Austria – Soviet Union: Game devoid of pace and ideas
Two weeks after their marginal triumph at home to Iceland, there was another home fixture to deal with for the Austrians, as the Soviet Union were arriving in Vienna. Having succumbed to the USSR by two clear goals in their opener, the Austrians had yet to suffer further defeat in this qualification group, and they were naturally turning into serious contenders for the runners-up position in the group. East Germany had failed badly hitherto, and so this spot was up for grabs. The Soviets, on the other hand, had not been in qualification action since that disappointing 1-1 home draw with Iceland, but they knew a point in the Austrian capital would be sufficient for them to retain their tag as group favourites.
Austria team news
Two weeks earlier, Austria had played their first international since the retirement of one of their greats: Herbert Prohaska. The ageing midfielder had left a vacum in his trail, though his shirt number 8 had been taken on that occasion by Swarovski Tirol’s Manfred Linzmaier, who had made his first appearance of the qualifiers. They had furthermore been without Peter Artner in their starting line-up for the first time since the start of the qualification, though his absence could clearly be explained by the fact that they’d opted for an attacking 4-3-3 formation. Artner had been on the substitutes’ bench, where even star striker Toni Polster was found, as he was yet recovering from an minor injury. On the Sunday preceeding this game, Polster had been featuring 90 minutes for Sevilla as the Spanish top flight club had opened their league season with a 1-0 home win against Tenerife, with the bustling Austrian an 87th minute match winner.
Altogether, Hickersberger had been quite lucky (or clever, depending on how you wish to see it) in the players whom he’d brought in, as Polster’s replacement Heimo Pfeifenberger, on his first appearance of the current qualification, had struck their opening goal. As just reward, the 22 year old Rapid Vienna striker had maintained his place in the 16 man strong matchday squad. So too had left-sided defender Michael Streiter, who against Iceland had replaced hard nail Robert Pecl early after the latter had picked up an injury after half an hour’s play. Even Streiter had had his first qualification minutes on that occasion, and the reigning league champion with Swarovski Tirol was included yet again. Altogether, there were four players in the squad belonging to the Tirol outfit, with playmaker Alfred Hörtnagl, who’d also come off the bench last time around, making up their contingent.
The only change from the 16 last time out was defender Ernst Aigner taking the still injured Robert Pecl’s place. Pecl had seemed a growing favourite with Hickersberger, as he’d started their three last qualifiers. Against Iceland, there’d been a defensive reshuffle when Pecl had gone off, with left-back Anton Pfeffer taking over Pecl’s place in the centre, and with substitute Streiter moving into the left-sided defensive slot. Pecl, though, would be back for Rapid’s following league game, ready for their battle to catch up with champions Swarovski Tirol at the top of the domestic table. After nine rounds, the Tirol club were three points ahead of Rapid and four ahead of Austria Vienna.
Soviet Union team news
The Soviets might not have had a qualification appearance since that draw with Iceland on the last day of May, but on the same night as Austria had overcome Iceland, the USSR had faced Poland in an away friendly. It had finished a goal apiece, though it had been a makeshift team featuring for Lobanovsky on that occasion: Only Oleg Luzhny, Sergey Gorlukovich and forward Igor Dobrovolsky from a regular qualification eleven had started that game, though there had also been an inclusion for a player such as Andrey Zygmantovich, who clearly was on the fringes of Lobanovsky’s favoured XI, with him being an unusued sub in every qualifier apart from when he had featured for 90 minutes in the 2-0 home win against the Austrians. There had even been a comeback in the national eleven for Andrey Bal, the Dinamo Kiev midfielder who’d become famous when he’d scored against Brazil in their opening group match of the 1982 World Cup. It had been the 31 year old’s first cap for more than three years.
The most glaring absence was naturally that of goalkeeper Rinat Dasayev, still held in such high regard around the globe. He, like Austria’s Polster, was now playing abroad with Sevilla in Spain, and he’d kept goal in that 1-0 win against Tenerife. Dasayev had not been allowed by his club to travel, as Sevilla were playing a first round, first leg Spanish cup tie away to Español (would finish 0-0) the same night, and their second choice goalkeeper Fernando Peralta was out injured. It remained to be seen whom Lobanovsky would don the number 1 jersey to: Viktor Chanov, his goalkeeper at club level with Dinamo Kiev, or the talented Dmitry Kharin, who had been back-up to Dasayev in the Soviets’ three previous qualifiers? Probably Chanov would appear the favourite, bearing in mind Lobanovsky’s typical preference for senior players.
Since Iceland, there were further changes in the squad, with strong midfielder Aleksey Mikhailichenko back again. His absence had probably been felt last time around, although his replacement Vladimir Bessonov had far from shamed the number 7 jersey. Another player to return was Toulouse pro Vagiz Khidiatullin, whose injury had seen him miss their last three qualifiers. There was also a first and exciting inclusion in the ongoing qualification for elegant Spartak Moscow playmaker Fedor Cherenkov, a player many felt had constantly been overlooked by the current managing regime. Could the 30 year old force his way into a starting eleven in Vienna?
Another high profile absentee was left-sided player Vasily Rats, who had returned home to Dinamo Kiev after his brief loan spell with Español towards the end of the 1988/89 season. Rats had been an ever-present so far in the Soviets’ qualification. Furthermore, there were no Gela Ketashvili, Igor Belanov or Yuri Savichev since the Iceland game. Their places had been taken by the return of Mikhailichenko, by Cherenkov and forward Sergey Rodionov, the latter who had been among the more senior players to appear during that recent friendly in Poland.
Thus far in the qualification, the USSR had six players who had started each of their five preceeding games, though it was clear that two of them, Dasayev and Rats, would not be seen this time around.
Man in the middle was 45 year old Englishman Keith Hackett. This was his 12th international assignment since his debut back in May ’83, when he’d been in charge of a 0-0 clash between Scotland and Northern Ireland in the British Championship. Mr Hackett had also been in charge of the opening fixture during the 1988 European Championships, when host nation West Germany had been held to a 1-1 draw against Italy, and later that year he had also been picked for the Olympic football tournament in Seoul in South Korea, where he had handled another 1-1 draw with the West Germans included, albeit that draw had subsequently been followed by defeat in the penalty shoot-out, as the fixture had been the semi-final against Brazil.
This was Hackett’s seventh qualifier over all, and his most recent appearance at international level had been during Denmark’s 7-1 demolition of Greece in the current World Cup qualification.
This was the 14th meeting in history between Austria and the Soviet Union since their inaugural clash back in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden (a 2-0 win for the USSR). The most recent head to head had obviously been that fixture in Kiev less than a year before, and the Soviet Union were on a 4-1-0 run against the Austrians since their last defeat back in 1967, when the countries last had been paired in a qualification (on that occasion for the 1968 European Championships).
Their most recent meeting, that preceding qualifier apart, had been in a 1985 friendly, when the Soviet Union had won 2-0 in Tbilisi. Four players (Zygmantovich, Aleinikov, Litovchenko and Protasov) remained for the Soviets, whilst only Heribert Weber from tonight’s squad had featured for the Austrians.
7-2-4 from 13 meetings read the record in favour of tonight’s visitors.
Austria line-up (4-4-2)
|1 Klaus Lindenberger||32||Swarovski Tirol|
|2 Kurt Russ||24||First Vienna|
|3 Michael Streiter||23||Swarovski Tirol|
|4 Anton Pfeffer||24||Austria Wien|
|5 Heribert Weber (c)||34||Austria Salzburg|
|6 Manfred Zsak||24||Austria Wien|
|7 Andreas Ogris||sub 66′||24||Austria Wien|
|8 Manfred Linzmaier||27||Swarovski Tirol|
|9 Toni Polster||25||Sevilla|
|10 Andreas Herzog||sub 78′||20||Rapid Wien|
|11 Peter Artner||23||Admira/Wacker|
|12 Ernst Aigner||22||Austria Wien|
|13 Alfred Hörtnagl||on 78′||22||Swarovski Tirol|
|14 Gerhard Rodax||on 66′||24||Admira/Wacker|
|15 Heimo Pfeifenberger||22||Rapid Wien|
|16 Michael Konsel||27||Rapid Wien|
Soviet Union line-up (4-5-1)
|1 Viktor Chanov||30||Dinamo Kiev|
|2 Vladimir Bessonov||31||Dinamo Kiev|
|3 Vagiz Khidiatullin||62′||30||Toulouse|
|4 Oleg Kuznetsov||26||Dinamo Kiev|
|5 Sergey Gorlukovich||27||Lokomotiv Moskva|
|6 Fedor Cherenkov||sub 79′||30||Spartak Moskva|
|7 Aleksey Mikhailichenko (c)||26||Dinamo Kiev|
|8 Gennady Litovchenko||25||Dinamo Kiev|
|9 Aleksandr Zavarov||60′||28||Juventus|
|10 Oleg Protasov||25||Dinamo Kiev|
|11 Igor Dobrovolsky||22||Dinamo Moskva|
|12 Oleg Luzhny||21||Dinamo Kiev|
|13 Andrey Zygmantovich||26||Dinamo Minsk|
|14 Sergey Rodionov||27||Spartak Moskva|
|15 Sergey Aleinikov||on 79′||27||Juventus|
|16 Dmitry Kharin||21||Dinamo Moskva|
As the teams appear, it becomes clear that the Austrians have made some changes to their eleven from two weeks earlier. Michael Streiter, starting in this qualification for the first time, Peter Artner and Toni Polster have been brought into the line-up, while the injured Robert Pecl, Gerhard Rodax and Heimo Pfeifenberger have had to make way. This also suggests a different formation, although we’ll have to wait and see to be sure.
In the visiting camp, it is Viktor Chanov who’s won the battle for the number 1 jersey, with Dasayev unavailable. There’s also the reintroduction of libero Vagiz Khidiatullin and of midfield ace Aleksey Mikhailichenko. Furthermore, Sergey Aleinikov has been dropped to the bench, with Fedor Cherenkov coming into the starting line-up. Full-back Oleg Luzhny has also been relegated to the substitutes’ bench, and most likely Vladimir Bessonov is his successor, making the step back into defence from centre midfield.
The Austrians get the match under way, though on this occasion we do not know which two players are actually performing the kick-off.
Possession orientated visitors
What we’d got from this Soviet side earlier in the qualification was possession football. Early on, like in the home game against the Austrians, they were operating with the often delightful Aleksandr Zavarov more or less as a second striker alongside Oleg Protasov, but for each passing qualifier, it has seemed that Zavarov’s been retracted further back in the pitch. It was fair to say that the USSR were at 4-4-2 in the opposite fixture, though here in Vienna one could spot their 4-5-1 idea almost right from kick-off.
It remained to be seen whether this would be another display full of midfield possession, or whether they would have more energy inside the final third this time around. They’d abandoned their arguably most defensive midfielder in Sergey Aleinikov, who had been replaced by someone they surely refer to as a phenomenon in certain parts of the country’s capital: Fedor Cherenkov’s inclusion was definitely an exciting one. But what exact position would he take up? With captain Aleksey Mikhailichenko and also Zavarov around, it seemed as though the tall, blonde skipper would slot into the more defensive of the three roles. Cherenkov, at least from the outset, would appear to be in something of an inside right role, whereas Zavarov perhaps had a more adventurous part as the more attacking of the three. No surprises there.
Right away, Cherenkov demonstrated a will to get on the ball, demanding it from team mates, and showing some flexibility with his feet, although his range of operations did not exceed the average. However, he did have one interesting foray after a few minutes of play in which he tried to play lone striker Protasov a short pass on the edge of the 18 yard area. The striker got crowded out by the hosts, though, and rather than muster an effort at goal, the Soviets had to see home playmaker Andy Herzog retrieve the ball from defence and shoot pace, darting towards the left hand side of the pitch. However, he never made it far before he ran out of ground. The Soviet Union could take up again their possession in the midfield area.
At the back, they were equipped with Dinamo Kiev ‘keeper Viktor Chanov, who had won the battle against the youthful Dmitry Kharin for the stopper’s jersey. Chanov had made his international debut as far back as seven and a half years earlier, so he knew what this was about. However, except for an appearance during the group stage game against Canada in the ’86 World Cup, and just over 20 minutes as a substitute for Dasayev during last summer’s European Championships, when he’d appeared against the Irish (1-1), Chanov had only played in friendlies. A crowd of 60k people was a different proposition after all. Furthermore, he was not without a reputation for being somewhat erratic. Could this be something that the hosts could draw advantage from?
The four man defensive line was as expected, with Vagiz Khidiatullin now back in the squad: The Toulouse pro took the libero slot, and he had the familiar face of Oleg Kuznetsov ahead of him in central defence. It seemed likely that Kuznetsov, certainly not a pushover in the air, would battle it out with Toni Polster, the Austrian centre-forward. With Sergey Gorlukovich now firmly installed as their left-back choice in the continued absence of Anatoly Demyanenko (broken ankle), it was left to the experienced Vladimir Bessonov to complete the back four. Bessonov had filled in for Mikhailichenko during their last qualifier, that dreary 1-1 tie with Iceland at home. On a personal level, Bessonov had done well.
Whereas their central midfield three had been detailed in a previous passage, I should add that Gennady Litovchenko and Igor Dobrovolsky again took the two wide berths, with the former along the right hand side, as per usual. The Soviets had been a tad narrow at times, with neither winger always sticking to their flanks, but rather opting to come in field to participate in crowded areas. This had also contributed to the somewhat stale feeling one could be left with from studying the USSR during this particular qualification.
Up top, there was Oleg Protasov on his own. The idea would naturally have been that he would receive plentiful assistance from both central and wide midfielders, but the often slow nature of their possession play made them easy to read, at least now in the early stages of the game. Protasov would have to contend with big Anton Pfeffer, who clearly was working as the striker’s man-marker.
Soviets deviate from their ploy
Around the ten minute mark there is a sudden increase in tempo from the visitors. They move the ball on one, two touches, and through Kuznetsov even spread it wide right for Cherenkov to run on to, rather than keep playing precisely to a team mate’s foot, which appears to be their general modus operandi. Cherenkov’s run out wide, perhaps a little surprising in the circumstances, opened up space for Bessonov to come forward in an overlap, and though he would collide with an opponent and as such not take further direct part in this particular attack, his initiative too had made sure to open space up again for Cherenkov, who had stuck to the right hand side, and when he was fed the ball back by Protasov, who had taken over following Bessonov’s tumble, he was able to deliever a cross into the centre. Ultimately, the ball was headed clear by Russ, though only as far as Litovchenko, who 25 yards out attempted to strike the ball first time in mid air. Litovchenko has an excellent right foot, one with a whole lot of precision, and his shooting ability is almost second to none in this Soviet team. Another example had come in the home tie against GDR, when he’d struck the crossbar from great distance. On this occasion, his volleyed effort had hit Russ, who again made sure that the hosts were able to clear their lines. Good central defending from the right-back.
As for the home team, manager Hickersberger has proved that he has the ability to mix it up tactically. He came into the qualification using a back five, and he would later change to both 4-4-2 and 4-3-3. Hickersberger has shown a level of adaptation which has clearly helped his team build a decent run in this qualification, and were they to avoid defeat against the Soviets, it would be a fifth successive qualifier without loss.
Tonight, Austria were back in 4-4-2, having been playing with three strikers in the recent win against Iceland. ‘Pepi’, as the manager was affectionately addressed, had again picked Klaus Lindenberger as his goalkeeper, and why wouldn’t he? Lindenberger had shown steady displays throughout, and he had never given Hickersberger cause for contemplating the use of alternatives.
Their defensive line contained the versatile Kurt Russ as right-back. Russ had appeared in the heart of the defence early in the qualification, but had lately seemed to come to rest in the current position. He was a tenacious, direct and attacking kind of full-back, although he clearly had his limitations when it came to technique. That said, he would still often manage to escape with the ball at his feet even from tight situations. Inside of him were libero and captain Heribert Weber, now 34, and arriving at the end of an illustrious career, as well as man-marker Anton Pfeffer. The latter was another defender who had shown some versatility, several times being picked as a wide left defender. After Robert Pecl’s unfortunate injury last time around, Pfeffer had moved into the centre, and he’d done his job so well that Hickersberger gave him another shot at it. Left-back was Michael Streiter, someone more cautious and far less direct than Russ along the opposite flank, but who appeared steady and controlled in his defensive plight.
The four men in midfield were Manfred Linzmaier to the right, Manfred Zsak and Peter Artner in the centre, with up and coming Rapid Vienna player Andy Herzog to the left. Linzmaier had played his first match of the ongoing qualification in that win against Iceland, and he’d left a fine impression with all his industry along the right hand side. On this occasion he was far from attached to his flank, and he would time and again move in field, especially when coming forward, where he would attempt to assist striker Polster, often leaving the other forward, Andy Ogris, to provide service along the right hand side. Linzmaier was a very busy player, someone who would never stop running, and he did look like a player who lifted this Austrian side judging by the performances he was giving since coming into the mix.
Zsak was more or less operating as a shield in front of the central defenders; his midfield tasks clearly of a defensive nature. He’d displayed his excellent shooting boots last time around, but from this deep position it did not appear to be highly likely that he would get to do the same again. Zsak had the long-haired Artner alongside him in the centre, though Artner’s position would vary to a certain degree as he was bent on shadowing Zavarov, exactly like he had done when the teams had met in Kiev the year before. This could be why Linzmaier would occasionally pull towards the centre, with Artner ‘out of position’ in so that he was preoccupied with Zavarov’s whereabouts.
Herzog kept width along the left, and though he was said to have a wonderful future ahead of him on the pitch, he had yet to display too much evidence of this in the current qualification. Yes, he had scored twice in the 3-2 win at home to Turkey, but he had failed to live up to the hype apart from that. Could not a wide position in a 4-4-2 formation suit him better than a role as an inside midfielder in a 5-3-2? Possibly. Defensive duties could be fewer, though this would also be decided by the opponent and their wish to attack in wide areas.
As mentioned, the front pair consisted of Polster and Ogris, two players who knew each other well from being team mates at Austria Vienna. Now, of course, the physically imposing Polster was plying his trade in Spanish football. Along with Herzog, Polster was arguably the biggest name in this Austrian team. He would operate in the centre and slightly to the left, whereas Ogris would come into wide areas along the right hand side. Ogris would also don shifts inside his own half in times when the opponents were laying claim on longer spells of possession.
Dull either way
Around the halfway point in the first half, there’s a free-kick awarded for the hosts after Khidiatullin har clattered into Linzmaier from behind, around midway inside the Soviet half of the pitch. Precious little has happened in terms of excitement either way, and the game so far resembles a frame of snooker where the players are cancelling each other out; there’s a whole lot of safety shots on display.
The home side appear quite content in just sitting back and seeing off the potential threat from the reigning vice champions of Europe. There does not seem to be a whole lot of ambition in taking the game to the visitors, even if reality is that there is every chance to do so. Despite some big, heavy names in the Soviet line-up, this is a machinery which fails to ignite. The midfield possession which they are keeping is tedious to the eye. They have five midfield players who all seem more pleased in possession than in making runs off the ball, in either trying to create space for themselves or for team mates in attempts to lure opponents out of positions. Ok, so perhaps Litovchenko does not mind to look for little runs along his right hand side, but even if he does, then there is no one spotting him or no one even remotely interested in attempting to play him in. Streiter, the Austrian left-back, has an all too easy task in keeping up with Litovchenko.
It is the same all across the midfield. The hosts have Artner tracking Zavarov, like they had had on these two teams’ previous encounter. Zavarov might be one of the Serie A stars, but here, back surrounded by his old comrades from the Kiev school of excellence, he rarely breaks out of second gear. As he becomes increasingly aware of Artner’s presence (how could he have forgot, though?), Zavarov seems to retract further back, although he shifts from one position to another in the Soviet midfield. Not that this is happening at much pace. Zavarov is a lazy player this Vienna evening. Artner is less keen in shadowing him as long as he’s back inside his own half, but once Zavarov appears inside the Austrian half of the pitch, then the Admira/Wacker man would make sure that he would not do so without company.
The hosts do show few signs of being able to shake the visitors, and as has already been established: even little intent. A point against the group leaders seems to be maximum of their ambition. In the circumstances, this is a tad disappointing, as the game surely is there for the taking, although it should be added that the Soviets were potentially capable of catching anyone on the break. Perhaps is this waiting game from Hickersberger exactly the right tactics. Perhaps is he just waiting to pounce on any mistake that might come from a false sense of security among the visiting players, who in an increasing level of slumber might be thinking it is totally safe to just interpass without much purpose.
Bessonov attempting to lift the gloom
One of the few players on the pitch which does appear to be playing with a bit of excitement, is Soviet right-back Bessonov. The seasoned Dinamo Kiev ace had given a fine midfield interpretation in their last qualifier, and once again he was among their more inspired performers, albeit from a full-back position. He was obviously well-known to his right hand side colleague Litovchenko from club football as well as from the national side, and the pair would at times combine well. Bessonov would stride forward with serious intent, and around 25 minutes in, these combinations will eventually lead to Litovchenko having a diagonal effort towards goal. However, he fails to connect cleanly, and so the ball just trickles harmlessly well wide to the left of Lindenberger’s goal. At least, there had been a rare injection of pace. More, please!
Fine Soviet counter
It is the visitors who heed the calls for ‘more’, though it must be stressed that the “calls” were hardly loud cries which reverberated around the impressively populated stadium. On the half hour mark comes the finest opportunity in either direction yet, when even Zavarov decides to make people aware of his presence. He had picked up a misplaced Austrian header around halfway inside his own half, and immediately sped past Ogris and his marker Artner. He would release Cherenkov in the centre, and as the Spartak midfielder was not closed down until he met a half-hearted challenge from libero Weber midway inside the Austrian half, he would slip the ball beyond the home player and set Protasov up just outside the penalty area. The striker still had a bit to do, but he dummied Artner, before he sent a low, curling effort towards goal from just inside the area. Alas, he failed to beat the post; the ball went agonisingly via the upright and out for a goal kick. At last, though, the Soviets had shown their true counter-attacking colours, so they clearly had it in them, even if they had failed to show much evidence thereof thus far.
Austria’s golden opportunity
With just over eight minutes to go until the half time break, there is finally a hairy moment in the Soviet defence, as Linzmaier is with a shooting opportunity from a central position inside the penalty area. It had been Polster out in a wide left position who had managed to advance past Bessonov, who had been trying to close him down. Litovchenko comes to assist his right-sided colleague, but he only proceeds to clear the ball into the path of Zsak, who immediately spots Herzog in the centre of the pitch, some 22 yards out. The quick-thinking midfield starlet slips the ball through to Linzmaier on one touch, but unfortunately the Tirol man has a rush of blood to the head, and as he looses his cool, he totally scuffs his effort which barely rolls into the path of goalkeeper Chanov. It could’ve been a huge moment for the hosts, but ultimately, it had been one of their midfielders arriving at the chance rather than one of the strikers. That it was Linzmaier was no coincidence, though, as he would be the one home player to attempt runs off the ball inside Soviet territory.
Arriving at half-time
There is 27-28 seconds of added time at the end of the first half, a half which had been highly forgettable, even if there had been a couple of inspired moments. The hosts’ compact nature and the visitors’ desire to play to a foot rather than attempt balls into space had been the main ingredients for this drab 45 minutes, but would it open up after the break?
The visitors will kick the match back into motion through Protasov and Cherenkov at the start of the second half, and both sides remain unchanged. The Austrians had got the match precisely where they’d wanted it, and were the second 45 minutes to resemble the opening period, then there was every chance they would even get the point that they appeared to be looking for.
More of the paceless same
If there had been any kind of contribution from the back for the Soviet Union, it had come through Bessonov from the right-back position. As for Gorlukovich on the opposite defensive flank, he had remained camped inside his own half for most of the first 45 minutes, with Dobrovolsky the one expected to deliever whatever might have its origin from the Soviet left flank. Libero Khidiatullin did make a couple of ventures inside the opposing half, and so too did Kuznetsov. Especially the latter’s contribution had seemed to spark a bit more pace into their approach, even if it had ultimately failed to bring about much.
For Austria, Zsak had been instrumental in denying the away team space. He’d sat deep in his central midfield role, and his shielding of the central defenders had come to fruition. However, with a static opponent, his task had been made relatively manageable, and so Hickersberger would not have felt the need to alter anything defensively. Pfeffer had kept Protasov quiet, with a great exception around the half hour mark, when the striker had struck the outside of the post, and Weber, again sitting deep in his spare man role at the back, had almost been surplus to requirements. Even Herzog had been seen doing some defensive cover work during the first half, and most prominently right before the half time whistle, when he’d tracked Dobrovolsky well inside his own half before winning back possession and returning the ball back to Lindenberger. It was a highly disciplined performance yet by the Austrians.
Shooting chance: Cherenkov
This was about to give way, though, as eight minutes into the second half there’s a shooting opportunity for Cherenkov, who’s been second to none in the Soviet midfield hitherto. As Gorlukovich had fed Mikhailichenko a short pass in the centre of the pitch, no one had decided to close the Soviet captain down. This could’ve proved to be the Austrians’ undoing, as Mikhailichenko proceeded to play a forward ball for Cherenkov, who was lurking just outside the penalty area. Austria left-back Streiter was the only player in his vicinity, but the Tirol man did not close him down enough, and so Cherenkov could make a turn on the ball and hit a shot on target which Lindenberger had to throw himself at to paw out from near the angle of the post and the crossbar. It had been a fine shot by the midfielder, and an equally decent stop in full stretch by the agile ‘keeper.
Austria with a big moment
If that Cherenkov pop had been the first effort on target since the break, then there would be another one two minutes later. And this time around it had been the hosts almost opening the scoring. So far in the second half, it had seemed that Austria striker Ogris had wanted to drift more towards the left hand side, and he was almost near the corner flag when receiving a throw-in from Streiter. Ogris managed to poke the ball back to his strike partner Polster, despite being surrounded by both Bessonov and Gorlukovich. The latter’s presence in this area of the pitch was probably due to Ogris’ wanderlust, and it had almost cost the Soviets dear, as he would expose a gap in the centre. When Polster had been fed the ball by Ogris, he was to the left outside the area, and he swung a fine ball in first time with his favoured left foot. However, with Polster out wide, their strongest header of the ball was unavailable to compete for the ball inside the area, and so it had been Zsak, of all people, popping up at the near post, where he had been completely unmarked, almost sparking an identical moment to when the Soviets had gone AWOL defensively and conceded that late leveller at home to Iceland in their last qualification outing. Zsak failed to get sufficiently over the ball, though, and so his header cleared the bar by some margin. Linzmaier had been with him in the area, but most likely Dobrovolsky would’ve managed to head clear had Zsak decided to leave it. After Linzmaier’s chance of shooting in the first half, this had been Austria’s biggest goalscoring opportunity. The second half was ten minutes old.
A couple of bookings
There does seem to be a more intensive period of play leading up to the hour mark, when Ogris had earlier challenged Gorlukovich in a sprinting duel along the Austrian right hand side. The Austria Vienna forward had come out trumps, but he had failed to beat Khidiatullin in the subsequent moment, and the danger had been cleared. Then Gorlukovich decides to come high in the pitch and put a cross in from his left hand side. The header away by Pfeffer sparks an Austrian counter, although not a whole lot materializes when Herzog elects to take Linzmaier’s pass in a diagonal run towards the left hand side as he trots through midfield and deep into the visitors’ territory. The midfielder had just previously once again been their last line of defence, as he’d brought the ball safely back to Lindenberger, and he had given a more mature defensive display on this occasion than previously during the qualification. As he’d been tracked by Bessonov and then Zavarov on this occasion of a counter, though, he’d been kicked over by the zealous Soviet number 9, who received the match’ first booking in the process. Two minutes later, Khidiatullin would follow Zavarov into the referee’s little black book when he had clattered the speedy Ogris in the latter’s darting run down the left hand side. The frequent switching of sides by Ogris had been a greater challenge to the Soviet defence. Whereas Zavarov’s yellow had been somewhat debatable, there was no way Khidiatullin could’ve complained after his late tackle to flatten Ogris.
Soviets threaten again
One is constantly left with the feeling that the Soviets are playing down the pace because they are content with a point. What had earlier been a tendency with Zavarov coming deep, was now more or less a rule: The playmaker, who had started out their qualification campaign more or less as a second forward, was now seen lurking predominantly inside the centre circle within his own half of the pitch. He had probably realized that Artner would not approach him until he crossed the halfway line, and so this territory at least saw him avoid confrontation. Captain Mikhailichenko had not done much in order to replace Zavarov as the more central performer inside the opposition’s half, and now around the hour mark, Litovchenko would with even greater frequency take shifts in the centre of the park. Despite the slow nature of their approach, it would be the Dinamo Kiev ace who would next test Lindenberger’s resolve, when he was fed the ball by Gorlukovich, who had indeed been played into an advanced position by a raking left-footed Zavarov pass. Litovchenko struck the ball first time with the outside of his right foot from around 24 yards, and its path saw the ball head towards the inside of the right hand post. With a big tiger-like dive, the Austrian goalkeeper managed to get a paw to it and divert it away for a right wing Soviet corner.
The subsequent flag kick would itself prove somewhat dangerous, as Dobrovolsky was allowed a pop at goal from around ten yards, although Weber was well positioned to block his effort, making sure it never reached goal. The Austrian libero had even blocked a follow-up effort from Kuznetsov, whose presence was often a menace to the opponents when he came forward for attacking set-pieces. Thus far in the game, the red-haired Dinamo Kiev defender had even kept Polster well shackled.
With the halfway point of the second half looming, Hickersberger makes the first change of the game. He withdraws Ogris and replaces him with Gerhard Rodax. While none of the two home strikers had caused much trouble right in front of Chanov, it was probably fair to say that Ogris had been the livelier of them. However, Hickersberger had not really showed any intent of wanting to play Ogris and Rodax together. He’d prefer the ‘little and large’ partnership rather, and so it did not come unexpected to see Ogris leave the field of play with Rodax coming on. The departing forward had also been seen hobbling about just before the substitution, possibly an outcome of the poorly timed Khidiatullin tackle which had brought about the yellow card earlier. Shortly after the introduction of Rodax, Zsak will have a pop at goal from a distance, but even if his shot is hit with some force, it poses no threat to Chanov, who is perfectly positioned to deal with it first time.
A more cautious second half approach from hosts
The highly congested nature of the visitors’ midfield helped making sure that the Austrians rarely enjoyed much second half luck. Whereas chances were hardly at a premium against Lindenberger’s goal, Chanov down the other end was still much less occupied. The way Austria went about the second half, they certainly appeared pleased with that point which they were still clinging on to. They had shown some attacking intent before the break, and particularly Linzmaier had wanted to be busy, but in the second half, both he and Herzog along the opposite flank had been muted. Artner did at times look a little bewildered with Zavarov retracting back inside his own half: “What to do now? Whom to follow?” This had at times opened up more space in the centre, although the visitors did not make much advantage of it, perhaps other than when Mikhailichenko had had a rare moment of being involved as he’d played Cherenkov in for his earlier shot. When Rodax was brought on, he was more or less a direct replacement for Ogris; he was left to do the same kind of tasks.
With just over ten minutes to go, there’s a couple of quick substitutions, one for either side. First, it is Hickersberger who decides to withdraw his starlet Andy Herzog, who moments before had been seen hobbling on the pitch, as if his left foot had taken a knock. Herzog had not had much influence on proceedings during the second half, although one knew he did possess the ability to produce magic if he were given the chance. However, the way the Soviet Union were set up, and also the way that his manager wanted the hosts to play, the Rapid Vienna man did not get a lot of opportunities to showcase his attacking skills. He would in fact be more prominent in some defensive involvements. On for Herzog came Alfred Hörtnagl, a player two years his senior, and someone quite like Herzog in his style of play. Hörtnagl was smaller in size, but also possessed a fine left foot. He probably had a lower centre of gravity than his predecessor, and perhaps was he seen as someone who could hold the ball up higher in the pitch, and possibly bring others into play?
Cherenkov had been the Soviets’ most advanced midfielder in the second half, with Zavarov typically found inside his own half, and with Mikhailichenko looking laboured inside or just on the fringes of the other end of the centre circle. He had shown some nice touches, and indeed produced that earlier second half shot on target, which Lindenberger had managed to beat away for a corner. 79 minutes in, it was time for Cherenkov to leave the field: Lobanovsky wanted to bring Sergey Aleinikov on. If their intention of playing for a point had not been that obvious earlier, it seemed as if the introduction of the Juventus player brought fuel to this idea. Aleinikov was hardly someone who would spend much time inside the opposition’s final third, let alone in a game of this magnitude or, as it has progressed, of this nature.
The English referee did everyone a favour when he brought the game to an end 24 seconds into time added on. The final minutes did not contain anything of interest whatsoever, and it was bleeding obvious that both teams were playing for time: They both had that precious point within sight. Aleinikov had come on, as expected, in the capacity of a central defensive midfielder, although this had failed to move Zavarov higher in the pitch. The Soviet playmaker would see the remaining minutes out as an inhabitant of the centre circle. As either set of performers played slow, meticulous passes between themselves, one could not help but bringing thoughts back to a match which just over seven years earlier had been played out between the Austrians and West Germany during the 1982 World Cup. However, this result did not immediately bring the curtains down on either of the other teams in the group, even if it meant that both Austria and the Soviet Union were positioning themselves well ahead of the remaining matches. It was clear in the final ten minutes that neither wanted to attack.
This was a big disappointment as far as attacking intent went. Neither side wanted to release the handbreak; Neither wished to commit a lot of men forward at the same time. Playing it safe appeared to be the order of the day. With a full Praterstadion in attendance, few got their money’s worth in return. However, a point would have satisfied both managers. There were the odd few opportunities, with Protasov striking the outside of the post during the first half, and with Cherenkov and Litovchenko making Lindenberger throw himself about after the break. Linzmaier failed to get a shot away, while Zsak headed the hosts’ best opportunity over. Other than that, this was a giant stalemate.
1 Lindenberger 7.1
equal to two fine second half efforts, and demonstrated his usual composure in another very secure display
2 Russ 7.1
highly energetic, and offered fine support inside the opposition’s half, as well as making a couple of interceptions defensively
3 Streiter 6.8
defensive focus saw him keep his left hand side mainly trouble-free
4 Pfeffer 7.1
committed display as Protasov’s marker. His job made slightly easier by the lack of collective attacking intent from the Soviet Union
5 Weber 7.0
again proved his worth at the heart of the defence with his reading of the game. Took out necessary depth, and as always a strong aerial presence. No attacking initiatives from the back
6 Zsak 7.2
strong, combative and committed. Shielded his defence well all evening, and even was the one player on the pitch with the most goal efforts. Could’ve capped his display with a headed first half goal
7 Ogris 7.0
he offers a whole lot of battle and running into channels, and has a busy evening, even if he does not pose much of a goal threat. Withdrawn after a knock, but substitution could’ve happened anyway
(14 Rodax –
less of an influence than Ogris, though both teams appeared to be playing for the draw already when he came on)
8 Linzmaier 7.2
nearly a man of the match performance, although he too went more quiet in the second half. Energetic first half display in which he led the Austrian charges, though scuffed his one opportunity in front of goal
9 Polster 6.5
looked a tad heavy, and Kuznetsov kept him in his back pocket throughout. Fine cross for Zsak’s headed effort
10 Herzog 6.8
offered little inside the opposition’s half, but coped admirably defensively. Brought off after knock
(13 Hörtnagl –
excited when coming on, but ultimately failed to lift team, which might not have been the intention anyway)
11 Artner 6.9
opened the game sitting tight on Zavarov, but as his opponent withdrew into his own half of the pitch, it meant Artner could see a bit more of the ball. Hard-working, and showed decent vision a couple of times
1 Chanov 6.9
did what was expected of him, but was largely untroubled but for a couple of Zsak pops
2 Bessonov 7.0
visitors’ best player on the evening, though he too would fade somewhat after the break. Offered attacking intention during the first half
3 Khidiatullin 6.8
played it safe all night. Showcased his distribution ability with a terrific long diagonal pass for Gorlukovich in the second half
4 Kuznetsov 6.9
routine stuff: A transporter of the ball into the opposition half, but to little avail as there was scant attacking interest ahead of him. Kept Polster quiet
5 Gorlukovich 6.7
got into a couple of crossing positions in the second half, but other than that lived an anonymous evening. Ogris at times a handful
6 Cherenkov 6.9
no inferior than any of his midfield colleagues, simply sacrificed for added defensive security. Keen to be on the ball, shielded it well, made Protasov’s opportunity, and tested Lindenberger. Yet part of a pedestrian midfield
(15 Aleinikov –
another body to occupy the centre circle, as if it were needed)
7 Mikhailichenko 6.6
pedestrian and energy-less performance almost throughout. Not the usual level of leadership, especially as he went hiding for spells in the second half
8 Litovchenko 6.7
could’ve kept more width. Tendencies in fine collaboration with Bessonov, but little eventually came of it
9 Zavarov 6.3
so much more is expected from someone of his stature. Began decently, but would retract back inside his own half before half-time, and remain there. Second half he did nothing but push balls back and forth from the centre circle
10 Protasov 6.6
had his one moment after half an hour, and other than that struggled to shake off his marker
11 Dobrovolsky 6.7
shows attacking intent in glimpses, but altogether too little. Comes inside on many an occasion, and so helps cramp their constructive options