Fantastic win for superior Denmark in the first of two group top-clashes
After a modest start to the qualification, Denmark were suddenly breathing down the Romanians’ necks, and everything now hinged on the two final qualifiers, where the pair would twice come head to head.
The first of the two crunch fixtures was to be played out in the Danish capital, where this afternoon’s hosts had already enjoyed some really fine wins during the current calendar year. They had showed some fantastic attacking football, and they’d scored 20 goals from five home games. Admittedly, just one of those had been in the qualification, but that had in return been their most resounding win of the decade: 7-1 against Greece. In addition, they’d dealt swiftly with their eternal rivals Sweden, 6-0, and also a decent Brazilian select (4-0) in their own centenary tournament. Their most recent fixture had been a 2-2 draw against the European champions in Amsterdam, where they’d come back from a two goal deficit. Denmark sure were looking strong at the moment.
Romania were also enjoying a decent period of time, though over the summer they’d been displaying some goalscoring shortcomings. However sound they were defensively, they would need to rectify their attacking struggles, as shutting Denmark out seemed an awfully difficult task for the time being.
The visitors came into the game a point ahead of the Danes, who would go top should they win:
Team news Denmark
This was a regalvanized Denmark’s first qualifying game without Morten Olsen, who had retired over the summer, although it should be noted that he’d just featured in the two qualifiers this calendar year anyway, and not in those late 1988. Instead of John Helt returning to the team, John Jensen dropped back to take Olsen’s place in front of the defence, with Helt remaining on the bench. Piontek could call upon Jan Heintze after serving his suspension again, moving Jan Bartram into central midfield. Morten Olsen was now lost for good, but the team got a new veteran boost as experienced centerhalf Ivan Nielsen returned to the national team. Nielsen had gone injured most of the 88-89 season. He took John Larsen’s place, who had deputized well in central defence for the games during spring.
In addition to Morten Olsen, wide player Henrik Andersen, who had made a substitute appearance against the Greeks in May, had also dropped out of the matchday squad. Coming back in to replace him was said Heintze, who had been a regular for their first three qualifiers, until his yellow card in the 2-0 win in Bulgaria saw him suspended for Greece at home. Brøndby midfielder Per Friemann, who had featured in both of their two most recent friendlies, the loss in Belgium (where Denmark had featured a team with just a few regulars) and the 2-2 draw in the Netherlands, was probably unfortunate not to be included for the first time during these qualifiers.
Team news Romania
Romania had predominantly utilized a 4-4-2 formation so far in the qualification, and in their four man strong midfield, Gheorghe Hagi had usually been given quite a liberated role. He could be seen either out wide or through the centre, ahead of the other three midfielders, and he certainly contributed to making Romania an unpredictable force.
Away to Greece, though, Jenei had set his charges up with five across the midfield. That had been the one occasion where exciting forward Marius Lăcătuș had been absent from the squad. It had also been the sole occasion on which Romania had failed to take both points, or even score, hitherto in the qualification. Now, Lăcătuș was absent again, and so would the manager apply a somewhat similar formation to the one which he’d implemented in Athens? The answer is ‘yes’. He would start both Klein and Rotariu for the first time in the ongoing qualification, with the former slotting in at left-back, and with Rotariu moving up into a central midfield position alongside Popescu.
Goalkeeper Lung was back in again, having missed the win against Bulgaria, when Stelea had deputised. This meant Speriatu had dropped out of the matchday squad. Ilie Dumitrescu had also been replaced, and the young forward was replaced in the squad by Steaua team mate Zsolt Muzsnay. Dinamo midfielder Dănuț Lupu had been added, and another striker in the experienced Gavril Balint had dropped out. There were less attacking options this time around, hinting towards Jenei hoping to return home with a point.
The man in black for the occasion was Frenchman Claude Bouillet, aged 45. His sole qualification experience to date had come in the current World Cup campaign, when he’d been placed in charge, perhaps a little oddly, of the Oceanian fixture between New Zealand and Israel (2-2) in April. He had made his international debut in a Spain v Austria (0-0) friendly three and a half years prior to officiating in Auckland, something which had been his sole fixture at this level until then. He had, however, refereed for more than nine years in the French top flight, and he had run the rule over the 1988 cup final between Metz and Sochaux (1-1, Metz won after a penalty shoot-out).
The pair had come up against one another on eleven earlier occasions, although Olympic football qualification had counted for no less than seven of these encounters. Other than that, they’d met in qualification for the 1976 European Championships in Yugoslavia (0-0 in Copenhagen, 6-1 to Romania in Bucharest), and also in two friendlies early in the 80s, where the respective home teams had triumphed on both occasions: 2-1 in Copenhagen and 1-0 in Romania. A total of four of today’s starters had begun that match more than seven years earlier: Rednic, Klein and Cămătaru for Romania, (Ivan) Nielsen for the Danes. In addition, Romania defender Andone and Denmark wide man Sivebæk had come on as substitutes. Incidentally, that game in Bucharest had marked the international debut of goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam, well remembered for his sensational participation in the 1986 European Cup final, where Steaua Bucharest had defeated Barcelona after a penalty shoot-out in which the ‘keeper had kept a clean sheet from four penalties against.
|1 Peter Schmeichel||25||Brøndby|
|2 John Sivebæk||27||Saint-Étienne|
|3 Kent Nielsen||27||Aston Villa|
|4 Lars Olsen (c)||28||Brøndby|
|5 Ivan Nielsen||sub h-t||33||PSV Eindhoven|
|6 Jan Bartram||27||Bayer Uerdingen|
|7 John Jensen||24||Hamburg|
|8 Jan Heintze||26||PSV Eindhoven|
|9 Flemming Povlsen||22||PSV Eindhoven|
|10 Michael Laudrup||25||Barcelona|
|11 Brian Laudrup||20||Bayer Uerdingen|
|12 John Larsen||on h-t||27||Vejle|
|13 John Helt||29||Lyngby|
|14 Kim Vilfort||26||Brøndby|
|15 Lars Elstrup||26||Luton|
|16 Troels Rasmussen||28||AGF|
|1 Silviu Lung (c)||33||Steaua|
|2 Ştefan Iovan||29||Steaua|
|3 Michael Klein||30||Dinamo|
|4 Mircea Rednic||80′, 87′||27||Dinamo|
|5 Dorin Mateuț||24||Dinamo|
|6 Ioan Andone||29||Dinamo|
|7 Iosif Rotariu||27||Steaua|
|8 Ioan Sabău||23′, sub 64′||21||Dinamo|
|9 Rodion Cămătaru||31||Charleroi|
|10 Gheorghe Hagi||24||Steaua|
|11 Gheorghe Popescu||21||Universitatea Craiova|
|12 Bogdan Stelea||21||Dinamo|
|13 Emil Săndoi||24||Universitatea Craiova|
|14 Dan Petrescu||21||Steaua|
|15 Zsolt Muzsnay||24||Steaua|
|16 Dănuț Lupu||on 64′||22||Dinamo|
Denmark never looked threatened after Kent Nielsen gave them the lead on a towering header from a free kick. The Danes continued attacking after that early lead, patiently building up play from behind with libero Lars Olsen and John Jensen (the latter looked far more uncertain on the ball when he received it higher up on the pitch). The two central defenders went wide while the two left backs Heintze and Sivebæk pushed up, almost playing as wingers at times. The slow build-up was efficient since the Romanians quickly got impatient and were lured into high pressing – with little structure in the pressure. Denmark had an easy job playing out of defence and into rooms in the Romanian half.
The Romanians on their part had a numerical surplus in central midfield with Popescu, Rotariu and Hagi. This surplus could have been exploited better, hadn’t it been for a number of failed passes and disciplined Danish players (like the striker Povlsen). Even though they broke through the Danish midfield a few times, the Romanians never really threatened the solid Danish central defence. The Romanians had packed the midfield, but there was noone who took responsibility to go forward to support the lonely striker Cămătaru. Marius Lăcătuș was sourely missed. A number of deep crossers into the Danish central defence, with Cămătaru crowded by the Olsen and the two Nielsens, were also futile.
Denmark always looked closer to get 2-0, with Povlsen missing a few golden opportunities. Bartram was roaming on the left hand side of the field and and used his gifted left peg. 2-0 was inevitable and came from another dazzling run from Brian Laudrup.
In the second half, the Romanians saw more of the ball. In a way this stabilized the team, which at times looked shaky in the first 45 minutes. However, this possession did little to produce the chances they needed. They looked uncomfortable in 4-5-1, with no runs from midfield to threaten the Danish defence. Both Popescu and Hagi were given close attention by the Danish players, restricting their room. The right hand side which had proven so dangerous during the qualification so far, with Iovan and Sabău, looked nothing like itself. Cămătaru fought heroically as a lone striker, but a hopeless task for him alone. As mentioned, the Romanians clearly suffered from the absence of Lăcătuș: they were somewhat relieved when Dănuț Lupu entered the field midway through the second half. With Lupu, the team looked more able to connect midfield and attack. The midfield apparatus had become too heavy, lacking someone to bring the ball into the dangerous zones. It had appeared that the Romanians were spinning in midfield mud without Lăcătuș in the team, unable to progress into the final third of the opposition’s half.
This had been a highly anticipated game between two of Europe’s finest exponents of a fine attacking brand of football, and the significance was also huge, as the group’s top position and sole direct qualifying berth was at stake.
Denmark had in their wake a trail of high score wins at home earlier in the year, although this counted for little now that they were up against a team which arguably had it in them to play off the park any team at this level. However, not only were Romania effervescent going forward; they were also equipped with a fine defensive record. So far in the qualification, they had just shipped the one goal which Bulgaria’s Kolev had scored against them directly from a free-kick in the opening tie. They might have lost influental libero Miodrag Belodedici along the way, but their hopes of another stellar defensive display must have been relatively high. That said, Romania boss Emeric Jenei would also have been well aware of what a difficult proposition the Danes were.
The first half sees a goal as early as the fourth minute, which is when big defender Kent Nielsen heads home on the far post from Jan Bartram’s excellent delievery. It is the same combination which had rewarded the Danes with their third goal in that 7-1 mauling of Greece in May. The goal seemed to rock Romania, who never managed to regain their composure during the first 45 minutes. Although we’ll never know how the half had paned out without Nielsen’s strike, it is fair to say that Denmark were on song again on the night, and their movement, flexibility through their banks of three, five and two respectively, their physical strength and their individual brilliance, well, they were a handful for anyone. They were a joy to behold, and backed by a very partizan and vociferous home crowd in the intimate Idrætsparken, you felt as though Romania never really stood a chance.
Physicality was perhaps not what Denmark were renowned for during the 80s, when their famous 1984 European Championships exploits had revealed what they were predominantly about: skill, technique and flair. And whilst they’d had a poor tournament in 1988, it was clear that manager Sepp Piontek had got them flowing again. It seemed as if they were dealing terrifically well with the generational change.
They had big ‘keeper Peter Schmeichel oozing authority between the sticks, and he would often come off his line and narrow the angle for any attacker who would have a go against him. He was proactive, as displayed when he came outside his area using his head to a long through ball late in the game, and he had a massive and precise throw on him, something which could catch most opponents off-guard.
In defence, Lars Olsen, Denmark’s current captain, appeared to have replaced icon and namesake Morten Olsen very well. He was a rock solid leader, was Lars Olsen, who certainly was a robust defender, yet someone equipped with ball playing skills, too. Just after the hour mark, he would make another push in the forward direction, combining well with second half substitute defender John Larsen, in a display which almost brought memories of Dutch total football: Denmark made use of two defenders to try and create an opportunity deep inside the opposition’s territory. It was proof that danger could come from just about anywhere when they were on their game.
Around him, Olsen had two big Nielsens: goalscorer Kent the younger of the pair, and looking almost effortless in how he dealt with Romania’s imposing striker Cămătaru. The way Romania played, veteran defender Ivan Nielsen, recalled to the side for his 50th cap, having not featured so far in the qualification, was more or less surplus to requirements. He would not have a particular opponent to mark, and as his possession skills were perhaps not quite up to the sky-high standards of some of his team mates, he would be replaced by the more agile Larsen during the half-time interval. Denmark would surrender a few goalscoring opportunities to the visitors in the final 45 minutes, though you felt they were never under severe threat.
Wide players John Sivebæk and Jan Heintze, operating right and left respectively, are big contributors, both defensively and attack-wise. Denmark actively seek in using their wide areas when going forward, and both Sivebæk and Heintze are two-way players, and both are well capable of delievering fine crosses.
In the centre of their midfield, they have the steely John Jensen, a player whom you could never fault for commitment, and who would dish out beatings to any opponent regardless of status. He arrived at a couple of shooting opportunities in this tie, and one spectacular first time volley, which however missed the target, in the first half was hardly what you’d expect from your deep lying midfielder. Jensen also appeared to be well aware of his position in the possession orientated hierarchy, swiftly shifting the ball on to a team mate of higher such rank for the benefit of the team. They were his midfield team mates Jan Bartram and Michael Laudrup, where the former in particular excelled. Bartram had a terrific match, combining power and balance in thrusting forward from central midfield, at times moving wide left, a natural position for him to whip his crosses into the centre from. He was a bit wasteful in his shooting, though, and he should especially have done better with his second half effort from 22 yards straight out from goal: Rather than hitting the target, he skied it. Laudrup, the older of the two brothers, had, by his high standards, a relatively anonymous performance, even if he did at times display evidence of his ability to find younger brother Brian with a through ball. He also showed his passing skills when he fed Heintze along the left for the cross which Flemming Povlsen converted for the third goal.
Up top, Brian Laudrup caused the Romanians all sorts of trouble with his direct approach, always looking to speed past a man with a sudden change in direction. This was also what ultimately saw visiting libero Rednic red-carded. Two almost identical fouls on the younger Laudrup late in the second half gave the referee little option other than to send Rednic early to the dressing room. By then, though, damage had been well inflicted, of which a great deal was owed to the brilliant Laudrup, scorer of the second goal, and there was no way back into the game for the visitors anyway. Povlsen, who nicked in on the act when he slid home Heintze’s cross for 3-0, gave a committed display in which he once again showed his willingness to track back and aid the team defensively. His tackling skills were quite exceptional for a striker.
Romania on this occasion never looked like they were able to replicate their better performances from earlier in the qualification. They were clearly hampered by the absence of livewire forward Marius Lăcătuș, and although they tried to compensate for his loss through including another central midfielder in Iosif Rotariu, it never worked. The Romanian right hand side had been one of the qualification’s most impressive attacking weapons, and in removing Lăcătuș they had been reduced to mere passengers. There was still the big, marauding Ştefan Iovan and hugely talented midfielder Ioan Sabău along the right, but with no Lăcătuș to draw the attention from the opponents’ full-back, they were unable to reproduce what they’d showed in previous matches.
Between the sticks, captain Silviu Lung made a few stops to prevent further embarrassment, and he could hardly be faulted for their gutless display altogether. It was clear, though, that big central defender Ioan Andone did not have a fruitful evening in the Danish capital, so often turned by Brian Laudrup, and Andone was very fortunate in the second half when he’d felled Povlsen inside the area, only for the referee to award an indirect free-kick for the hosts rather than a penalty. Also, libero Mircea Rednic behind him had a troubled evening, and he gave an unconvincing performance until he was shown the red card after his second bookable offence late in the game. It just completed his and their misery.
It was the Romanian midfield which had often impressed hitherto in the qualification, with the majestic Gheorghe Popescu operating as their defensive alibi, shielding and protecting so well his defence, as well as his capability in coming forward with the ball at his feet. Popescu, another imposing player, had also proved his worth in front of goal when he’d headed home for the winning goal in the home tie against Bulgaria. He was often left with little assistance when Denmark sent plenty of men forward, and so he had massive spaces as well as various opponents to cover and track. It was not a recipe for solidity. Yet, it was hardly a poor performance by the Universitatea Craiova man. Late on, he was also played through inside the area to have a go at goal, though he saw his shot saved by Schmeichel, who had come well off his line to thwart him.
Some of the Romanian midfielders appear very similar in style of play: Ioan Sabău, Dorin Mateuţ and Gheorghe Hagi were all relatively small in size and all thrived in possession. On this occasion, they were up against a strong pressing collective, and they rarely looked comfortable against such collective aggression. Mateuţ was possibly their biggest goal threat on the night, and he really should’ve tucked away his early second half opportunity, when he failed to convert Rotariu’s inviting cross from the left. These non-physical midfielders were fodder for the stronger Danish players, and particularly Sabău disappointed on an evening when he was without Lăcătuș to combine with along the right. Even Hagi failed to produce the goods; he was effectively closed down when in possession. Rotariu, who had featured at left-back earlier in the qualification, added a body to their central midfield, but this still failed to reward them. Possession continued to elude Romania during the first half, and in the second they could not find that elusive goal to get back into the game. This left Rodion Cămătaru, a player not pacy enough to cause much worry on his own, quite isolated up top. He met his match in Kent Nielsen.
In the second half, we saw Dinamo Bucharest midfielder Dănuț Lupu on for his first cap just shy of halfway through. He seemed to bring a spark when he replaced team mate at club level, the disappointing Sabău. Lupu seemed to play as an inside left midfielder, the role previously held by Mateuţ, who was pushed somewhat further forward in an attempt to provide Cămătaru with some assistance. Ultimately, it did not matter. Romania were always second best on the occasion, and the margin of Denmark victory was probably just about right. Both teams created chances, but it is fair to say that those of the hosts, in addition to their goals, were just as big as those which Romania managed to dig out.
The return fixture in Bucharest now leaves Romania with a massive job on their hands. Denmark should enter that contest very confident that they can get the result which will take them through to Italia ’90.
1 Peter Schmeichel 7.0
2 John Sivebæk 6.8
3 Kent Nielsen 7.2
4 Lars Olsen 7.6
5 Ivan Nielsen 6.7
(12 John Larsen 6.7)
6 Jan Bartram 7.1
7 John Jensen 7.6
8 Jan Heintze 6.9
9 Flemming Povlsen 7.5
10 Michael Laudrup 7.0
11 Brian Laudrup 8.4
1 Silviu Lung 6.1
2 Ştefan Iovan 5.9
3 Michael Klein 6.7
4 Mircea Rednic 6.2
5 Dorin Mateuț 6.7
6 Ioan Andone 6.6
7 Iosif Rotariu 6.6
8 Ioan Sabău 5.8
(16 Dănuț Lupu 6.8)
9 Rodion Cămătaru 6.9
10 Gheorghe Hagi 6.4
11 Gheorghe Popescu 7.0