Albania – Sweden: Away side do well to come back and win on a very difficult pitch
¹ It is wise to always treat such round figures with great care
This would be Albania’s 14th home qualifying match for an international tournament in the 1980s. Their record prior to kick-off read 2-3-8, but while they were usually expected to lose, they were always a tough nut to crack at home. Only West Germany, as far back as April 1 ’81, had won by a greater margin than one goal (2-0). Albania had shown during their game in Poland two and a half weeks earlier that they had perhaps somewhat narrowed the gap up to some of Europe’s better nations, so Sweden, fresh from their 0-0 draw in London, knew they were in for a big ask in trying to return home with both points.
Albania team news
The game was a Saturday afternoon affair. Albania boss Rreli saw little reason to tinker too much with his line-up compared to those eleven who had taken to the field in Poland, but he had replaced right back Alimehmeti with Zmijani of Vllazni from Shkodër up north in the country, not far from the Yugoslavian border. In comparison to his predecessor at right back, Zmijani was rather experienced at international level, winning his 13th cap. As Albania throughout the 1980s only ever played four friendlies, none prior to 1985, this was a reasonable figure, but still some way behind leading cap Minga, the team captain, who performed his 26th national team duty against the Swedes.
One question which could be asked: Why was there no Agustin Kola in the squad? He had featured for Nëntori since the previous international, and surely Rreli could ill afford to leave out of the squad someone of his obvious standing in Albanian football?
Sweden team news
Sweden boss Nordin, this time not so casually dressed in a plain tracksuit as he had been in London in their last outing, and with assistant Kent Karlsson to his left on the bench, was clad more suitably for the cold Tirana conditions. In the mountains surrounding the city, snow had already appeared, and in wind and rain, the pitch, which appeared very uneven, would provide something of a challenge for the players. So would these external factors contribute to playing along in giving Albania an advantage? Nordin had picked the same eleven as at Wembley, with one exception: Ekström would start in place of Holmqvist up front. In a game where their opponents would most likely sit very deep, it seemed perhaps something of a strange decision, as Ekström’s clearly enjoying life a lot more when he has freedom to run in behind a defence.
Again 21 year young Malmö starlet Thern would perform on the right hand side of midfield. He did not look out of place at Wembley, but being used to playing in a central midfield role with his club side, using him out wide is perhaps something of a luxury. But Nordin kept faith in the Atalanta central pairing of Strömberg, still carrying his long, blonde hair, and the curly-haired Prytz, clearly the warrior of the two. Prytz, another player with a Malmö pedigree, had had three season in the at times brutal Scottish league, so he was not foreign to flying tackles or opponents trying their best to intimidate. In that respect, with Albania expected to use their share of brute force, it seemed apt to go for international experience in the midfield engine room.
Swedish champions IFK Gothenburg had been in Tirana only ten days earlier and won 3-0 in a second round first tie game in the European Cup. The game had taken place on the very same pitch, so right back Roland Nilsson knew what to expect, having played in that match. From the home team, five players had featured for reigning champions KS 17 Nëntori ¹: goalkeeper Mersini, libero Hodja, central defender Lekbello, midfielder Josa and forward Minga. Josa had operated as part of Albania’s five man defence in the qualification opener in Poland, but he had been shifted into midfield for this game, with Gega, holding midfielder in Chorzów, set to perform man-marking duties on visiting forward Pettersson.
Referee was 41 year old Turk Yusuf Namoğlu. He was 41 years of age, and this was his sixth international since his 1983 debut in Varna, Bulgaria, where he had overseen a 1-1 friendly between the hosts and Switzerland. He had officiated once during the qualification for the 1986 World Cup, incidentally also a Sweden away match (the Scandinavians had won 2-1 in Malta in Nov ’85). At club level, he had been in charge of Oțelul Galați’s 1-0 win against Juventus two months earlier, on Sep 7, and he’d refereed four times in the Turkish league since the start of the season, with his most recent task a 2-1 home win for Eskişehirspor against Bursaspor the previous weekend.
¹ 17 Nëntori, or November as it is in English, was the date in 1944 when Tirana was freed from the Nazi troops which had held it during World War II, and the communists came to power through Enver Hoxha, still in charge as this fixture took place.
|1 Halim Mersini||27||KS 17 Nëntori|
|2 Hysen Zmijani||25||Vllaznia Shkodër|
|3 Mirel Josa||25||KS 17 Nëntori|
|4 Skënder Hodja||28||KS 17 Nëntori|
|5 Skënder Gega||37′||24||FK Partizani|
|6 Fatbardh Jera||28||Vllaznia Shkodër|
|7 Ylli Shehu||22||FK Partizani|
|8 Artur Lekbello||22||KS 17 Nëntori|
|9 Lefter Millo||22||FK Partizani|
|10 Arbën Minga (c)||29||KS 17 Nëntori|
|11 Sulejman Demollari||24||Dinamo Tirana|
|12 Luan Birçë||26||Flamurtari|
|13 Arjan Stafa||24||Dinamo Tirana|
|14 Krenar Alimehmeti||22||KS 17 Nëntori|
|15 Ilir Kepa||22||Vllaznia Shkodër|
|16 Arjan Laçja||24||Vllaznia Shkodër|
|1 Thomas Ravelli||29||Östers|
|2 Roland Nilsson||24||IFK Göteborg|
|3 Glenn Hysén (c)||60′||29||Fiorentina|
|4 Peter Larsson||27||Ajax|
|5 Roger Ljung||22||Malmö FF|
|6 Jonas Thern||21||Malmö FF|
|7 Glenn Strömberg||88′||28||Atalanta|
|8 Robert Prytz||sub 66′||28||Atalanta|
|9 Joakim Nilsson||22||Malmö FF|
|10 Stefan Pettersson||23||Ajax|
|11 Johnny Ekström||25||Bayern München|
|12 Sven Andersson||25||Örgryte|
|13 Dennis Schiller||23||Lillestrøm|
|14 Stefan Rehn||22||Djurgården|
|15 Hans Holmqvist||on 66′||28||Cesena|
|16 Hans Eskilsson||22||Sporting Lisboa|
The home side are said to be 5-3-2, but with Minga clearly more withdrawn than lone striker Shehu, it is more reminiscent of a 5-4-1. They appear with Hodja as sweeper, and with Lekbello and Gega as central markers, attending to the quick Ekström and head-strong Pettersson respectively. Jera at left back is more restricted offensively than Zmijani at right back, who often is the sole option down the right hand side for the home team. Josa is the deeper of the two central midfielders, with Demollari the schemer joining in attack every time he sees fit. Millo sticks to his left hand side, whilst captain Minga occasionally features as an alternative more towards the right hand side of the pitch, albeit not as a recognized wide player. The pacey Shehu makes runs to try and draw the Swedish central defenders wide, and he causes a lot of trouble, also scoring Albania’s goal after he had been played through by Josa. They do create several decent scoring opportunities, and the visitors will have been pleased that they were only one goal behind by the time that the hosts started to tire.
Sweden’s line-up is a traditional 4-4-2, exactly like had been seen at Wembley ten days earlier, although Ekström had replaced Holmqvist as Pettersson’s forward partner. Nilsson is an important defensive figure as he holds a lot more pace than he’s given credit for, and with Shehu from time to time trying to exploit this side of the pitch, the Swedish right back does a fine job. Hysén again is strong, although far from as dominant as he had been at Wembley. Larsson misses out on a couple of aerial challenges, which in turn provides decent opportunities for the home team to launch counter attacks, whilst Ljung at left back provides a fine left foot for forward passes. Again though, the Swedish wide play is far from excellent, as neither Nilsson on the left nor Thern opposite make much of an impression. However, as central midfielder Prytz is replaced by forward Holmqvist midway through the second half, with Thern coming into a central role and Holmqvist appearing on the right hand side of midfield, the Swedish attack is a lot less static, and Pettersson immediately starts to have some luck in the battles with his marker Gega, and this is also what will preceed Holmqvist’s equalizer, which comes right after his introduction from the bench. Ekström is generally kept well in check by Lekbello, although the young Albanian defender is not strong enough to fend him off when the Bayern Munich forward scores what turns out to be the winning goal. The home side has begun to tire by then, and their counter attacks are fewer and further between the more the game progresses.
It turned out to be something of a lucky sub when Holmqvist replaced the rather inefficient Prytz, with Thern moving into a more familiar central midfield role. After the goal, Pettersson came to a couple of goalscoring opportunities as well, and the home side’s morale seems to drop once they go behind.
The home side kick off into the wind. Nothing much is happening during the first few minutes, where there’s a lot of duelling going on on the soggy pitch. Albania clearly give as good as they get in these challenges, and Sweden know so well that this will be a very different game of football as to what they had in London. However, it is they who create the first opportunity, when space opens up in front of Joakim Nilsson, the left-sided midfielder, who is equally comfortable with both feet. His right foot shot from distance takes one bounce on the bumpy pitch before it goes safely into the arms of Mersini. The Albanian goalkeeper had had a very good performance in Poland, and he would need to be on top form again should the home side get something from the game.
Sweden line up in their traditional 4-4-2, again, like in London, quite conservative in their approach, as the two full-backs are not often entering Albanian territory. They play with the wind in their back, Sweden, but there is no space for their defenders to hit it long for neither Pettersson nor Ekström, who are being tightly marked by Gega, acting in midfield in Poland last time out, and Lekbello respectively. Hodja is again the deep man in the Albanian defence, while the predominantly right-footed Jera again is seen at left back. Jera was on a couple of occasions in Chorzów suspected of foul throws, and again he has this tendency: His throw-ins look far from convincing. Zmijani on the opposite side does appear to have more confidence about him than was seen from Alimehmeti in Poland. His inclusion seems to be a good pick by the managerial team. On the uneven ground, Albania are well capable of holding their own, and the two Swedish central midfielders Prytz and Strömberg struggle to get a grip on the game. The latter is easily the more recognizable Swede on the pitch, and he has already been drawing attention from local football supporters during Sweden’s build-up in Tirana, as they can sometimes see Italian football on the telly. Josa in the defensive midfield role proves he is capable of playing a good pass. Eventually it was the inside of his right boot which played lone striker Shehu through for the opening goal: Swedish left back Ljung sat too deep and played Shehu onside, and with the forward allowed a clean run through, he finished with a crisp right foot strike between Ravelli and the left hand post. Despite the freezing cold conditions (frosty breathing all around), there’s a lot of joy among the 20 000 or so spectators, who believe they are overdue a win, having lost all three home ties in the Euro ’88 qualifiers.
The Albanian spirit lasts through until half-time; their energy-levels had dropped in the last ten minutes before the break in Poland. However, buoyed by Shehu’s fine finish they never allow the visitors a way back before the Turkish referee blows for half time. Truth be said, seven minutes from the break Pettersson, who only a couple of minutes earlier had been felled from behind by Gega, something which had earned the Albania number 5 a yellow card, came agonisingly close to equalizing when the very same Gega scooped clear from the goalline the Swedish forward’s mis-hit shot at the back post following a Thern cross from the right. But up the other end Josa, who is having a fine game in the middle of the park, can only direct his shot from the edge of the 18 yard area via Hysén and out for a corner. It could so easily have been 2-0, just like when Demollari only a minute after 1-0 had just Ravelli to beat from the edge of the six yard area. The Swedish ‘keeper managed to clear it out for a corner via his legs. So when Mr Namoğlu from under his ‘tach fills his whistle with air from the lungs to signal for half time, it is the Swedish who appear to be the beleaguered ones.
Fine performances again from ‘keeper Mersini, who is as secure as he was in Poland, sweeper Hodja, who is strong in the air and knows well when to drop deep or be in line with his fellow defenders, Lekbello, who does an excellent job in keeping Ekström quiet, Josa in midfield for distributing the ball very well, and not least Shehu up front, who in contrast to what was seen of him in Poland is a menace to the opponents’ defence. Captain Minga’s been less convincing this time around, but one is lead to believe that he’s the true father figure among these players. In the opposing team, Ljung at left back, with a notable exception for when the goal was scored as he played Shehu onside, has given an assured opening 45 minutes. Hysén, whose Wembley performance’s almost been raved about worldwide ever since, has again been steady, but less spectactular than he was against the English, and again it seems evident that Thern is no wide midfielder. He might be young and still learning at this level, but Nordin could well utilize his talents in more central positions.
Before the start of the second half the rain has disappeared; the sun shines brightly, and there appears to have been an increase in attendance numbers during the break. News that Albania are a goal to the good might have inspired a few to come along, especially as the downpour has given way to drier weather. Neither team has seen any half time changes, but the visitors need to find inspiration from somewhere in conditions which have contributed to their first half downfall. Can they turn the game on its head during the last 45?
Like in the first half, “Jocke” Nilsson has a pop with his right boot from just over 20 yards to try and set the tone, but it is Albania who are in the ascendancy, sitting deep and waiting for the opportunity to counter-attack the Swedish. And they get really close to scoring on two occasions, firstly when Demollari skies an opportunity from inside the box, after the ball has bounced unkindly for him. It was the pitch to blame rather than Minga’s pass. Then Jera finds Shehu one on one with Hysén with a long pass, and having rode the Swedish skipper’s tackle, he is more or less face to face with Ravelli from 18 yards when he opts to pass the ball instead of shooting. It goes straight to recovering full-back Ljung, who gratefully can clear. It was almost an absurd decision not to have a go himself, and Shehu immediately realizes his mistake. A minute later and only ten minutes into the half, a header won by Minga against Larsson sees Albania stride forward three against one, but they are unable to pick the right pass so Ravelli can eventually clear from outside of his penalty area for a throw-in. So all these counter-attacks must mean that the visitors have got their balance all wrong? Albania sure are aware that opportunities will present themselves, but they had probably not expected Sweden to throw this many men forward so early in the half.
The yellow shirts adjust their seemingly headless tactics, and get a better grip of proceedings, but it still takes a lucky bounce to gain the equalizer. Hans Holmqvist has come on to replace midfielder Prytz, with Holmqvist himself going wide right and Thern into his favoured central midfield role alongside Strömberg. Roland Nilsson tries to play in Pettersson, but Gega gets to the ball first, only to clear it into the Swedish forward, who picks it up and plays in the on-running Holmqvist. He takes a touch and buries the ball to the left of Mersini, who can do little about the equalizer. It is quite interesting to see how the Albanian aggression dies down after having had a goal against. For the first 20 minutes or so of the second half they had been playing with their tails up, but once Holmqvist’s equalizer went in they all seemed to drop in confidence: passes went astray. Runs off the ball became rarer, and they were even second best in challenges.
Four minutes after pegging Albania back, Sweden go ahead. Ekström finishes off a move involving Strömberg and a Larsson header; the Swedish forward is too strong for his marker Lekbello, who cannot hold onto him. The game more or less dies out after this, as the home side really seems unable to offer anything going forward. They must have burnt all their energy in the first three quarters of the game. Thern is starting to boss the midfield with some delicious passing and good break-up play, Hysén never loses out in a challenge to Shehu again, and Pettersson should have made it 3-1 when his header goes straight onto Mersini from short range following Ljung’s excellent left hand cross.
On a bad note, Hysén will have to miss the next qualifier, as he had seen yellow 15 minutes into the second half for a foul on Demollari. Strömberg also took a booking, a totally needless one, towards the end, when he held back Shehu on the halfway line. The Swedish midfielder had looked a bit annoyed with a couple of decisions earlier, and perhaps the referee punished him for earlier challenges as well as this one, as this hardly warranted a caution alone. Olle Nordin and his countrymen didn’t mind too much, as they had done very well to come back from a half time deficit to win 2-1 in a very tricky away game. They could take a lot of pride from their comeback. Three points from their two opening fixtures, both away from home, seemed a very reasonable return. Albania, on the other hand, need to show some morale if they are to progress from their lowly position as one of Europe’s inferior teams.
For the four Swedish players plying their trade in Italy’s Serie A, a private jet would already within the next couple of hours take them across the Adriatic Sea, as Prytz and Strömberg would be in contention to feature for Atalanta, Hysén for Fiorentina and Holmqvist for Cesena the following day. As it would turn out, only midfielder Glenn Strömberg completed successive days’ 90 minutes, while his Atalanta colleague Prytz came on as a substitute with two minutes to spare of their 1-1 away draw with Hysén’s Fiorentina. The central defender did not feature for Sven-Göran Eriksson’s team. Holmqvist, on the other hand, was in the starting eleven for Cesena at Stadio Communale against Torino, but he only lasted 27 minutes before he was taken off, possibly with a recurrence of the ankle injury which he had picked up during Sweden’s 0-0 draw at Wembley two and a half weeks earlier.
It is an odd game. Albania do very well for three quarters of the match but they collapse as soon as the Swedish equalizer comes. Until then they had been sitting deep from the start of the second half and been attempting to catch the visitors on the break, very nearly succeeding on a couple of occasions. It was a match played in difficult conditions on a drenched, bumpy pitch, and the very partizan home crowd will have contributed to raising the Albanian team’s game for an hour. The Swedish must have been wondering how they would be able to dig themselves out from a goal down. There was a lot of enthusiasm among the home players. Shehu took his goal very well and did a solid job as the lone striker.
As soon as Nordin had brought on Holmqvist for the ineffective Prytz, shifting Thern from his wide position into a central role, the Scandinavians began to look more assured. The substitute equalized having been on the pitch for about a minute, and the Albanians’ heads dropped. Sweden suddenly looked much the better team. It was a remarkable game change. The winning goal came shortly after 1-1, and after that there was no longer much of a threat from the home players. The Swedish could have scored again through Pettersson’s header, but it would have been harsh on the home side. Yet another ‘honourable’ defeat at home for Albania.
1 Mersini 6.9
another assured display by the Albanian ‘keeper, who makes a couple of good saves and is confident when dealing with crosses. Not at fault for either goal.
2 Zmijani 6.8
a big upgrade at right back, with his steadiness and confidence on the ball. A decent option when going forward.
3 Josa 6.5
unable to make a big impression in central midfield despite a fine start to the game.
4 Hodja 6.7
more a third central defender than a sweeper. Looking competent, positions himself well, and is reliable in the air.
5 Gega 6.7
some fine tussles with Pettersson, whom he is marking. Struggles in the air against the Swedish forward, but does well on the ground.
6 Jera 6.6
a very average left-back display from the right-footed player who hardly ever strays out of his own half.
7 Shehu 7.2
a big thorn in the Swedish defence with his pace and wiley running. Scores a good goal and could have had at least one more. Needs to be more selfish.
8 Lekbello 6.6
would probably have struggled more with the quick Ekström had the Albanian backline been higher up the pitch. As it is, he keeps the Swedish forward well in check apart from that crucial moment when Ekström holds him off and nets the winning goal.
9 Millo 6.3
does not do a great deal out on the left hand side.
10 Minga 6.4
a disappointment after his promising display in Poland last time out. Too stationary.
11 Demollari 6.8
very mobile, likes making deep runs from his midfield positions, gets into fine positions until he, along with the rest of the home team, tire and let their heads drop after the equalizer.
1 Ravelli 6.7
not a great deal to do, but stops Demollari’s effort shortly after 1-0, thus keeping Sweden in the game. Leaves an assured impression.
2 R Nilsson 6.8
a typically consistent performance by the Swedish right-back, who delievers these nine times out of ten.
3 Hysén 7.0
following up his out of this world display at Wembley with another solid game, although often challenged for pace by Shehu. Strong in the tackle and in the air, but not much of a threat on attacking set-pieces. Shame about the card, which means he will miss their next qualifier.
4 Larsson 6.7
again inferior to his central defensive partner, but nevertheless enough to keep Albania from scoring again. Good headed assist for the winning goal.
5 Ljung 7.0
a good game out to the left in the Swedish defence, and as he has no direct opponent, he is allowed to venture forward more than his colleague on the other side.
6 Thern 6.7
definitely not a wide midfielder, but comes to life once he takes over for Prytz in a central role. Is very confident despite his young age, likes to be on the ball and make intelligent runs. There’s no way he should be hidden away out wide.
7 Strömberg 6.8
battles really well in tough conditions, but is not allowed to show any of his flair on the battered pitch. Attempts to make a couple of runs from central midfield, but is less efficient in doing so than Thern.
8 Prytz 6.4
surprisingly often loses out to Josa in midfield, not at all able to leave his mark on the game. Could easily have been substituted earlier.
(15 Holmqvist –
what an introduction! Less than a minute after coming on, he fires home the equalizer. Offers something else in the wide midfield role with his smart runs off the ball.)
9 J Nilsson 6.7
a tricky customer, but on this surface seems more adapt when venturing inside. Equally good with both feet.
10 Pettersson 6.8
this is not at all a poor performance by the Ajax forward, who wins a few headers and even comes close to making it 3-1 after Ljung’s cross from the left. His hold-up play could have been better. Gains momentum after making it past Gega ahead of the equalizer.
11 Ekström 6.8
as expected there’s no room for him to exploit behind the Albanian back five, but he battles well, and takes his goal really well in holding off his marker and firing it into the ground and over the goalkeeper.