Visitors fail to capitalize on an hour of domination, while Greece finish the stronger

1990 World Cup Qualification
UEFA Group 1 
Video: Highlights
Wed. 26 April 1989
Kick-off: –
Olympiakó Stádio, Athens
Att.: 15,000¹
Ref.: Aron Schmidhuber (FRG)
L 1: Manfred Harder (FRG)
L 2: Dieter Pauly (FRG)
¹ Rothman’s Football Yearbook claims 30,000 for this one, and, indeed, judging by TV pictures from the game, it cannot be denied that 15,000 seems a scarce figure.



Miltos Papapostoulou had got the boot after the 3-0 defeat in Bucharest, and after a short interim tenure by Alekos Sofianidis, the Greek FA had appointed 56 year old Ethnikos Piraeus boss Antonis Georgiadis as the new national team manager. He had overseen the 4-1 home defeat by Yugoslavia three weeks earlier, the final of Greece’ seven (!) international friendlies since the turn of the year. The last six of these had all been at home, yet they only had two wins to show for: 4-2 against Norway and 3-2 against East Germany. Furthermore, with that heavy defeat in these two teams’ last encounter in mind, it would be a bold move to put a lot of money on a Greece win.

Georgiadis had handed a (substitute) debut to Olympiakos midfielder Savvidis in the defeat against the Yugoslavians, and he would get a starting place against Romania. A total of five players from the starting line-up in Bucharest would not be picked for this match: goalkeeper Talikriadis, full-back Kolomitrousis, midfielders Bonovas (on the bench) and Mitropoulos, as well as veteran forward Anastopoulos. The now 31 year old striker, a footballing icon in his home country, would in fact never again represent Elláda after that defeat in Romania. Midfielder Mitropoulos, who had headed Greece in front in their opening qualification tie at home to Denmark, was suspended after a yellow card in each of their two Group 1 matches thus far.

If there had been turmoil in the Greek preparations for this particular tie, things did seem calmer with their opponents. However, they were now without majestic libero Miodrag Belodedici, who had been declared unwanted by the FA after he had defected to Yugoslavia in order to play for Red Star Belgrade. Belodedici, whose international reputation had been growing ever since Steaua București’s fantastic triump in the European Cup in ’86, would be a big miss in the Romanian side. Having been raised near the Yugoslavian border, and with Serbo-Croatian as his native tongue, it should perhaps not come as a huge surprise that the stylish defender had wanted to join the Belgrade club. Without him, manager Jenei, the coach also behind Steaua’s ’86 triumph against Barcelona, would have to look elsewhere for a libero, and the choice fell on Mircea Rednic, the 27 year old Dinamo București player. Jenei had played Rednic in the libero position in the second half of a November friendly win against Israel last year, as well as in the home win against Italy and away defeat to Poland this spring. Emeric Jenei did not seem duly worried about thrusting the after all internationally experienced Rednic into the libero position for this particular fixture.

Other than Belodedici, Romania were also without wide midfielder/forward Marius Lăcătuș for the trip to the Greek capital. Having done well in the 3-0 win against Greece at home, his omission would have to be dealt with swiftly, and Jenei looked to Dinamo midfielder Ioan Lupescu as Lăcătuș’ replacement. Lupescu was, however, odds-on to occupy a more withdrawn role than the Steaua forward. A third non-select was centre half Ioan Andone, who would be replaced by Adrian Bumbescu. Andone had been amidst controversy the previous month, in a domestic cup tie for Dinamo against arch-rivals Steaua, where he had alledgedly approached president Nicolae Ceauşescu’s son Valentin, a prominent figure in the Steaua hierarchy, and dropped his shorts (!) upon the final whistle after the 2-1 loss. Andone had subsequently been suspended.

Among the eleven starters, six came from Dinamo, four hailed from Steaua, whereas Universitatea Craiova’s elegant holding midfielder Popescu was the only selectee from outside of the capital.

Romania had obviously opened the group strongly with two wins from two, and were already three points ahead of today’s hosts. Greece had to set their sights on a win in order to at least have a slight interest in the remaining fixtures. The last time the Greeks had beaten Romania was in a 1978 Athens friendly, indeed their only win in 22 (!) previous attempts. Romania would have taken to the field confident of getting a result, despite knowing very well that Denmark had struggled to return from Athens with a point on the opening day of the group.

Referee was West German Aron Schmidhuber, a 42 year old who had only once so far in his international career taken charge of a qualification tie: a 3-2 home win for Italy against Switzerland ahead of the 1988 European Championships. Schmidhuber had never refereed either of these two before.

Greece (4-5-1)

1 Spyros Oikonomopoulos29AEK
2 Stratos Apostolakis 88′24Olympiakos
3 Iakovas Khatziathanasiou27Panathinaikos
4 Stelios Manolas27AEK
5 Kostas Mavridis26Panathinaikos
6 Giotis Tsaloukhidis26Olympiakos
7 Dimitris Saravakos (c)27Panathinaikos
8 Giorgos Papadopoulos 24′, sub 66′21Iraklis
9 Giannis Samaras27Panathinaikos
10 Elias Savvidis22Olympiakos
11 Nikos Tsiantakis25Olympiakos

12 Nikos Nioplias24OFI
13 Thanasis Dimopoulos26Iraklis
14 Andreas Bonovason 66′25Iraklis
15 Giorgios Plitsis25Iraklis
16 Giannis Galitsios30Larissa
Manager: Antonis Georgiadis

Romania (4-5-1)

1 Silviu Lung (c)32Steaua
2 Ştefan Iovan28Steaua
3 Michael Klein 64′29Dinamo
4 Adrian Bumbescu 31′29Steaua
5 Dorin Mateuț23Dinamo
6 Mircea Rednic27Dinamo
7 Ioan Lupescusub 79′20Dinamo
8 Ioan Sabău21Dinamo
9 Rodion Cămătarusub 90′30Dinamo
10 Gheorghe Hagi24Steaua
11 Gheorghe Popescu21Universitatea Craiova

12 Bogdan Stelea21Dinamo
13 Dan Petrescu21Steaua
14 Ilie Dumitrescuon 79′20Steaua
15 Emil Săndoi24Universitatea Craiova
16 Claudiu Vaișcovicion 90′26Dinamo
Manager: Emeric Jenei

Tactical line-ups

4-5-1 from both sides. Rednic deep sweeper for Romania, Greece more at square line with their central defenders. They both have deployed a deep midfielder: Popescu with the visitors, Tsaloukhidis for the home side. Romania’s two midfielders Sabău, in particular, and Lupescu like to burst forward, and so too does right back Iovan. Hagi begins the match out right, but comes in central as the half grows older, and he is also seen out left in Mateuț’s original territory. He is more or less his own master, is Gheorghe Hagi.

Greece don’t really have this fluidity in positional exchange. Their players rarely venture out of position. Both Savvidis and Papadopoulos go through a solid amount of first half work. Khatziathanasiou is occasionally seen contributing forward, but those tasks are predominantly left for the two wide men to try and deal with, and with the captain on the right hand side supposedly the creative act. Samaras is a lot of the same which is seen from Cămătaru down the opposite end: neither is very mobile. They’re quite heavy, both like to try and shield the ball away from their opposing defenders, and both also seem to thrive in the air.

The second half continues along the same pattern, though when Greece make their tactical switch in pressing higher up the field, Savvidis and Saravakos in particular come to the fore: The former is contributing a lot in pressuring high, and the latter is the creative spark from his wide right role. Bonovas is brought into the centre of the pitch to spread passes once Greece have seized the initiative, and this works well, albeit Tsaloukhidis’ role appears somewhat unclear after the switch. Jenei later replies by taking the ineffective Lupescu off for Dumitrescu, permanently switching Mateuț into a more central role (which he had often been occupying anyway), whereas Hagi was gradually working his way out towards the left hand touchline during the second half, often trying to avoid the strict attention from various home players.

Match Report

First half:
Both teams took to the pitch with four at the back, but whereas the home side played without a free man in their centre, the visitors had deployed Rednic in this role. He was often seen sweeping deep behind his central defensive colleague Bumbescu. On the Romanian defensive flanks, there was Iovan on the right and Klein on the opposite side, with the former a more than willing customer to join in attack as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Which it did with frequency, as Romania were the better team during the first half. Left back Klein, a replacement for Rotariu since these two last met, would also seek to advance across the halfway line, but not as regularly as his full-back compatriot on the opposite side. Bombescu was left to deal with Samaras, the lone Greek striker. 

Down the other end the home side would appear more square in their defensive line, though it was more often than not Manolas who dealt with sole Romanian striker Cămătaru. Not that it gave the other central defender Mavridis a lot of opportunities to make forays into enemy territory. They had both been instructed in putting safety first, and after the outcome the last time these two had met, as well as bearing in mind the winter and spring that Greece had had with their seemingly endless line of friendlies, in which they had not impressed so often, it could be understood. The same level of caution applied for the two full-backs, who were not often seen across the halfway line, and if so, Khatziathanasiou on the left went forward more than Apostolakis did. 

Georgiadis had picked captain Saravakos for the wide right midfield berth, a role that he was left to interpret more or less as he had wanted to; his defensive contributions were few and far between. On the opposite side, Tsiantakis was a more conventional type of flank man, more suited to a wing role in a 4-4-2 or, as this was, a 4-5-1. He would aid Khatziathanasiou if needed. And the Greek left-back seemed to scream out for assistance on a good few occasions, as it was his defensive stronghold that was challenged by the willing Iovan, who enjoyed bombing forward in order to get a cross in. Among the three Greek central midfielders, Tsaloukhidis was the most defensively orientated. He tried to shield his stoppers from runs from the Romanian midfield, a tactic which was not always succesful during the opening 45 minutes. Both Lupescu and, to a greater extent, Sabău would try to hurt Greece through deep runs, a tactic which also served left-sided midfielder Mateuț particularly well. He could be seen attacking Apostolakis’ territory, but he was also keen on exploiting any available space in more central areas left behind when Greek midfielders Savvidis and Papadopoulos had to track back to make sure Sabău didn’t get it all his way. Mateuț was Romania’s liveliest player in the first half, and he came close to opening the scoring when he had typically come into the sector ahead of Oikonomopoulos, where his right foot shot was clumsily dropped by the goalkeeper, but he made it back in time to palm it away from the goalline, even if Cămătaru who had chased him back tried to persuade the officials that the ball had crossed the line. If it had, it would have been defying the laws of physics for Ikonomopoulos to clear it away for a corner. 

Cămătaru does not appear to be your typical sole striker in a 4-5-1, as he is a bit immobile and a bit sluggish, though strong in the air and able to hold the ball up and bring others into play. What about Hagi? The rising star of the Carpathians (soon to be dubbed this region’s ‘Maradona’) was originally picked for the wide right role in midfield, but there was always a feeling that to Hagi, his positional address was just a formality and little else. And this proved to be correct, as he would play just where he felt like playing, sometimes popping up on the left hand side, sometimes collecting the ball from a team mate inside the centre circle. Gheorghe Hagi, 24, was certainly adding a bit of extravagancy to his play already. But this made him unpredictable. The Greeks, who had performed man-marking duties through Kolomitrousis against the Danish playmaker Michael Laudrup, had chosen not to put a man designatedly on Hagi. Yet it didn’t quite happen for Hagi during the first half, although he had come close after Manolas had given the ball away to Cămătaru deep inside his own half early on. Sabău then had played Hagi in, but Oikonomopoulos had made an assured parry. Perhaps it was the aggresion of the home players which bothered Hagi? The Steaua star had never been too keen on physical contests. 

There had been one Greek player to go in the referee’s black book in the opening 45: midfield man Papadopoulos’ name was taken when he scythed down Rednic right on the touchline. The Greece number 8 could not complain, even if the crowd undertook that job for him. And it was hardly the only poorly timed challenge from a home player in the opening half. Khatziathanasiou had felled Klein and been tête-à-tête with Sabău without as much as a word from the lenient West German Schmidhuber. Later, Romania stopper Bumbescu also saw yellow. 

Another opportunity came the visitors’ way when Popescu played a ball deep into Apostolakis’ side of the penalty area, and as the right back is undecided about clearing the ball or playing it back to his goalkeeper, in nips Mateuț, who is too close to the byline to have a go on his own, so he plays in the on-rushing Sabău, whose left-foot attempt is dealt with through the means of another Oikonomopoulos save, this time low down to his left. Whereas the away team have created a few decent scoring opportunities, the Greeks have yet to bother the calm figure of Lung in the Romanian goal. Still, though, it is 0-0 at half time, and not taking your opportunities always has an eventuality for coming back to haunt you. 

Second half:
With no changes to either team, it is Saravakos and Samaras who kick off the second period. 

The second half seems destined to continue along the same pattern as much of the first half: Romania, so assured on the ball, would be stroking it around between themselves, and they would be looking for some of their midfielders to cause havoc in the Greek defence by going on deep runs into the area. Sabău in particular is good at this. They have the omnipresent Popescu in the deep midfield role, and he will both stifle Greek attacks, nip them in the bud so to speak, and be the instigator of a lot of what the Romanians try to do. Hagi? He continues to come inside, and he spends more time in a central or even left-sided position than he does in his original wide right role. The Greeks are very well aware of the danger that he possesses, and they will try their best to put him off by giving him an extra kick whenever they get near enough to him to make a challenge. These Greek tactics of intimidation seem futile in the opening 15 minutes or so during the second half. But although the visitors enjoy a lot of possession, they do not make the necessary breakthrough. Hagi comes the closest with a free-kick from 25 yards to the left of Oikonomopoulos’ goal. The ball whistles not far outside the Greek goalkeeper’s left hand post. There is another opportunity when Sabău has made another good run off the ball, which had been spotted by Hagi. The Romanian playmaker feeds Sabău, who had been tracked in his run by Tsaloukhidis, and Sabău returns the favour by finding Hagi in a decent shooting position, only for Mavridis to get in a good block to avert the danger. Another run by Sabău sees him have a less than convincing call for a penalty, as Khatziathanasiou lays his arm around him and the visitors’ midfielder goes to the ground inside the area, but the call’s neither substantial nor valid, and Schmidhuber never intends to whistle. 

Right on the hour mark, there appears to be a change in Greek tactics. As Romania do like to try and build from the back, the home players are all of a sudden a lot more collectively aggressive in their pressure, which is done high up in the pitch. This clearly seems to unsettle the visitors, who gradually concede the initiative to the Greeks. It is quite a remarkable turn-around in the game, which so far had been controlled by the Group 1 leaders, and controlled comfortably. It was always they who had looked the likeliest to score. Now the Greek midfielders push higher; they attack Popescu, who is no longer given time on the ball in the build-up phase. The young Lupescu is unable to stamp any kind of authority in midfield, and the hosts are by now well in command of a tie which had had Romania written all over it for most of the first hour. Mateuț, Sabău and Hagi are all excellent players, but when called to the trenches, they will possibly not be the ones you’d wish to draft in first. Greece realize they need a win, and Georgiadis even frees up the man-marking tactics in central defence, giving Manolas the opportunity to often go forward. He has a big presence from attacking set-pieces with his aerial ability. This does leave Cămătaru more or less to his own devices, but by now Romania are so much pegged back that even when they do try and hit it long on a couple of occasions for their forward, there is no midfielder high enough up the pitch to get to the second ball. Georgiadis’ tactics have worked superbly, also helped by the level of aggression which the home players are showing in front of their very vociferous and passionate supporters. 

On 64 minutes there’s a booking for Romanian left back Klein, who brings down the increasingly inspired Saravakos on the Greek right hand side. Schmidhuber could probably have followed suit for some of the home players, whose aggression levels are perhaps a little too high. The home side have brought on little playmaker Bonovas for the tiring Papadopoulos, who was on a yellow card anyway, and the substitute is fortunate to escape a booking when he brutally hacks down a traversing Klein on a rare Romanian foray into the Greek half. Down the other end there is also a bit of mouthing between visiting centre half Bumbescu and home forward Samaras. They are both whole-hearted in each and every challenge, and soon the Greek number 9 will feel he has a very good appeal for a penalty turned down when Savvidis has played him in with a clever little pass into the area. Samaras trips over Rednic’s leg, and the reason why the West German referee decides not to call a penalty will have been because the forward had made too much of it. And to not award a penalty was probably the right call, even if it was a tight one. 

The visitors are living a charmed life. The home side are direct: They realize there’s no use in trying to play high balls into the area, but most of their passing is directed forward via fewer touches, and a lot is going through the busy Saravakos. On one occasion he gets away from Mateuț and gets to the byline, where he tries to pick out Manolas with a cross. He does find him, but the central defender is off balance, possibly a bit put off by the fact that Lung is disturbing him by coming off his goalline, and he can’t direct his header anywhere but across the byline and out for a goalkick. The away skipper had not acted convincingly, and had the cross been more precise, Lung would have been caught in no-man’s land for the header. It must be said, though, that both Bumbescu and Rednic had positioned themselves on the goalline, in case Manolas had managed to direct it. 

As the home side are more or less all-out attack by now, there’s a couple of opportunities on the break by the visitors: Both Hagi and Mateuț will get into decent positions inside the Greek penalty area, slightly to the left of goal, but whilst Hagi remains undecisive and can’t get a shot away and the ball’s cleared by the recovering Mavridis, Mateuț is tracked back by Samaras, of all people, who puts the midfielder off so much that he slices his shot well wide. Down the other end again, Samaras contributes to try and play Savvidis through, and again they are close, the Greeks, although the home side’s number 10 is put off by a combination of Lung and Iovan, and the ball gets cleared out for a corner kick. 

Jenei had tried to change his team’s fortune by taking Lupescu off and replacing him with Dumitrescu. The latter would take up the wide left berth, with Mateuț more of a designated central player, even if this is a position that he has dabbled in earlier as well. The young Dumitrescu is said to have a big future ahead of him, but he is unable to make much of an impact in hostile surroundings. Before the finish, there is time for a fourth yellow when Greek right back Apostolakis is outraged as he doesn’t win a free-kick after some pressure from Cămătaru wins the Romanians a throw-in. Right in front of the referee he decides to boot the ball away in frustration, and this time the official can not avoid producing the yellow for a home player. Then Jenei proceeds to take his lone forward off, replacing him with yet another Dinamo player in team mate Vaișcovici. This is clearly a move done in order to play down time. The visitors realize that one point will have to do, as they had endured a difficult final 25 or so minutes. So when Schmidhuber puts the whistle to his mouth one last time, it is Romania who are the happier of the two. 

The clear favourites enjoy a lot of possession in the opening half, and they do produce several decent opportunities from which a goal or two so easily could have come. However, Greece enter the dressing rooms on even terms, possibly facing more of the same for the second period. And they do, for the first 16-17 minutes, until there’s a change in modus operandi from the home team: They begin to put high pressure on the visitors, who seem totally unprepared for this kind of tactics. All of a sudden it is Romania who are hanging on and looking the more vulnerable, and they can only muster a couple of counter-attacks during the latter part of the game, having completely conceded the midfield area to the hosts and their aggressive tactics. In the end, a draw is probably a fair result. Five points from the opening three fixtures will have pleased Jenei and his team, whereas Greece will realize, if they hadn’t already, that they’re nothing but also-rans in the competition. 


1 Oikonomopoulos 6.8
he almost gifts Romania a goal as he lets Mateuț’ shot slip through his hands, but he redeems himself when he gets to the ball before it trickles across the line. Does make a few good stops during a first half in which the visitors are on top
2 Apostolakis 6.7
is not allowed a lot of freedom to join the attack, but does well in general against some technically gifted opponents in his own half
3 Khatziathanasiou 6.9
often personifies the Greek aggression, which is raised to a new level after just over an hour’s play. Is willing in attack, and also defends ok, even if Iovan during the first half gets to a few crosses from his side
4 Manolas 7.1
has some right old tussles with Cămătaru until he is released into a more forward-thinking role after Georgiadis’ tactical switch to exert pressure on the visitors. Is dangerous inside the visitors’ penalty area when given the chance
5 Mavridis 7.0
is mainly defensively focused throughout, and makes a couple of solid interceptions
6 Tsaloukhidis 6.6
not always as effective in the sitting midfield role during the visitors’ spells of pressure, and seems less useful when Greece themselves try to be creative
7 Saravakos 7.2
after a fairly mundane first half, he comes to life after the switch in tactics, and he is often the creative force from his wide right role, good at spotting runs from team mates
8 Papadopoulos 6.8
more an enforcer than a creative mind, but does get a few decent tackles in during the opening half. Taken off for a more playmaking kind of player in the second half
(14 Bonovas –
comes on and makes a steady impression in something of a regista role deep in the Greek midfield. Has a good range of passes, but is fortunate not to have been booked for a nasty challenge on Klein)
9 Samaras 6.8
seems immobile and a bit wasted before the break, but steps it up a notch in the second half, when his aggression levels rise following a couple of clashes with Bumbescu. Makes one particularly great defensive recovery when challenging Mateuț inside his own half
10 Savvidis 7.0
a good display by the midfield mullet man, who makes a few runs into the opposing box, and who also finds a couple of creative passes
11 Tsiantakis 6.8
for longer spells rather invisible, but gets into a couple of shooting opportunities when cutting inside from his wide left position

1 Lung 6.8
looks less than convincing on a couple of right hand crosses, but is other than that his usual calm presence
2 Iovan 7.0
is bombing forward at will before the break, and also does a fine job in keeping Tsiantakis quiet for most of the game
3 Klein 6.8
has a tricky opponent in Saravakos, whom he fouls to ‘win’ his yellow card. Is also on the receiving end of some cynical tackles from the home side
4 Bumbescu 6.9
has some right battles with Samaras, especially after the break, but stands his ground and is never unsettled
5 Mateuț 7.1
shows at times in the first half what an asset he is to Romania with his strong runs and direct threat to the home side, and has a good right peg. Close to scoring when Ikonomopoulos spills his shot. Less visible during Greece’ spell of dominance
6 Rednic 7.0
gives a conservative interpretation of the libero role, but defends well when called upon; has good positional sense. Rarely challenged in the air
7 Lupescu 6.5
the youngster never really asserted himself on the game, not as good off the ball as some of his team mates, and not always knowing what to do on the ball either. Good decision to take him off
(14 Dumitrescu –
brought on for the wide left role in the closing stages, possibly seen as someone who could punish Greece on the counter, but rarely given a chance to show what he can do)
8 Sabău 7.0
quite good while Romania were on top, but also did not contribute enough when the home side decided to pressure the visitors high up the pitch
9 Cămătaru 6.6
not a prolific performance by the forward, who often became too isolated, especially in the second period. Struggled to make an impact in the air, and was whistled off for fouls against on a couple of occasions
(16 Vaișcovici –
hardly had a minute on the pitch)
10 Hagi 6.8
a difficult game for the gifted player, who was often dealt with quite cynically by the home players. He was unsettled, found no cohesion once Romania had conceded possession, and though he did come close with a couple of attempts from distance, did not have his most productive game of football
11 Popescu 7.2
a very good first half, but like most of his team mates did not seem to know quite what to do when the home team exerted such strong pressure in the final third of the match. A calm figure up until then, distributing the ball well, and even constructive with the ball at his feet


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