1990 World Cup Qualification
UEFA – Group 2
Video: Full match
Wembley Stadium, London
Att.: 65,628
Wed. 19 October 1988
Kick-off: 8.00pm
Ref.: Gérard Biguet (FRA)
L1: Alain Delmer (FRA)
L2: Claude Bouillet (FRA)


England had performed disappointingly during the European Championships in West Germany during the summer, and manager Bobby Robson was under a great deal of pressure to do well at the start of the ’90 qualifiers. He was just over six years into his stint as national team manager, and three successive defeats during the summer had left the proud English very hurt. They would certainly look to an uplifting start to the World Cup qualification, even if they knew they were up against strong opposition. Sweden had a 4-1-0 record from their first five qualifiers ahead of the 1988 European Championships, but would suffer back-to-back defeats against Portugal and Italy to eventually trail the latter by three points in the final table.

England team news

Bobby Robson sat aloft during the first half

The hosts came into the meeting with Sweden having beaten Denmark 1-0 at Wembley some five weeks earlier, a game which had seen Newcastle’s wonderkid Paul Gascoigne make his international debut. However, there would be no space for ‘Gazza’ here. Left back Kenny Sansom, right back Viv Anderson and legendary midfielder Glenn Hoddle had all quit international duties after the Euros, but Mr Robson still seemed to have an abundance of talent available to him. One notable absentee from the squad was hardman Steve McMahon. The Liverpool midfielder was out injured. This appeared to be the case, too, with Derby’s central defender Mark Wright, whereas Nottingham Forest’s young forward Nigel Clough was still not considered for selection. Everton winger Trevor Steven had only just returned to the first team after missing five matches, and was left out. The England team had been preparing for ten days just for this fixture, having even made space in their domestic league calendar: There were no first division fixtures played in the weekend ahead of this Wednesday night tie, which was previously unheard of. Stakes were high. England had a lot to lose.

On the England bench pre kick-off: Mick Harford and Michael Thomas

Another player who had made his first international against Denmark in the last test match, was fine young Arsenal midfielder David Rocastle. And another one who was left out for this game was Nottingham’s wide man Steve Hodge, who had also been present during the summer. Bobby Robson would call upon eight of his Denmark starters for the meeting with Sweden, and had in addition available to him again super striker Gary Lineker, who had been fairly anonymous in West Germany, and who since then had been suffering from a bout of jaundice. In what shape would he be, having only featured once for Barcelona so far in the 1988/89 campaign? The immense talent of Chris Waddle and John Barnes would also be representing the English colours from kick-off, both having sat out the Denmark friendly. Robson would chose a very attacking-minded line-up, almost something like 4-2-4 rather than the traditional 4-4-2. Surely, they would be capable of breaking down the stout Swedish defence?

Sweden team news

Olle Nordin

Sweden had missed out on the European Championships, having lost their decisive qualification tie 2-1 in Italy. This had meant that manager Olle Nordin more quietly than his opponents could concentrate on the task ahead. Like England, Sweden had also played their Scandinavian rivals Denmark in the build-up: The August match in Stockholm had finished 2-1 to the visitors, heaping pressure onto the stylish (even in his all-yellow tracksuit!) and moustached Nordin. In the summer, just before the Euros, Sweden had very impressively won 3-1 in Salamanca against Spain, so there had come to be a bit of expectancy from the audience. Sweden’s final friendly ahead of their long-awaited visit to the London football cathedral was a 0-0 home draw with Portugal only a week before. Ten of the players who had started there would also take to the field at Wembley, a stadium which had been the boyhood dream to appear in for most of the Swedish players, with English football always having been held in high regard throughout Scandinavia. Only central defenders Peter Larsson and Glenn Hysén had played there before, when a year earlier an English League select had won 3-0 against a team of world stars, lead by Terry Venables, who by then had taken up the position as Tottenham Hotspur manager, having been in charge of Barcelona for three years. Anders Limpar was the only player missing from the XI which had started against Portugal for Sweden, out with a back injury. The talented Young Boys Bern winger would be missed. Missing was also towering Benfica forward Mats Magnusson, who had been among the goals in that win over Spain. He too was out injured.


Referee was well-respected Frenchman Gérard Biguet, who was not a stranger when it came to dishing out a booking or two. He had last been seen officiating during the Seoul Olympics, where he had not only been the man in the middle for the Swedish quarter final exit against Italy (another 2-1 reverse), but also indeed taken care of the final itself, when the Soviet Union had beaten Brazil by two goals to one. He had had a busy tournament, Mr Biguet, as he had also ran the line for the Soviet Union v Italy semi-final. Another feature of his refereeing capacity was his admiration for futsal, a sport still in its infancy in the late 80s, but he would be one of the officials in the 1989 futsal World Championships.

Previous meetings

The ‘feared’ Ekström

This was the first meeting in just over 20 years between England and Sweden on home nation soil. However, only two years earlier had the Swedes defied the odds and beaten the English in Stockholm, when lightening quick forward Johnny Ekström’s goal had settled matters. Ekström, appearing among the subs at Wembley, was one of the players that England had feared the most, and the matchday programme included a double-paged portrait of the now Bayern Munich forward. He had only recently moved to Germany following a two year spell with Empoli in the goal shy Italian Serie A, and was in the middle of a four match ban following a sending off. Dubbed “il ciclone” (“the cyclone”, or “Johnny Bråttom” as they said in his native Swedish tongue) from his time in Italy, Ekström’s speed had caused the English a bit of pre-match concern.

Overall, this was the eleventh encounter between the two countries. The first had happened as far back as 1923, when England had won 4-2 in a Stockholm friendly. In fact, all ten earlier meetings between England and Sweden had been friendlies. The record read five wins for England (the last in 1968), two draws and three Sweden wins. Five English players remained from the 1986 clash in Gothenburg, while the Swedish had six players in their current squad remaining from then.


The late October weather in the English capital was nice and warm. High pressure had brought nearly 20 degrees leading up to the evening kick-off. The pitch was, as always, in pristine condition, though the home fans seemed a bit reluctant to turn out in force. In the vast Wembley Stadium, there were a good 15 000 empty seats by the time of kick-off.

England (4-4-2)

1 Peter Shilton39Derby
2 Gary Stevens25Rangers
3 Stuart Pearce26Nottingham
4 Neil Webb25Nottingham
5 Tony Adams 39′, sub 65′22Arsenal
6 Terry Butcher29Rangers
7 Bryan Robson (c) 38′31Manchester United
8 Peter Beardsley27Liverpool
9 Chris Waddle27Tottenham
10 Gary Lineker27Barcelona
11 John Barnessub 80′24Liverpool

12 Des Walkeron 65′22Nottingham
13 Chris Woods28Rangers
14 Michael Thomas21Arsenal
15 Tony Cotteeon 80′23Everton
16 Mick Harford29Luton
Manager: Bobby Robson

Sweden (4-4-2)

1 Thomas Ravelli29Östers
2 Roland Nilssonsub 77′24IFK Göteborg
3 Glenn Hysén (c) 34′28Fiorentina
4 Peter Larsson27Ajax
5 Roger Ljung22Malmö FF
6 Jonas Thern21Malmö FF
7 Glenn Strömberg28Atalanta
8 Robert Prytz28Atalanta
9 Joakim Nilsson22Malmö FF
10 Hans Holmqvistsub 64′28Cesena
11 Stefan Pettersson25Ajax

12 Sven Andersson25Örgryte
13 Peter Lönn27IFK Norrköping
14 Dennis Schilleron 77′23Lillestrøm
15 Jan Hellström28IFK Norrköping
16 Johnny Ekströmon 64′23Bayern München
Manager: Olle Nordin

Tactical line-ups

These are both teams who prefer to play 4-4-2. England are less “typical British” under Robson, seemingly wanting to bring their midfield into play, not depending on long balls from the back. They also have Beardsley lying deeper than Lineker up front, at times making him hard for the Swedish defence to pick up, but the visiting midfield are doing a great job on dropping deep enough in order to attend to him; big credit to Strömberg and Prytz. The English full-backs are both rather conservative in their approach, not venturing across the halfway line a great deal, but they have an attacking four capable of doing a lot of damage on their own. And the central midfield two are also not shy to support the front line. Speaking of: both Webb and, in particular, Robson are aggressive. They rarely allow the central Swedish midfield two time on the ball. Both Prytz and Strömberg are subjected to some tough tackling from English captain Robson. Waddle is set out to play on the right wing, but he wanders a lot, and often pays Barnes visits on the opposite flank as well, making him too unpredictable and difficult to lock down. However, even this wanderlust doesn’t create an awful lot in way of goalscoring opportunities from the home side, who find Sweden particularly difficult to break down. This is owed a great deal to the scintillating display by Swedish skipper Glenn Hysén. You will struggle to find a single more impressive performance than the Fiorentina central defender produced on the Wembley turf, with some interceptions which almost beggar belief.

The Swedish flanks are not brought into play a lot, and it does seem a bit of a waste that as talented a central midfielder as Thern is hidden away on the right flank. He has a great engine, but at 21 is still very much a fledgling at international level. His time in more central areas will surely come, and sooner rather than later. Nilsson down the other wide area is more typical a winger, with a few tricks in his locker. However, Stevens does a good job in controlling him during this match. Up front the two visiting strikers are kept well in check by the rugged English centre halfs. Pettersson, whose strength is often in the aerial play, rarely has a look in. Holmqvist occasionally drifts out to the right hand side to cut inside. He is stronger on his left foot than on his right, so this move suits him well.

The English had a lot of respect for pacey forwards, and this is evident when Nordin brings Bayern Munich’s Ekström into play 20 minutes into the second half. He subsequently takes off big centre back Adams and replaces him with the lightening quick Walker. The final English substitution sees striker Cottee replace winger Barnes, which means Beardsley is moved out wide in order to accommodate the Everton man. Sweden also make a second substitution, which is a straight switch between right back Nilsson and Schiller, who normally plies his trade in the Norwegian league with Lilleström. It has not often been the case that Swedish players take the route to their neighbouring country in order to enhance their reputation, but Schiller has developed an attacking style of play which can be a fine alternative to the more conservative style seen by the dependable Nilsson.

Match Report

First half:
Sweden start the game in a confidently-looking manner, and during the first few minutes they manage to keep the ball among themselves, making the English players run in between. However, the English soon shake any nerves off and they take control of the tie, pushing the visitors back, soon laying siege on the Swedish half. Robson’s opted for a very forward-thinking line-up, with Webb and captain Robson to win the battle in central midfield, laying balls off to fleet-footed players like Beardsley and Waddle. The latter’s position is originally wide right, but during the opening 45 minutes, he is all over the pitch. Waddle’s constant movement is a concern to Sweden, but they manage to keep the home side away from Ravelli’s goal for most of the half. Barnes, usually so efficient for Liverpool, is again rather quiet in England colours, while Lineker is up against some class defenders. Having been out for a long period of time, the Barcelona forward seems a bit off the pace, although the manager’s clearly instructed his defenders to hit it long for Lineker to chase down the channels, trying to stretch the Swedish defence. Both Larsson and the impressive Hysén take turns in pursuing Lineker out wide.

The ageing Shilton’s making his 102nd international appearance, a great achievement by a legendary ‘keeper. He only has one save to make during the opening 45 minutes, which is just before the half time break when Swedish left back Roger Ljung hits it from distance. Did Shilton see it late? He pushes it round for a corner. Perhaps his age is beginning to become a matter? The Swedish set-pieces are not a major threat to the English backline, which boasts solid players such as Butcher and Adams, both experts in the air. England can allow themselves to play to rather slow centre halfs with Ekström only on the subs’ bench. Neither Pettersson nor Holmqvist up front for Sweden have enough pace to split the English defence, where Nottingham’s rising star Pearce is solid again at left back, also willing to join the attack. On the opposite flank, Rangers’ Stevens is having another reliable performance, in the mould one has come to expect from the sturdy full-back. Where England will have expected to counter the threat from Limpar, Stevens now instead has to concentrate on keeping Malmö’s Nilsson in check. Which he does. Pearce, too, is rarely threatened down his side, as Sweden’s right-sided midfielder Thern is more accustomed to a central role with his club side. However, with seasoned pros Prytz and the long-haired, bearded Strömberg, both with the same Serie A club, occupying the central berths, the promising Thern has to act out wide. He leaves a workmanlike impression, but does struggle with Pearce’s aggression.

England are aggressive all around. They harry the Swedish all over the pitch, not leaving the visitors much time on the ball. And when Sweden try to go direct for Holmqvist or, preferably, Pettersson, it is cannon fodder for Adams and Butcher. Though this is not a tactic Nordin’s been preaching. The visitors like to try and play their way forward, and because of this and because of English aggression levels, it does happen on a couple of occasions that they have breaks against. But despite boasting so much forward talent, England are very rarely able to exploit any vulnerability that comes their way. The home side’s best chances fell to Liverpool forwards Barnes and Beardsley, who have shots over and wide respectively, the latter from a free-kick pushed into his path by the energetic Waddle. It hits the side netting, and a good few thousand home fans get aloft, thinking the ball’s gone in due to the bulging of the net.

The Sweden team is built around a great deal of former IFK Gothenburg players, now scattered all around Europe. During their time together on the Swedish west coast, centre backs Larsson and Hysén were thought to be one of the finest defensive pairings in European football. A year and a half since moving in different directions, with Hysén now in Fiorentina and Larsson at Ajax, their collaboration still works very efficiently, but this time mainly because the former is having such a good game. Hysén’s strong, very competent in the air, and has the ability to time his tackles to perfection. However, he was cautioned for a foul on Lineker just outside the box, for the free-kick leading to Beardsley’s shot. It was a rare booking for the classy defender with the greyish hair to pick up. Larsson, on the other hand, has perhaps not quite reached his potential at Ajax, and is also having a more anonymous performance here in London. He does appear to be suffering slightly from nerves early on. England are unable to take advantage.

Two home players also saw yellow from the strict monsieur Biguet: midfield enigma Robson, infuriated only seconds earlier when Prytz felt he should have had a penalty for a tumble he took in the English penalty area, where Robson had been unable to move out of the way, takes his fury out on Strömberg with a bad tackle. And then a minute later Adams clips down Pettersson from behind. Both are good decisions by the Frenchman, whereas Hysén’s booking was a bit more questionable. 0-0 describes the first half quite aptly, so there’s all to play for after the break. Sweden will have been pleased to keep out England perhaps more easily than they had thought beforehand.

Second half:
The two Swedish forwards kick the second half into action. No changes in personnel in either side. Wembley has become a bit less friendly weather wise since the start of the game; is there rain in the air?
The hosts come out all guns blazing for the start of the final period, and within the first five minutes they could’ve scored twice: Lineker heads tamely wide a cross from Barnes after some fine interplay between Waddle and the Liverpool wide man, while Lineker again is wasteful when taking on Waddle’s exquisite through ball and firing wide of the onrushing Ravelli’s right hand post. Chris Waddle more and more looks like the player to make it happen for England, and had Lineker had his match sharpness intact he would’ve been odds on to have fired the hosts ahead. As it stands, Sweden live to fight another day.

Thern, the Swedish right sided midfielder, has a pop at Shilton with the outside of his right boot, but it is no match for the 39 year old, though as the rain sets in, the other Swedish flankman, Joakim Nilsson, tries to fire one in from the edge of the box. The man with 102 caps is alert to the danger. Apart from those two Swedish opportunities, there is not a lot England have to do as far as defending is concerned. There is, though, one man who continues to play out of his skin: the elegant, stylish Hysén at the heart of the all yellow defence is having an absolutely sensational game. The further the game goes on, the more invincible he appears to be. He wins headers, he tackles, he positions himself immaculately and he even distributes well. The Fiorentina defender does not put a foot wrong all night. His performance is a joy to behold, and should a manual for central defending be required, there’s no need to look any further than to Mr Hysén’s 90 minutes at Wembley. The 28 year old simply has The Perfect Game. He also foils Lineker when the Barcelona forward would normally stick the ball in the back of the net lying sprawling on the ground, eventually coming away with the ball at his feet. Twice. It is an individual performance which beggars belief.

Just over 18 minutes into the second half, Nordin takes off Holmqvist, who during the first half needed lengthy treatment for a knock to his ankle. On comes Ekström, and the English management team immediately respond by taking off sluggish Adams and replacing him with lightening quick Des Walker. It is interesting how a Swedish substitution can dictate the actions of an English manager. There was no other reason for Bobby Robson to take Adams off other than replacing him with a much quicker player. In Walker, the English defence has the speed to nullify the threat from Ekström. Another interesting thing is that left-footed Butcher takes over Adams’ role as right-sided centre half, with the right-footed Walker to the left of the two. The marking of Ekström is purely a zonally orientated one.

As rain set in some ten minutes into the second half, it becomes increasingly apparent that some of the visitors’ players are tiring. In particular, the two Nilssons, Roland at right back and Joakim at left midfield, seem weary. The former will go off and be replaced by Dennis Schiller, a player who could not fit into the first team picture at IFK Gothenburg and instead crossed the border to play for Norwegian side Lillestrøm, where he’s developed into an attacking full-back of some reputation. Schiller’s hair’s not quite as long and slick as Strömberg’s, but he carries more than the average amount for your professional footballer. However, he also reveals during his 15 minutes on the pitch that he does not measure with Roland Nilsson’s defensive qualities. And in midfield Sweden are unable to hold onto the ball, with both Strömberg and even more so Prytz losing out to Webb and Robson. Out wide the situation is not much better for the Scandinavians, as Joakim Nilsson’s drained of energy and Thern’s lacking in technical ability to get past a man. Whenever Sweden hook the ball clear it is being returned with interest. However, in great deal thanks to Hysén’s performance they manage to hold on for a very important draw. Waddle does have a good effort with the outside of his left boot from 22 yards a couple of minutes from time, and then in injury time Lineker has the ball in the net, but he’s already been called offside. Nearly two and a half minute into time added on for injuries does the French referee signal the end to the game.

England had taken off the lacklustre Barnes and replaced him with Tony Cottee, who has started his Everton career in bright fashion, having been transfered for silly money from West Ham during the summer. However, the former Hammer does not have anything in his locker which can cause trouble for the Swedish. He does see the game out up top with Lineker, with Beardsley moving out to the right hand side and Waddle over to the left. Sweden will celebrate the 0-0 draw like a victory. First and foremost they can thank their #3, whose performance was nothing short of world class.

Conclusion: Considering how important this game was seen to be for the English, Sweden will have been absolutely thrilled to return home from “the Mecca of football” with a point in the bag. And their defensive performance made sure their draw was a deserved result, with the impeccable Hysén delievering a show of strength, tactical awareness and quality interceptions which made an entire footballing world stand up and take notice. England were aggressive, as had been expected, but the Swedish coped well even with the physical aspects of the match. And despite fielding four forward players of top, top quality, the visitors managed to nullify the home team’s threat. England also were well in control defensively, and in a game of few opportunities a draw was a fair result in the end.


1 Shilton 6.7
does alright what little he had to do
2 Stevens 6.8
does what he is supposed to do: keeps his defensive side fuss free
3 Pearce 6.9
strong and aggressive, but not very precise when attempting to cross from his side
4 Webb 6.7
literally plays in Robson’s shadow. On the plus side are a couple of fine passes for Lineker. Other than that unspectacular
5 Adams 6.8
solid if unspectacular performance, though keeps the Swedish forwards quiet. Brought off as Robson wants more pace to be able to handle the threat of Ekström
(12 Walker 7.1
had been brought on to tame the blistering quick Ekström, and did so to perfection)
6 Butcher 7.0
big presence in defence, wins more or less every aerial challenge, and only misses out being a threat from attacking set-pieces due to poor delievery
7 Robson 7.0
another aggressive competitor, particularly during the first half. Strong in the air. A few misplaced passes that were uncharacteristic of him
8 Beardsley 6.7
does a good job as first line of defence, but is not very succesful when trying to be creative
9 Waddle 7.4
the home side’s best player, as he was full of ideas, but did not always get the aid that his play had warranted. Came inside and even across from his original right hand side a lot
10 Lineker 6.9
has good movement off the ball, but never comes closer to a goal than when he heads a Barnes pass over. Did appear to be lacking in sharpness after his lengthy spell out
11 Barnes 6.4
far from his best international, even if he does improve slightly after the break, and he is instrumental in creating a couple of opportunities. It has to be said that service probably let him down too
(15 Cottee –
hardly gets a sniff after coming on)

1 Ravelli 7.3
very assured, and even seems to command his area well in coming for high balls
2 R Nilsson 7.0
another dependable performance by the Swedish right-back, who has deceptive speed, and who did not let Barnes have an enjoyable time; neither was he fazed when Waddle decided to come across to this side. Replaced due to a light injury
(14 Schiller –
solid except from one incident involving Waddle, though not a lot of time on the pitch)
3 Hysén 9.3
simply a breathtaking performance: tackles, interceptions, headers…he won them all. All! Has a couple of recovery tackles on Lineker and Waddle which are just unbelieveable, and you will struggle to see a better individual performance in international football than Hysén’s at Wembley
4 Larsson 6.7
not as confident as he had been alongside Hysén earlier, but contributes with some fine interceptions which halt English attacks
5 Ljung 7.3
a confident, assured display by the full-back cum central defender, who forced Waddle away from his original right hand side. Delievered fine crosses, and had a shot from 25 yards late in the first half which was a good test to Shilton
6 Thern 6.7
seems out of sorts out wide, although he does put in a big shift inside his own half. Is no threat when advancing
7 Strömberg 6.8
shows great workrate, also capable on the ball, but against an aggressive English midfield he can’t really dominate the central areas for longer periods of time
8 Prytz 6.7
there is a lot of fight in him, and he does well until getting tired in the final 15 minutes. Some great tussles with Robson
9 J Nilsson 6.6
the Swedish wide players are not involved much in the attacking end of the pitch, but like Thern, young Nilsson also does well in his own half. Has a second half pop at Shilton from a bit of an angle
10 Holmqvist 6.5
likes to come wide right to try and cut inside, but is typically very well marshalled by the English central defence, and in particular by Butcher. Looks jaded as he comes off
(16 Ekström 6.3
Sweden had been hoping that his pace could cause the home side trouble, but instead of facing two static defenders England brought on the quick Walker to nullify his threat. Took a big knock from Shilton right after coming on, something which seemed to hamper him slightly)
11 Pettersson 6.3
inefficient throughout, kept well in check, and his aerial strength is not seen at all against such head players as the English central defenders


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