulgarians got away with it, and could concentrate on defending aggresively along the ground.

1-1: Sadkov
Bulgaria looked accomplished enough, but almost inept in the attacking department. Then, 1-1 (38') came out of nowhere. Stoichkov picks up the ball from a quickly taken free-kick, completely takes the Danish team off-guard with his pace and passes the ball expertly to Anyo Sadkov in just the right second. The latter had a good goal record in the national team and made no mistake. Bulgaria hadn't really even been close to equalize, but there it was.

A throw-in and a free-kick had given us the two goals in this half, which otherwise didn't yield a lot of goal scoring opportunities.

Match report – 2nd half

Danish direct play?
It almost appeared in the beginning of the second half that the Danes now would try a different approach: direct play. Having seen that they came little way with the Bulgarian block in midfield, there were now attempts to play the ball over that area. It immediately produced good results, engaging both Elstrup and Povlsen. Within the first minutes, Jensen lofted a long ball up towards Elstrup, which the Dane did very well to control in fight with his man marker. Elstrup picked out M. Laudrup making a run into the goal mouth and it all looked set for 2-1: However, M. Laudrup must have thought that the player coming in behind him would have an ever better angle to kick the ball, and declined to fire. Very clever, hadn't it been for the fact that the player in his back was Kirjakov...

The second incident was another long ball, this time well angled from Heintze up to Povlsen, catching the Bulgarian defence with surprise and showing that the guests were ill suited to this style of play. Povlsen chested it down and would have had a glorious opportunity alone with Valov, if not the speedy Kirjakov had been there, again (!), to sweep the ball away. Kirjakov – the full back sweeper!

Denmark's locked mifield
However, Denmark soon reverted to trying to unlock the Bulgarian team in open play by short passes. Here we were back to the problems of the 1st half, as Denmark again looked out of ideas in their midfield. The main creative task was left to Jensen and Helt, and while Jensen especially wasn't doing too badly, they were easily crowded out by the Bulgarian midfield trio. More assistance from the front trio would have been needed, but Michael Laudrup didn't see too much of the ball in his more advanced position, and the front two were also generally waiting for the ball to arrive in their department. Thus, not many options for Helt and Jensen, and there was clearly no progress since the 1st half in their play.

Piontek made an attacking substitution midway through the half, sending on Bartram for Helt. Bartram (who would be transfered to Uerdingen the next day) took Jensen's place in midfield, with Jensen now playing as the most deep-lying midfielder. It hadn't been a good game for Helt, and with introducing Bartram, Piontek continued in his 5-3-2 formation but in a more attacking outlook, Bartram bringing some more flair and urgency than Helt. Bartram would even get a chance immediately when entering the field as a free-kick already was lined up, but his shot went straight on Valov.

Michael Laudrup's struggle
A part of the Bulgarian tactics was to compress in the centre, and in this way suffocate the Danish midfield and Michael Laudrup. It worked, but it also left spaces in the wide areas, as both Bezinski and Kirjakov tended to position themselves close to the central defenders. It appears that the Danes could have exploited this better, but it clearly wasn't a particular strategy of theirs. Heintze and Sivebæk did find these spaces, but were only rarely utilized.

The biggest Danish goal scoring opportunity was however created on the flank, including some elements already mentioned in this report: Lars Olsen used his vision to find Michael Laudrup with a long ball, and here Laudrup (again in an advanced position) showed a brilliant detail by flicking the ball out wide to Sivebæk storming down the right hand side. Sivebæk's cross proved to set up Michael Laudrup for a shot on goal, but when everyone believed the shot had beaten Valov and was destined to find the netting, Trifon Ivanov appeared from nowhere and cleared the ball off the line. A well crafted Danish move, managing to use both Michael Laudrup and the wing backs, and it is not easy to explain how Ivanov sensed that he needed to guard the goal line given the angle and direction of Sivebæk's cross.

Penev and Stoichkov left on their own
There was little attacking play to talk about from the Bulgarian side in the 2nd half. They would usually hoist the ball upfield for Stoichkov and Penev to chase. Stoichkov did look more sharp than in their opener against Romania: more quick and aggressive, and occasionally showing some flair. He was clearly their danger man, while his attempts never materialized into big chances (or chances of any sort) in this half. For Penev it was much the same as before the break, and his task was ostensibly just to hold on to the ball and try to make his way forward somehow (which wasn't very effective).

The Bulgarians risked very little as long as they had 1-1 and didn't send men forward in any great number. When winning the ball, they didn't even look for the counter attack, but simply played the ball upfield to see what Penev and Stoichkov could do with it. The best opportunity Bulgaria created was however big and would have qualified as a freak goal: Kirjakov made a solo run and just when he was about to run into the wall, his desperate shot deflected off Olsen to become a bizarre lob that almost beat Schmeichel. Close, and if Bulgaria were to score, it would have to be in such freak fashion.

Piontek change to 3-4-3
In the 77' minute Piontek made his second and final substitution, sending Brylle on for Heintze. This was a desperate move by the Danish national manager, changing the formation to a 3-4-3. Desperate, and as it turned out, not very successful. Their problem so far had been to stamp their authority on the midfield, looking overweight in the attacking department – and now they brought on another striker... Of course, the change could still have proven effective, and even though the Danes looked worse, Brylle almost got a goal on a corner: the Bulgarians were again clueless in defending crosses and Brylle had a clean finish on goal that unfortunately went straight on Valov.

Ivanov sent off, Bulgaria finish with 10 men
Trifon Ivanov had made a good introduction of himself in this match, man-marking Povlsen and playing just on the limits of the rules of the game. Finally, however, he cross the final line when making a wilde lunge on Povlsen, almost sending the Dane over the touch line. The referee issued a direct red card, leaving the Bulgarians with only 10 men in the final minutes.

It didn't matter much, however. Bulgaria made two substitutions and medical help was called upon twice for players in agony on the pitch (one of them Valov, the extremely fragile Bulgarian goalie), ensuring that little football was played after Ivanov's expulsion. There was only time for a little fracas after Valov's injury, in which Smith ludicrously booked Povlsen (if anyone, it should have been Iliev). The Danes had created some chances in the game, but were dysfunctional in the 3-4-3 formation.

Conclusion
Bulgaria can be a tough opponent, but this was one point lost for Denmark. Leaders Romania had already got maximum points and a healthy goal difference, while the Danes had two draws, and there was clearly disappointment to be seen in the Danish faces at the final whistle. They hadn't even played very well, facing huge problems in midfield, where they were locked by the fighting Bulgarians. They needed the movement from behind, with the wing backs and the excellent Lars Olsen, and so it does seem odd that they didn't send them forward in a great degree, especially given the lacklustre Bulgarian efforts to attack. Bulgaria fought heroically, and did just enough to get a draw.

Ratings

Denmark
1. Schmeichel 6.8
Little to do. Expert throws to start play.
2. Heintze 6.9
3. K. Nielsen 6.8
4. L. Olsen 7.4
5. Sivebæk 6.8
6. Kristensen 6.6
7. Helt 6.3
8. Jensen 6.8
Industrious, but has too much creative responsibility.
9. Povlsen 6.7
Full of running, but there is little space to work in.
10.  M. Laudrup 6.7
11. Elstrup 6.8

Bulgaria
1. Valov 6.6
2. Kirjakov 7.0
3. Dochev 6.8
4. Bezinski 6.6
5. Iliev 6.6
6. Ivanov 7.2
7. Kirov 6.7
8. Sadkov 7.0
9. Penev 6.5
10. Yordanov 6.6
11. Stoichkov 6.8

See also

26 April 1989 Bulgaria 0-2 Denmark

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