Sweden – Albania: Hosts keep pushing England after comeback win
Ref.: Mr Alder Santos
L 1: João Martins Correia
L 2: José Alberto Veiga Trigo
Written by: kaltz
Sweden came into this match knowing that only a win would suffice. Goal difference seemed of little importance, since the English were far ahead in this department. The home side’s focus had to be on doing their part of the job, to leave themselves with a good chance of qualifying for the coming summer’s event in Italy.
A win would bring Sweden up to eight points with their away match in Poland still remaining. They knew that three points from their two remaining fixtures would guarantee them a trip to the World Cup, as in Group 1, the team finishing second could not reach beyond eight points.
Albania were left with little but pride still to play for. They were looking at their second successive qualification in which they could finish pointless, as they had also lost all six matches in preparation for the 1988 European Championships. This would surely be a motivating factor for them to try and dent the Swedish qualification hopes. Also, their only goal in these qualifiers to date had come in the home tie against the Swedish, so they knew the home side’s defence could be breached, even if Sweden had recently held England to a scoreless draw.
Sweden team news
The Swedish national team manager, Olle Nordin, made two changes to the team that had drawn 0-0 with England a month earlier, replacing both of his wide men in midfield: in for Engqvist on the right hand side came the more attacking-minded Gren, whereas Limpar replaced J Nilsson on the opposite flank. The latter had started all four of Sweden’s previous qualifiers. Gren would feature for the first time, whereas Limpar would start for a second time, having also come on as a substitute for said Nilsson against England.
Albania team news
Albania had not played even a friendly since the 5-0 defeat at Wembley in April. They had goalkeeper Mersini returning to replace teenager Nallbani, the 17 year old who had done well on his international debut in London despite conceding five times. In defence, experienced head Taho came in for his first appearance during these qualifiers as a man-marking central defender, something which allowed Gega to take up a central midfield position. Another player returning having missed the defeat in England was midfielder Josa, who took Hasanpapa’s place. Up front the visitors put Kushta in the lone striker’s role, with no Shehu to be seen anywhere. The latter had started all four qualifiers to date, and had also scored Albania’s goal in the 2-1 home defeat against the Swedish, their only to date. Absent for the second match running was attacking midfielder Minga, who had indeed been the captain in all of the three matches in which he had featured. Sweeper Hodja had taken over the captain’s armband at Wembley, and he would continue this role in Stockholm. Five of the visitors’ players would be making their fifth appearance out of five in these qualifiers: central defenders Hodja and Lekbello, defender, and now midfielder, Gega, left-back Jera, as well as central midfielder Demollari.
Match referee was 50 year old Portuguese official Alder Santos, who was in charge of only his third ever international, and his second World Cup qualifier. He had also refereed ahead of the 1986 World Cup, when in November ’84 he had been in charge of Northern Ireland’s 2-1 win against Finland in Belfast. Santos’ only international friendly had come as recent as last year, when he had been the man in the middle in the match between Spain and Yugoslavia in Oviedo, Spain’s first match under new boss Luis Suárez, who would subsequently lead them through to qualifying for Italia ’90.
This was Albania’s first ever visit to Sweden, and indeed only their second ever match on Scandinavian soil. Their first had been a 1963 experience in Copenhagen, where they had lost 4-0 to Denmark in a qualifier for the 1964 European Championships. It was also only the second ever encounter between the Swedish and the Albanians, with the first happening less than a year earlier in Tirana, as Sweden had come from behind to win 2-1.
|1 Thomas Ravelli||30||IFK Göteborg|
|2 Roland Nilsson||25||IFK Göteborg|
|3 Glenn Hysén (c)||29||Liverpool|
|4 Peter Larsson||28||Ajax|
|5 Roger Ljung||23||Young Boys|
|6 Mats Gren||sub 67′||25||Grasshoppers|
|7 Klas Ingesson||21||IFK Göteborg|
|8 Jonas Thern||22||Benfica|
|9 Anders Limpar||24||Cremonese|
|10 Johnny Ekström||sub 82′||24||Cannes|
|11 Mats Magnusson||26||Benfica|
|12 Sven Andersson||26||Örgryte|
|13 Stefan Schwarz||20||Malmö FF|
|14 Leif Engqvist||on 67′||27||Malmö FF|
|15 Stefan Lindqvist||on 82′||22||Halmstad|
|16 Jan Hellström||29||IFK Norrköping|
|1 Halim Mersini||82′||28||KS 17 Nëntori|
|2 Hysen Zmijani||26||Vllaznia Shkodër|
|3 Artur Lekbello||sub 76′||23||KS 17 Nëntori|
|4 Skënder Hodja (c)||73′||29||KS 17 Nëntori|
|5 Rrapo Taho||41′||30||Flamurtari|
|6 Fatbardh Jera||29||Vllaznia Shkodër|
|7 Sokol Kushta||25||Flamurtari|
|8 Mirel Josa||26||KS 17 Nëntori|
|9 Lefter Millo||23||FK Partizani|
|10 Skënder Gega||sub 88′||25||FK Partizani|
|11 Sulejman Demollari||25||Dinamo Tirana|
|12 Blendi Nallbani||17||FK Partizani|
|13 Pjerin Noga||on 76′||26||Dinamo Tirana|
|14 Agim Bubeqi||26||Flamurtari|
|15 Arben Arbëri||on 88′||25||Tomori|
Again, Albania had travelled with only four substitutes
Sweden are in their traditional 4-4-2. Whereas centre-back Larsson had been used in a slightly advanced central defensive position to counter the threat of Beardsley in their previous match, he was seen here back in more or less a square back four, where he again was to captain Hysén’s left. However, he would push on when the opportunity arose, and he got caught out of position a few times during the opening half. In central midfield, Ingesson, starting his second successive qualifier, was again seen making runs from the deep, albeit not as often as he had done in the early stages of the match against the English. Thern, his central midfield compatriot, was hardly a holding midfielder, but he was the more defensive of the two, often seen distributing from midfield, and also had a big say on set-pieces, apart from corner kicks, which were handled by wide left man Limpar. Gren, featuring for the first time on the road to Italy, was seen wide right, but apart from his involvement in the equalizer was largely anonymous. Ekström started off as the right-sided centre-forward, with Magnusson to his left. These roles were more or less defined throughout the first half, whereas they would frequently swap positions after the break.
Rreli again deployed his 5-4-1, playing with captain Hodja as sweeper behind the two man-markers, of which Taho, making his first appearance in the ’90 qualifiers, was seen to his left, dealing with Ekström in the first half, and Lekbello to his right. As Ekström and Magnusson from time to time swapped positions during the second half, it would only mean that Lekbello and Taho shadowed whoever came into their territory; they did not follow their ‘original’ man across. Hence, it would continue to be Lekbello as the right-sided central defensive marker, Taho to the left. Both full-backs, Zmijani on the right and the predominantly right-footed Jera on the left, were sitting back and very sparingly used in going forward.
The Albanian midfield four had more or less the shape of a diamond, where Gega, previously seen at centre half in a marking capacity, was the most defensive among the quartet. In previous matches, Millo had usually been seen out wide in more or less a left-wing role, but here he was clearly instructed to participate more in field, even if he was easily the most left-orientated of the four midfielders. Josa was ahead of holding midfielder Gega to his right, but a tad more withdrawn than Millo, and with a wish to distribute whenever the opportunity arose. However, when it came to distribution within this Albanian team, one usually had to look no further than to Demollari, who this time around was featuring almost as a second striker, but still clearly also with some defensive duties. He was the most advanced player in the midfield diamond, and operating behind lone striker Kushta, who was usually on the move, working hard to close down the Swedish defenders, and also trying to get into space for his team mates to have an option up front. He knew how to take advantage of the fact that Larsson enjoyed to trot forward, and the Albanians would often try to play Kushta into the space that opened up when Larsson had moved forward.
With such defensive full-backs, Albania became very deep, and had they not meant to be this deep, Sweden contributed to making sure they were.
Both teams used their allowed quota of two substitutes: Engqvist came on for the injured Gren, but rather than immediately slotting into Gren’s vacant right hand side of midfield position, he goes inside and into a central position, shifting the tall Ingesson wide right, though this will only last for a few minutes, until Engqvist takes up the right handed midfield position, with Ingesson back into the centre alongside Thern. Lindqvist was a straight replacement when he came on for Ekström. For the visitors, Lekbello had to go off with injury and was directly replaced by Noga, whilst Arbëri, who came on for defensive midfield man Gega, slotted in up front as the visitors in vain chased a late equalizer. This saw Demollari drop slightly back, but their structure was rather loose anyway towards the end of the match. Gega had earlier suffered from cramp, so this was possibly the reason why he was the one to give way for a second striker.
As the Swedish forward duo of Ekström and Magnusson prepare for kick-off, the entire nation is aware of the importance of today’s match. Nothing but a win will do. The hosts are intent on making a bright start, but they are aware they will be up against two banks of defence: the Albanian back five and their midfield four. And up front lone striker Kushta is eager to impress, giving chase to whoever is in possession of the ball inside the Swedish territory early doors.
Sweden make the bright start that is expected of them. They have athletic, dynamic players, and they realize they must keep the level of movement within their team high in order to outplay the deep lying visitors. As usual, Albania operate with man-marking central defenders, and their two men designated for such tasks are the so far ever-present Lekbello, to the right of sweeper Hodja, and a 30 year old making his first match of the qualifiers in the moustached Taho. They are in fact both wearing moustache, but Lekbello’s a surprisingly fair man for an Albanian, and his facial ornament is clearly less impressive than that of Taho, one of two Flamurtari players brought into the side for the occasion. The other is striker Kushta.
Within the first couple of minutes, Swedish midfield general Thern, who’s grown a lot in stature during the last year or so, and who moved from his Malmo to Benfica of Lisbon during the summer, has tried a surprise solo run past a lot of legs in the Albanian defence, and he even gets a low shot away that Mersini, who is back between the posts again having missed the defeat at Wembley, has to parry away for a right wing corner. Magnusson will proceed to head Limpar’s flag kick over. And still within the opening seven minutes, Hysén will come up from the back and be presented with a big opening from another right wing Limpar corner: Magnusson flicks it on, and the impressive Liverpool defender tries to side-foot home eight yards out and with the goal gaping. Over.
Albania manager Rreli is a thorough figure, and he has clearly seen some weaknesses in the Swedish defence following their recent stalemate with the English: Larsson enjoys to trot forward and leave the left side of the Swedish central defence vulnerable. When Millo is aggressive and wins the ball from the dallying Gren inside the Swedish part of the centre circle, the visitors’ number 9 can advance ahead and find out to his amusement that Larsson has started moving forward already, wanting to take part in the attack which will surely mount from Gren’s next move. However, neither Larsson nor Gren had anticipated that Millo would show such aggression, and whatmore: pick out the run of Kushta into the space which has opened up following Larsson’s move higher up into the pitch. This, in fact, is already the third time, inside the opening eight minutes, that Albania put this particular bit of tactic into practice, and this time it pays off: Kushta tries to take the ball wide of the on-rushing Ravelli, whose momentum contributes to him scything the striker down. Penalty. 0-1 as Kushta hammers the ball high into the centre. Ravelli has moved to his right. It is a nightmarish start for the hosts, despite their early dominance in possession.
Albania usually have their tails up as soon as they go in front, as the Swedish had noticed when they fell behind to the same lot in Tirana a year earlier. They had managed to turn the game on its head with two goals in quick second half succession back then, and they would need to come from behind again. To their advantage, though, was time, as the goal had come so early. There was never any signs of panick in the Swedish play, and they remained faithful to their tactics. If anything, Albania just dropped deeper, desperate to try and defend what they had. Two points in Stockholm would be a miracle. One point would still be a massive boost for them. There was absolutely no pressure on the visitors. Before another couple of minutes are played, Sweden come close to scoring twice: Hysén, unattended and from 12 yards, heads a Thern free-kick low down to Mersini’s right, but the goalkeeper gets down and beats the ball away, though only into the path of Ekström, who tries to play it back in, only to be foiled by the recovering Gega, who knocks it behind for a Swedish corner. And on 12 minutes, Thern strikes a free-kick from 20 yards onto the underside of the bar. The ball bounces away to Albanian safety, having dropped down only a yard out from the goalline. The visitors are living a charmed life. An early string of missed opportunities could’ve killed the spirits within the home camp, but they remain strong in their beliefs.
The Swedish wide players are a big part of how they play, as Mr Nordin seems to have a fascination for bringing both the midfield wide men and the two full-backs into action. With 20 minutes on the clock it will pay off, as Ekström manages to hold Taho away and feed Gren, who’s been largely anonymous so far, down the right. His cross on the near post finds Magnusson just ahead of Lekbello, and the Benfica striker side-foots home high into the roof of the net for the equalizer. It is no less than what Sweden deserve, as they’ve already created a few openings.
Limpar’s presence down the left hand side seems to make the formerly composed Zmijani nervous. The Albanian right back had been one of their steadiest performers so far in the campaign, and he had even opened the match in Stockholm well enough, only to see his confidence drop after the opening 15 minutes. He unnecessarily gave the ball away on several occasions, and it is possibly fair to say he didn’t look as fit as he had been. Perhaps Zmijani had recently come back from injury? The full-back on the other side, Jera, was doing ok against Gren, whose repertoar did not consist of a lot of trickery, like could be seen from Cremonese man Limpar opposite. However, Ekström had a preference for moving into Jera’s territory, and also with full-back Nilsson galopping forward, traffic would often be greater at Jera’s side of the pitch. In central midfield, Thern was conducting Swedish play, with his partner Ingesson a bit more anonymous. Albania had Gega in the holding role, and as a player with a decent physique, he would often try and use this to his advantage. However, one man alone could not prevent the waves of Swedish attacks coming at him. Josa appeared to have a lot of space to cover in the centre of the pitch, as Millo, as so often before, again had left-side tendencies. Whether Albania wanted to or not, they had to concede possession to the hosts time and again. Still, they would try to look for Kushta in behind Larsson when breaking forward, and they did manage to find him in what could have been a repeat of the situation leading to the early penalty. However, this time around Hysén managed to pull the striker wide, and his shot was easily beaten away by Ravelli. After their equalizer, Sweden no longer created big opportunities, despite their territorial advantage.
Before the first half has drawn to a rather uneventful end, a judgement based on the last 20 minutes or so, Albanian central defender Taho’s been booked for a foul committed on Magnusson. The home crowd had even sounded their frustration as a few boos could be heard towards the end of the half. Sweden needed to get their intensity back, as Albania would have few problems defending against a laboured home side.
For the start of the second period, which would be kicked into action through Demollari and Gega for the visitors, Sweden appeared to be playing with greater urgency. They wanted to play a high pressure game, as there had been little to shout about in the latter part of the opening period. Neither team had made any personnel changes at half time, and it would be interesting to see whether the Albanian team again could take advantage of space in behind Larsson or whether the Swedish had plugged this leak. The two Swedish wide men seemed to be higher up the pitch at the start of the second half, both putting pressure on the Albanian defence along with the two strikers. Less than ten minutes into the second half, it will yield results when Jera for once has been inside the Swedish half and given the ball away. It falls to Gren, who had crossed for Magnusson’s equalizer in the first half, and again the wide man based in Switzerland would make a telling contribution, despite his peripheral performance so far: he releases Ekström to the right of centre deep inside Albanian territory, and as the striker has got away from his marker Taho, he proceeds to back heel the ball into the path of Nilsson, whose low pass into the area finds Ingesson. The tall, blonde midfielder is as calm as you like when he waits for Zmijani to commit himself, and he drags a low left-footed shot into the bottom right corner of Mersini’s goal. The home side are in front, and surely this will calm them down. The Råsunda crowd’s already performed their ‘Mexican wave’ before the goal, and this is unlikely to dampen their spirits.
Shortly after 2-1, Thern plays a low pass in field to Ingesson, and having just scored, the Gothenburg man is brimming with confidence and has a go with his right foot from just over 20 yards. Mersini has to stretch to palm it away for a right wing corner. Sweden have had a few of those, and a couple had also been dangerous, most notably when Hysén had side-footed over early on. Soon Gren will hurt his ankle as he goes to the ground following a clash with Millo, and the wide man will never recover properly, going off to be replaced by Engqvist before the second half’s reached its halfway point. Engqvist had done ok against England in the previous match, but had been ditched here as Nordin had felt the need to play with a more attacking-minded right flank. Gren might have had a tame performance, but he had still played a big part in both goals. Could Engqvist reproduce some of that for the Swedish, or would they be content to play it safe and see the game out with their precious 2-1 lead now? Knowing well that Albania still would be unlikely to pull a lot of men forward, despite being a goal down, Sweden would continue to dominate possession. And Albania could no longer find Kushta in behind the Swedish number 4. One rare break from the visitors, when Taho had cut out a pass just outside of his own penalty area, saw Kushta strike well wide from a difficult position, after Demollari had been instrumental in trying to make something happen. The Albanian attacking midfielder’s had a good qualifying campaign, but he could not influence play a great deal from his advanced position, and perhaps had the visitors been better served if he had played somewhat deeper?
Despite their advantage, the home side continued to dominate. They were searching a third goal to kill the game off, and just sitting back and playing it safe did not seem an option. They continued to put pressure on the visiting defence, but to their credit Albania never did panic. Sweeper and captain Hodja marshalled his troops well, and despite the ball being inside the visitors’ half for most of the time, there was never an onslaught against Mersini’s goal. The visitors would lose their marking defender Lekbello for what appeared to be a dead leg after a soft-looking collision with Limpar inside the Swedish half. He remained motionless on the ground for more than a minute, before finally limping off to receive some treatment on the far side. It soon became evident that he was unable to continue, and Noga came off the bench, just like he had done at Wembley, when he was brought on to play in the right-back position. Here, he would slot right into the central defensive position left vacant by Lekbello. A few minutes before the introduction of Noga, Hodja had earned himself an unnecessary yellow card for kicking down Limpar. It did seem like quite a nasty challenge, but to his credit the Swedish left winger got up right away and just got on with it. It was difficult to understand Hodja’s motive for such a cynical tackle, but frustration could perhaps be creeping into his play around this time, with less than 20 minutes remaining.
Albania goalkeeper Mersini becomes the third visiting player to receive the yellow card when he races out to clear a long Swedish ball forward for Magnusson. However, he goes high with his foot and catches the home side’s striker, and deservedly gets his name taken. Shortly after Ekström leaves the field of play to be replaced by Halmstad forward Lindqvist, who makes his first appearance during these qualifiers in what is only his second international. As little continues to happen in front of either goal, the game appears to peter out with an expected home win. Albania perhaps try one last attempt to bring about an equalizer when they take off Gega, who had gone down with a hint of cramp earlier, and bring on striker Arbëri to accompany Kushta up top. However, there is little in the visitors’ play that suggests a great desire for an equalizer, although the change sees playmaker Demollari drop deeper. In injury time, though, there’s another reason to celebrate for the Råsunda crowd, as Hodja fails to clear another long ball forward, and almost by the byline substitute Lindqvist nicks the ball off him and plays it low for fellow substitute Engqvist, who calmly side-foots home a third Swedish goal. Hodja rightly looks displeased with himself, although there is something about his appearance which suggests he’s really not too concerned. A win by a margin of two goals for the hosts is probably what could have been expected beforehand, and despite having gone into the lead early on, Albania really did not warrant a point on this performance.
Conclusion: The visitors might have put up a greater struggle than what the Swedish had anticipated before kick-off, and the hosts made it no easier on themselves after falling behind with Kushta taking advantage of space opening up as a result of Larsson’s indiscipline. This appeared an Albanian pattern during the first half, as they were well aware of the fact that the Swedish central defender was no stranger to roam forward at opportunity. However, the hosts totally dominated possession, and were granted a relatively quick equalizer through Magnusson, and a further couple of goals in the second half saw them through to go equal with England at the top of the table, with both teams now having to go to Poland, knowing that a point would suffice to take them through to the World Cup.
1 T Ravelli 6.7
relatively unworked. Perhaps throws himself too early on the penalty? Parries a Kushta shot out for a corner during the first half
2 R Nilsson 6.9
a decent performance in which he keeps his defensive side well. Also makes a couple of forays to deliever crosses from high up the pitch, but less attacking than the opposite full-back
3 Hysén 7.1
should have scored early on, and does win a few headers on attacking set-pieces, but mainly focused on keeping tight at the back, which he does well
4 Larsson 6.8
out of position for the situation leading to the penalty, something which was seen a lot during the first half. Adjusted at half time. Wants the ball inside the Albanian half a lot, and has one decent attempt at goal when he got away from Josa to fire from 25 yards. Few problems in the air
5 Ljung 7.0
comes forward a lot and puts a good few crosses into the box, although a bit of precision is lacking. Solid in the air
6 Gren 6.8
in open play he is not highly visible, but he does provide the cross from which Magnusson scored, and he also played the ball forward for Ekström in the build-up for 2-1. Forced off with an ankle injury having been tackled by Millo. He tried for a few minutes to play on, but was unable
(14 Engqvist –
plays in the centre for a few minutes after coming on, before returning to his wide right position. His goal is already his fourth attempt at goal, though the first to hit between the posts. Reliable player who keeps things simple)
7 Ingesson 6.9
important goal, and he does have goals in him, an important factor for any midfield player. Also wins a lot in the air, but along the ground he is slow and a bit of a peripheral figure inside the Albanian half
8 Thern 7.1
keeps the home side tick in midfield. Rarely plays a stray pass. Close to scoring as his first half free-kick smashes off the crossbar. Strong in challenges
9 Limpar 7.2
fine game, and causes a lot of concern for Zmijani. Combines well with Ljung down the left hand side. Does not contribute for either goal, but keeps the Albanian defence on their toes nevertheless
10 Ekström 6.9
not on the scoresheet, but does a job for the team, constantly moving and trying to draw his marker wide to open up space for others. Has a hand in the second goal. Taken off as he was beginning to tire
(15 Lindqvist –
tall forward who does a good job in dispossessing Hodja and assisting Engqvist for 3-1. Also has a shot from the edge of the box when he doesn’t strike the ball cleanly. Fine cameo)
11 Magnusson 7.1
fine goal at the near post, and like Ekström he does a lot of running off the ball. Also shields well, but should have left for Thern instead a couple of second half set-pieces which he wastes
1 Mersini 6.6
flaps at a couple of crosses, but is solid enough on his line. Not directly at fault for either goal. Makes a fine second half stop from Ingesson’s shot, yet probably appears less convincing than in his previous outings
2 Zmijani 6.5
a bit of a disappointment after a fine qualification campaign. Starts alright, but is soon troubled by Limpar, and is wasteful in possession in the latter part of the first half
3 Lekbello 6.7
has many a tussle with Magnusson, and can’t quite get to the Swedish striker in the air. Shows his composure along the ground, and has decent positioning. Has already taken a knock when he has to leave the field with a dead right leg after a collision with Limpar
(13 Noga –
slots into Lekbello’s position. Wins a couple of challenges, but pace is quite sedate after he’s come on)
4 Hodja 6.9
as always good in the air and makes a good few interceptions, so important at the back for Albania. Takes every goal kick as per usual. Disappointing act for 3-1, when he loses his concentration to allow Lindqvist to steal the ball
5 Taho 6.8
not bad at all in the air and provides good competition for Magnusson. Decent left foot on him, and controls the ball well on a bumpy pitch. However lacks pace. Makes a fine second half interception and joins in a counter-attack which should have brought about a goalscoring opportunity
6 Jera 6.4
concedes a few crosses from his side, most notably when Gren crossed for the equalizer. Competent on the ball, works alright with Millo along his side, but sloppy again when he gives the ball away for the counter which brings about 2-1. Quite easily his worst performance of the qualifiers
7 Kushta 6.6
always fighting a losing battle as the lone striker, unable to hold the ball up to bring others into play. Scores a solid penalty and makes a few first half runs in behind Larsson. Has a bit of pace, but has little to offer in challenges with the opposition’s central defenders
8 Josa 6.6
often exposed in the centre of the pitch, where as always he does a lot of running, but can not stand up to the Swedish physically
9 Millo 6.5
does an excellent job to punish Gren in the build-up leading to the penalty, where he also plays in Kushta. Other than that lacks precision in his passing play, and is light-weight in challenges. Offers plenty of running, but largely ineffective
10 Gega 6.6
tries to use the physique to his advantage, but can’t always get into the situation in time. Does a lot of running in a more advanced position than usual, but is rather ineffectual on the ball. Goes down with cramp, plays on, but is eventually forced off and replaced a couple of minutes from time
(15 Arbëri –
goes up front with Kushta in a futile Albanian attempt to try and rescue a draw. Seems energetic, but has precious little time in which to make an impact)
11 Demollari 6.5
disappointing performance, but too often left isolated due to his more advanced role, with Albania unable to bring him enough into play