Greece – Denmark: An aggressive home side earn a deserved point despite the visitors’ fight back
Despite their second place finish in the previous qualifiers, Greece had ended on a rather sour note with two heavy defeats, and they were looking for a positive result to kick-start their Italia ’90 campaign. They were still lead by 54 year old Miltos Papapostolou, and they came into this header with Denmark following two friendly defeats: 1-0 in East Germany and, much worse, 3-1 in Turkey. Still, they were in process of a minor overhaul, as relatively few players had remained from the two 3-0 defeats against Hungary and Holland which had rounded off their previous qualification group. However, there was still a lot of experience among the players in Papapostolou’s camp.
Larissa had won the Greek top flight in early summer ’88, while the two giant Athens clubs Panathinaikos and Olympiakos had both ended outside of the top four, with the latter finishing an abysmal eighth. Apart from a decent UEFA Cup run by Panathinaikos, in which they had knocked out both Auxerre, Juventus and Honvéd Budapest before finally succumbing to Club Brugge in the quarter finals, no Greek club had set Europe alight. Was it right to say that perhaps the level of optimism ahead of the commencing qualifiers were ‘modest’?
Denmark had captured the heart of many a football fan during France ’84 and Mexico ’86, and were yet again present in the West Germany European Championships in ’88. However, a few of their key players were ageing, and they had been returned home without a single point to show for their three group stage matches with Spain, the host nation and Italy. The ’88 tournament had seen the retirement from international football from fine 38 year old libero Morten Olsen (though he would briefly make a re-appearance the following summer), and gone were also players like Frank Arnesen, Preben Elkjær, Søren Busk and Klaus Berggren. Yet not officially retired, their squad for Greece also contained no Jesper Olsen and no Søren Lerby, and big PSV Eindhoven defender Ivan Nielsen¹ was out injured. Promising goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel had been left with the task to succeed Ole Qvist (and possibly soon also Troels Rasmussen), while it was up to big Brøndby defender Kent Nielsen to step into Ivan Nielsen’s shoes (no family relations). Other than that, famous Danish national team manager Sepp Piontek had available to him most of those who would matter, as the Danes would seek to re-establish themselves as a continental force to be reckoned with. Back in the national team squad after an absence of three years was also forward Kenneth Brylle, the Club Brugge forward, whose goal in ‘Parken had helped the Belgian club knock Brøndby out of the European Cup on the away goals rule only two weeks earlier.
Coming into the Greece game, Denmark had been through three friendlies: a 2-1 win against old foe Sweden in Stockholm (a match which would see Odense’s Lars Elstrup make his international debut and notch both goals), as well as a 1-0 defeat at Wembley and a 1-0 home win against Iceland. Tall Brøndby midfielder Kim Vilfort had started in all three games, but was named among the subs for the match in Athens. Eight of the players who had started in Idrætsparken on Sep 28 versus their Nordic brethren, were also starters here three weeks later.
It was also worth noticing that the two countries had met in the qualifying section for the Seoul ’88 Olympic tournament, with Denmark winning heavily both home and away. The fixture in Greece, in the city of Levadeia, had ended 5-0 in favour of the Danish, with both Schmeichel and Povlsen making their international debuts, the latter had even opened the scoring. The Greeks did not consider their Olympic team a ‘full’ international side, and therefore records are sparse, and matches for the Olympic side do not feature in official player statistics. The return leg in Aalborg in April ’88 had finished 4-0 to Denmark, in a game where no less than seven of the 13 players utilised were employed by leading club Brøndby from Copenhagen.
¹ Ivan Nielsen had been sent on vacation to Rhodes by his Dutch club in order to recover from a thigh injury. He had got a morning flight from the Greek holiday island to Athens in order to be present and in attendance of Denmark’s qualifying opener. It was thought he would still have to wait another four weeks until he could play again.
|1 Ilias Talikriadis||23||Olympiakos|
|2 Iakovas Khatziathanasiou||29′||27||Panathinaikos|
|3 Kostas Kolomitrousis||24||Larissa|
|4 Stelios Manolas||27||AEK|
|5 Kostas Mavridis||26||Panathinaikos|
|6 Giotis Tsaloukhidis||25||Olympiakos|
|7 Dimitris Saravakos||27||Panathinaikos|
|8 Giorgios Skartados||sub 76′||28||PAOK|
|9 Nikos Anastopoulos (c)||30||Panionios|
|10 Tasos Mitropoulos||54′, sub 60′||31||Olympiakos|
|11 Andreas Bonovas||24||Iraklis|
|12 Lisandros Georgamlis||on 60′, 75′||26||Panathinaikos|
|13 Petros Mikhos||29||Panionios|
|14 Vasilis Karapialis||on 76′||23||Larissa|
|15 Nikos Sarganis||34||Panathinaikos|
|16 Vasilis Dimitriadis||22||Aris|
|1 Peter Schmeichel||24||Brøndby|
|2 Jan Heintze||34′||25||PSV Eindhoven|
|3 Kent Nielsen||26||Brøndby|
|4 Lars Olsen (c)||27||Brøndby|
|5 John Sivebæk||26||Saint-Étienne|
|6 Jan Bartram||sub h-t||26||Brøndby|
|7 John Helt||28||Lyngby|
|8 John Jensen||23||Hamburger SV|
|9 Flemming Povlsen||21||1 FC Köln|
|10 Michael Laudrup||24||Juventus|
|11 Kenneth Brylle||sub 78′||29||Club Brugge|
|12 Bjørn Kristensen||on h-t||25||AGF Aarhus|
|13 Johnny Hansen||22||Odense|
|14 Kim Vilfort||25||Brøndby|
|15 Lars Elstrup||on 78′||25||Odense|
|16 Troels Rasmussen||27||AGF Aarhus|
The home side went out hell-bent on stifling the flowing Danish dynamics, and they succeeded in a first half which must have been Papapostoulou’s sweetest dream beforehand. They set out in a 5-3-2, with Mavridis behind man markers Tsaloukhidis (on Povlsen) and Manolas (on Brylle), and with left-back Kolomitrousis also tasked with making sure that the visitors’ playmaker Laudrup did not have a lot of working space. They showed plenty of aggression, did the home side, and this was first and foremost personified through players like Tsaloukhidis (who went in strong on Povlsen on a couple of occasions) and right-back Khatziathanasiou. In centre midfield Mitropoulos had a decent opening half, clearly being the player to try and set up the two Greek forwards, with Skartados doing a lot of running. Bonovas to the left of the home team’s midfield was largely unsuccesful in whatever he attempted. Up front, both Saravakos and team captain Anastopoulos were working their socks off in denying the Danes to build from the back. Coming into the dressing room 1-0 up, the Greek plan had worked to perfection during the opening 45.
As for the visitors, their 4-4-2 diamond had not been prolific. Laudrup was having a subdued evening so far, and had been marked, which often saw him come deeper in order to obtain the ball, something which had originally been Helt’s responsibility, and the two roles seemed to clash, causing a bit of confusion in the Danish play. They wanted to attack down their left hand side, where full-back Bartram was trying to overlap left-sided midfielder Heintze. Mitropoulos helped out his right full-back Khatziathanasiou in denying the Danish space for this kind of manoeuvre, and up front the two strikers mostly found themselves tightly marked by aggressive Greek defenders. Jensen was no solution to the right-sided midfield role, as he is much more effective in a central capacity. At the back, though, Denmark controlled the Greek forwards for most of the period, and it took a set-piece to unlock them: Brylle had been left to mark Mitropoulos from Saravakos’ corner kick, something which did not work well. They sure would need to look to Piontek for half-time inspiration.
Another Greek tactical feature: Kolomitrousis often came slightly in field to attend to Laudrup, something which lead to a bit of space in the home side’s left back area, had it not been for the covering Bonovas. Also, Tsaloukhidis, the left-sided of the three central defenders, would keep an eye towards this territory.
After the break:
Piontek decided to alter his formation after the dreary first half: the 4-4-2 diamond formation was now 3-5-2, with defender Kristensen coming on for left-back Bartram at half time. So Nielsen was left centre back, Kristensen right (meaning they would look after Saravakos and Anastopoulos respectively). There was also a reshuffle in midfield, with Laudrup and Jensen playing to the right and left of the deeper-lying Helt in the second half, with Sivebæk and Heintze down their respective flanks. This lead to Denmark getting a stronger grip on midfield, even if Laudrup still was not performing to anywhere near his capacity. Jensen, however, turned in a solid second half performance, and it was his never say die attitude that brought Povlsen’s equalizer. Speaking of the Danish forward: he was more to the left of the two strikers after the break, where he would often be attended to by Manolas, with Brylle operating on the right hand side and being looked after by Tsaloukhidis.
Greece made an early substitution in the second half, with goalscorer and central midfielder Mitropoulos coming off for Georgamlis. The latter clearly slotted into a more defensive midfield position than the one that Mitropoulos had been occupying, more or less alongside Skartados, who in the second half was often seen closer to Laudrup. This meant Greece more or less surrendered the midfield area to the visitors, as both their two central players were lying fairly deep. Later, Papapostoulou decided to take off the hard-working Skartados and replace him with Karapialis, who again is a more attack-minded midfielder, trying to reinstall some more attacking prowess in his side. However, it was too late by then, as the home side had rarely threatened Schmeichel’s goal at any point in the second half.
Saravakos had started out as a striker, and that is also where he finished, but he had also had shorter stints during the match in which he operated along the right hand side of midfield. Otherwise, this territory was left to right full-back Khatziathanasiou to exploit.
Right from the word go it is evident that this is two quite different kind of tactics clashing: the home side with their man-marking 3-5-2, with the visitors operating according to the zonal marking principles. The Greek line up with Mavridis as sweeper, the usually very stylish Panathinaikos defender. He is accompanied in central defence by man markers Manolas and hard man Tsaloukhidis, who will keep an eye on Brylle and Povlsen respectively. Even in midfield the home side have employed a man to keep an extra eye on one of the visitors: Kolomitrousis, the only starting player from champions Larissa, has been instructed not to let Danish playmaker Laudrup out of sight. Skartados does a lot of running, while Mitropoulos is more comfortable in a playmaking kind of capacity. On the right hand side full-back Khatziathanasiou is quick and generally willing to cross the halfway line, whereas Bonovas operating on the opposite flank is quite a workmanlike character, also taking responsibility in more central areas, especially when Denmark are in possession. The two experienced strikers are both rather small in stature; in particular the agile Saravakos. Skipper Anastopoulos has good acceleration, but is more stationary than his partner up front.
Danish boss Piontek has deployed a diamond formation in midfield, with the diminutive Helt operating behind Spielführer Laudrup, and with Jensen on the right hand side, though far from in a traditional flank role. Jensen is renowned from the Bundesliga for his physical strength and excellent break-up play, and he does at times appear to be out of sorts in a more wide role than what he usually occupies. That is no problem for PSV’s Heintze opposite, who is more than comfortable with not straying too far away from the touchline. Right behind him is the powerful Bartram, who willingly overlaps Heintze to create problems for the hosts down this flank. With Morten Olsen now retired, his libero role has been given to namesake Lars, who might lack in international stature compared to the 38 year old, but who is confident on the ball and also is not afraid to cross the halfway line. He also does his defensive duties capably, although he is not the quickest. The same could be said for big Nielsen, who plays as a more outright and traditional centre half. Nielsen’s strength is, unsurprisingly, his physique, and he is a presence in both boxes. On the right hand side of defence, the experienced Sivebæk, now in the French top flight after a brief stint with Manchester United, is focused mainly on his defensive tasks. Up top Brylle has re-appeared in the national team after three years away, but having often excelled as an advanced midfielder in his Belgian club team, he does not seem too comfortable playing as one of two strikers. His forward partner Povlsen is a lot more agile, and is also full of running. However, he is being tightly marked by Tsaloukhidis, and does suffer from a couple of brutal tackles by the Olympiakos defender.
The game is being played in front of less than 20,000 spectators in a vast stadium, though those present make sure to let both the visitors and the Czechoslovakian referee know they’re there: Any decision in disfavour of the home team is met with loud boos all around, something which clearly seems to have an effect on the rather weak referee. Mr Krchňák posesses a body language which hardly reeks of confidence, and will often let cynical fouls pass if committed by a home player. Likewise, he will make sure to give any Dane trying to do likewise a stern talking to. The pitch is bumpy and with plenty of spots of less green colour. However, both teams appear to prefer keeping the ball along the deck, so it hardly presents any side with a favour. Though good quality is lacking during most of a rather mundane first half.
Khatziathanasiou sets early Greek standards by bringing down both Bartram and Heintze. The referee did award the visitors a free-kick for the second incident, but the first one was bypassed without much notice. With Brøndby’s defender cum midfielder Bartram in clear pain, Laudrup even kicked the ball out of touch in order to let the physio onto the pitch, something which is very rarely seen in the late 80s. One would expect Juventus playmaker Laudrup to lead the Danes forward, and he does show a couple of good touches, but more often than not he drifts out of play and becomes isolated. He tries to compensate for this by retrieving slightly from his advanced role and away from man marker Kolomitrousis, but this will interfere with Helt’s role, and the Danish never find any rhythm during the opening 45 minutes. This is also due to the committed work from the home side, who clearly enter the dressing rooms the more satisfied of the two teams, especially since one of their two opportunities has yielded a goal: big midfielder Mitropoulos expertedly heading home Saravakos’ right hand corner just four minutes prior to half time. Earlier, Schmeichel had fisted over a shot from Anastopoulos, who had turned Nielsen after Saravakos’ intelligent run and low cross from the left had found him inside the area. At the other end, only Povlsen had managed to trouble the home defence, when he threatened to score from close range after dribbling through, and with only Talikriadis to beat hit the outside of the goalkeeper’s net. Laudrup shot over when in good position halfway through the first half, and Brylle would waste an admittedly difficult opportunity to equalize a minute from the break when played through intelligently by Helt.
The only Greek name in the book during the first half was the right back’s, and deservedly so. It did take three attempts before Mr Krchňák showed Khatziathanasiou a yellow card for another foul on the advancing Bartram. Heintze’s caution was for a foul on the very same Greek player.
Papapostolou has not rung any changes during half time. However, Piontek has, and Denmark appear with a whole new formation for the second period. Left back Bartram has been replaced, either due to injury after taking a few hits or due to tactical reasons, by central defender Bjørn Kristensen, so the Danes turn out after the break in a 3-5-2 formation similar to that of the home side. Kristensen is to the right of the three at the back, Olsen deep, Nielsen to the left. Heintze will patrol the left hand side, with Sivebæk opposite. The change in formation also benefits Jensen, who will come more into play in his new central role, where he will feature in the second half alongside Helt. Laudrup again appears to be the free man without a lot of defensive duties, drifting towards the right hand side of the pitch, and never straying too far away from him still is Kolomitrousis.
If there was an apparent lack of quality during the first half, the final 45 minutes hardly see a great improvement, but switching from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2, the visitors gain more control in midfield, and the Greeks hardly threaten Schmeichel’s goal during the entire half. However, Manolas could have scored halfway through when Brylle is unable to clear a right hand corner from Saravakos, and the defender’s left foot shot whistles just past the goalkeeper’s left post. A few minutes earlier Saravakos has had a go from 22 yards: Yet another free-kick had been awarded to the home side after Nielsen had appeared to win the ball from the Panathinaikos forward cleanly, but the Czechoslovakian referee was of a different opinion and awarded the kick. Schmeichel seemed to have control as the ball went what looked to be dangerously close to his right hand post. Prior to this, though, Denmark had equalized after Jensen’s clever bit of play, as he had sensed that Greece were trying to rush out to place the Danish forwards offside. Jensen instead played himself through, advanced past Manolas, and crossed for Povlsen who finished with aplomb.
With the introduction of Kristensen comes another feature into the Danish play: the long throw. Unfortunately for the Scandinavians, the AGF defender only gets to draw on this weapon once. Denmark continue to find it hard creating openings, and only in the final ten minutes do they appear to cause a bit of concern for the home side, firstly when Nielsen beats Manolas in the air and heads Heintze’s left hand side set-piece just over, then when Jensen’s shot from right in front of Talikriadis, 20 yards out, goes well over. Laudrup, who looks subdued for most of the game, wastes a free-kick in a decent position when he hits his marker Kolomitrousis’ head in the Greek defensive wall.
The home side continues throughout to be physical, and how centre half Tsaloukhidis never saw (at least) yellow will forever remain a question for those in attendance. Greek midfielder and goalscorer Mitropoulis deservedly won through with his request for a booking when he scythed down Jensen two yards away from the referee, and Mr Krchňák also could not avoid booking substitute Georgamlis as he cynically took out Povlsen with the Danish forward clean through on goal having been played in by Helt, who in turn had won the ball from Khatziathanasiou following some sloppy play by him in the Danish half. It was a minor scandal, really, how the man in charge avoided to send Georgamlis off. It was clear that his only intention was to brutally hack the Cologne forward down. The visitors did not receive a lot of favours from the Czechoslovakian man in charge, and quite frankly the referee did not seem fit for officiating a match at this level.
Papapostolou took off both of his two most dominant midfielders: Mitropoulos went off right after having been booked, but he appeared to be limping shortly before the switch with Georgamlis was made, so the reasons why the manager chose to replace him could have been forced upon him. Karapialis later came on for Skartados in another straight swap. Piontek would also use his second substitution when Elstrup saw the final 13 minutes of action coming on for the ineffective Brylle.
A draw was a fair result in a drab game. The surface hardly made good football easy, and some appalling refereeing marred the game throughout. Denmark would possibly be pleased having won a point away from home, whilst Greece should not be disheartened despite only getting one point from a home tie. People with transistor radios in the stands would convey messages of an impressive 3-1 win for Romania in Sofia at the end, setting up a very interesting continuation for group 1.
1 Talikriadis 6.8
did not have an awful lot to do, but seemed to organize his defence well, and seemed assured enough in most of what came his way
2 Khatziathanasiou 7.1
starts out in such an aggressive manner that the Danish seem reluctant to try and create much down his side. Also has a spectacular left-footed effort just wide of the upright early on, and does not concede a lot of crosses
3 Kolomitrousis 6.6
partly left-back with solely defensive duties, partly man-marking duties on Laudrup. An average performance
4 Manolas 6.5
let his team mates down as he let Jensen stride past in the build-up to Povlsen’s equalizer, and also has a few problems in keeping up with the Danish forward once Povlsen’s switched on. A bit of a disappointing game from the experienced defender
5 Mavridis 6.8
the spare man at the back is a good reader of the game, and rarely gets into trouble despite a slight lack of pace. Heads well, and is a threat also when coming forward for attacking set-pieces
6 Tsaloukhidis 6.8
at times overly aggressive in his approach, and it is a big mystery how he avoided even a booking. His man-marking strategy was clearly based on intimidation
7 Saravakos 7.0
fine game by the schemer, who enjoyed to take on the Danish defenders, and even if it rarely yielded goalscoring opportunities, he was more or less a constant threat. Also a couple of efforts from distance which brought Schmeichel into action
8 Skartados 6.6
is full of running, but can not do a lot when in possession other than carry the ball from defence and across the halfway line. A deeper second half role than he had occupied during the opening 45, also often seen not too far away from Laudrup. Pure tactical switch when taken off
(14 Karapialis –
tried to bring about a spark to the attacking play, but came on too late to have much of an effect)
9 Anastopoulos 6.6
a Greek gentleman. Tried to lead the line, but was often outmuscled by the Danish defenders, and did not have much luck in holding the ball up. Wasted a decent first half opportunity when he rode a Nielsen tackle only to fire over via Schmeichel’s fist from inside the area
10 Mitropoulos 6.9
is a big physical presence in the middle of the pitch, and scores the important first goal with a fine header. Battles well with Jensen as the two come into each other’s territory time and again, and Jensen’s also the object for Mitropoulos’ wrath when he scythes him down right in front of the ref to earn himself a yellow. Taken off shortly after, probably because of a tight hamstring
(12 Georgamlis 6.7
like several of his team mates he never shirked a tackle. Should have been sent off when flooring Povlsen from behind as the Danish forward came racing in on goal, but probably saved Greece from defeat in doing so. Capable job in the defensive midfield area after coming on)
11 Bonovas 6.3
at times running around like a headless chicken, and interfering more with play than being of benefit to the home side. Weak in challenges, but does appear committed in the remaining first half minutes after 1-0
1 Schmeichel 6.9
made a couple of confident claims, and spread security throughout his defence
2 Heintze 7.1
eager to build an understanding with left-sided colleague Bartram during the first half, and combined well with Povlsen after the break. Never stops running, always chasing an opponent. Not an easy player to come up against, and also with quality in his passing
3 Nielsen 6.8
the big defender struggled when Saravakos tried to take him on along the ground, whereas his aerial play was, as one has come to expect from him, second to none. Had one attacking set-piece header which went just over the bar
4 Olsen 6.7
Denmark’s “life after M Olsen” gave an insight of what could be: not a poor match. But with so much expectancy to live up to it is hard to please. Decided to play safe, and rarely ventured across the halfway line
5 Sivebæk 6.7
coped ok with both his roles, but possibly this time around better in 4-4-2 than in 3-5-2. Crossing lacked precision
6 Bartram 6.9
enjoyed a fruitful co-existence with Heintze on the Danish left-hand side, though was often tackled brutally. Had to be sacrificed at half time, probably as a result of an injury
(12 Kristensen 6.7
quiet second half with his team in control of proceedings, did well in the air against his man)
7 Helt 6.9
his ability as an anchor kept the Danish ship steady in somewhat rough seas. A good reader of the game and with a creative spark in his passing play. His lack of size makes him vulnerable in combat
8 Jensen 7.0
a bit out of sorts in a wide right role first half, but came to life once he was given a more familiar midfield role after the break. Wonderful contribution for the equalizer, and fine break-up play in general. Not afraid of walking into combat
9 Povlsen 7.1
after a slow start, he realized there’s a lot of opportunities when taking the big Greek defenders on along the deck. Fine finish for 1-1, and could have added another goal as he had a fine raid during the first half in which he fired wide from a bit of an angle when racing through on his own. Was cynically hacked down when about to take on Talikriadis in a second half counter-attack
10 Laudrup 6.4
so much more had been expected from him. Was often marked by either Kolomitrousis or Skartados, or both, and only showed on a couple of occasions his massive potential, especially early on, as he attempted a couple of one-twos. Generally, his passing let him down, and drifted out of the game for longer periods
11 Brylle 6.0
very bleak on his comeback in the national team, unable to free himself from the shackles of his marker. Often found in an advanced midfield role in his club side; seemed unable to switch back into a centre forward role. Could have been taken off earlier
(15 Elstrup –
was not able to make an impact after coming on late)