Group favourites Soviet Union held to draw by spirited underdogs
Laugardalsvöllur in the centre of Reykjavik was venue for the opening qualifier in UEFA zone Group 3. Iceland would take on the Soviet Union, who had lost the final of the European Championships two months earlier. Yet, there was a sense of optimism in the air for the plucky islanders, who were gathering perhaps their strongest ever national team squad. Also, they appeared to hold little fear for such a mighty opponent, as the pair had drawn 1-1 just under two years earlier in the qualification for the 1988 European Championships. Anderlecht forward Arnór Guðjohnsen had struck for Iceland, with Dinamo Tbilisi star Tengiz Sulakvelidze equalizing on the stroke of half time.
The Soviets knew they were in for a mighty tough game, and they came travelling to the island in the North Atlantic Ocean without their manager Valery Lobanovsky, who was still ill. In charge on the occasion was his assistant Yuri Morozov, exactly like he had been in their only warm-up game ahead of the qualifiers, the recent 0-0 draw in Finland. There, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, the USSR had seen Sergey Mosyagin and Nikita Simonyan, the latter the architect behind Ararat Yerevan’s impressive side which won the Soviet top flight in ’73, as Morozov’s assistants. It appears they were so again here in Reykjavik.
Situated far north and surrounded by the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean, Iceland could be a harsh venue at the best of times. The end of August spelt the end of the brief Icelandic summer. Temperature around the time of kick-off was about 10 degrees, and there appeared to be some wind to deal with as well, not an unusual occurrence in Iceland.
Iceland team news
The mood in the home camp prior to the game appeared to be one of optimism. They had picked a squad of 22 the preceeding week, naming what had probably been their strongest ever pool of players. The domestic league carried amateur status, but there were a total of eight foreign based players, all labelled ‘professionals’. A further five in the squad had earlier played abroad. The large squad had been picked due to fear of injury for one or more players in league games at the weekend prior to the match.
The Icelandic league season, played by the calendar year, had four sets of fixtures remaining of their 18 matches short season. Champions in the making, Reykjavik based Fram, were 13-1-0 from their opening 14 games, 11 points ahead of last season’s champions Valur. Historically, these two, along with another Reykjavik club in KR, were the most successful in the country. They were also leading domestic suppliers of players to the national team. There had been no league matches the weekend prior, as Valur had competed in the Icelandic cup final, which they had won. Being reigning league champions, Valur would also feature in the European Cup, which would have its first round, first leg fixtures played the succeeding midweek (Valur would indeed beat French champions Monaco 1-0 at home, only to go down by 2-0 in the return leg a few weeks later). As cup holders, Fram would be up against Spanish giants Barcelona in the first round of the Cup Winners’ Cup (they would lose 2-0 at home, and later go down 5-0 at Camp Nou).
West German manager Sigfried Held’s original squad of 22 had been trimmed down to 16 for the match, with only domestically based players leaving. They had escaped injuries to major players, though forward Ragnar Margeirsson, who had been on the losing side in the cup final against Valur, for ÍBK (Keflavik), would probably have been in the matchday squad had he not been injured at the weekend. Margeirsson had been taken off just before the half time break in their 1-0 defeat. He had indeed been a starter in all of the three August friendlies. However, with the continentally based stars all available, he would most likely have had to settle for a place among the substitutes.
Held had set his team up in a 5-3-2 in the friendly against Bulgaria earlier in the month, applying a spare man at the back in accordance with West German traditions, and he would prove to do likewise again. When the starting line-up was announced, it was clear that seven of the players who had started in the 1-1 draw against the Soviet Union in the previous qualification would kick this game off as well. The starting eleven averaged 30 internationals each.
The six players which did not make the final matchday squad were:
Arnljótur Davíðsson 19, Fram
Guðmundur Hreiðarsson 27, KF Víkingur (goalkeeper)
Halldór Áskelsson 23, Í.F. Þór
Ragnar Margeirsson 26, ÍBK
Þorsteinn Þorsteinsson 24, Fram
Þorvaldur Örlygsson 22, KA Akureyri
Soviet Union team news
Visiting acting manager Yuri Morozov had seen his team slumber their way through a 0-0 draw in Finland earlier in the month. It had been a performance which had been far from anything that they had showed during the summer’s European Championships, and they would need to up their ante should they return home from Iceland with a result. They realized their position as group favourites, but they could ill afford any complacency; Iceland away was a tough fixture, yet one they were expected to win.
Since the summer, the only international retirement had been that of central defender Sergey Baltacha, one of the many Dinamo Kiev players typically in any Soviet Union matchday squad in this era. Baltacha had only played a bit part role during the European Championships, and so his absence would be manageable. However, with the political winds of change had come greater freedom for players to travel abroad, and two members of the squad from the tournament in West Germany had already departed the domestic scene to start a new lease of life in the West. They were libero Vagiz Khidiatullin (Spartak Moskva) and defensive forward Aleksandr Zavarov (Dinamo Kiev), who had left for clubs in France and Italy respectively, and the Soviets would be hoping that they could bring back to the national team some new influences which could further aid their plight. Zavarov had only just completed his transfer to Juventus a few days prior to the game.
As it would turn out, eight of the players who had started for the visitors in Reykjavik last time these two had met would be starters on this occasion too. This meant that they would’ve been very much aware of what they would come up against. The starting eleven had all been present in the European Championships, whereas three of the five substitutes were recent additions to the squad: defensive midfielder Andrey Zygmantovich and forwards/wide players Igor Dobrovolsky and Sergey Rodionov. Between them, the eleven players in the starting line-up boasted an impressive average of 46 internationals. They easily trumped the hosts in this department.
The Soviet league, equally played by the calendar year, had played its 21st set of fixtures the previous midweek rather than the weekend before, to allow the national team some extra preparation time. Ukraina based Dnepr Dnepropetrovsk, with no players in the national team, would eventually win the title, their second in five years.
The Soviets would continue in their 4-4-2. Their two recent departures for clubs in Western Europe would find their place in the starting eleven. It was a line-up brimful of quality and experience. They deserved their pre-match tag as favourites.
Match official was 43 year old Northern Irishman Alan Snoddy, who was making his seventh international appearance since his debut more than four years earlier. He had even had the honour of officiating in the 1986 World Cup, where he had overseen the group stage match between Morocco and Portugal. This was his first match in charge of either of the evening’s two participants.
As has been established, the two countries had met in the previous qualification, the one ahead of the 1988 European Championships. Whereas the clash in Iceland had ended 1-1, the Soviet Union had won the return fixture on home soil in Simferopol by 2-0 (goals by Igor Belanov and Oleg Protasov). From four previous encounters, the Soviet Union had won three. The two first meetings had come in the qualification ahead of the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
|1 Bjarni Sigurðsson||27||Brann|
|2 Gunnar Gíslason||27||Moss|
|3 Atli Eðvaldsson (c)||31||Valur|
|4 Pétur Ormslev||64′||30||Fram|
|5 Guðni Bergsson||23||Valur|
|6 Sævar Jónsson||30||Valur|
|7 Arnór Guðjohnsen||27||Anderlecht|
|8 Sigurður Jónsson||21||Sheffield Wednesday|
|9 Sigurður Grétarsson||sub 85′||26||Luzern|
|10 Ásgeir Sigurvinsson||33||Stuttgart|
|11 Ólafur Þórðarson||23||Akranes|
|12 Friðrik Friðriksson||23||Odense|
|13 Ómar Torfason||29||Fram|
|14 Pétur Arnþórsson||23||Fram|
|15 Viðar Þorkelsson||25||Fram|
|16 Guðmundur Torfason||on 85′||26||Genk|
Soviet Union (4-4-2)
|1 Rinat Dasayev (c)||31||Spartak Moskva|
|2 Vladimir Bessonov||55′, sub 60′||30||Dinamo Kiev|
|3 Vagiz Khidiatullin||29||Toulouse|
|4 Oleg Kuznetsov||26||Dinamo Kiev|
|5 Anatoly Demyanenko||29||Dinamo Kiev|
|6 Vasily Rats||27||Dinamo Kiev|
|7 Sergey Aleinikov||26||Dinamo Minsk|
|8 Gennady Litovchenko||24||Dinamo Kiev|
|9 Aleksandr Zavarov||27||Juventus|
|10 Oleg Protasov||24||Dinamo Kiev|
|11 Aleksey Mikhailichenko||25||Dinamo Kiev|
|12 Andrey Zygmantovich||25||Dinamo Minsk|
|13 Igor Dobrovolsky||on 60′||21||Dinamo Moskva|
|14 Sergey Rodionov||25||Spartak Moskva|
|15 Igor Belanov||27||Dinamo Kiev|
|16 Viktor Chanov||29||Dinamo Kiev|
¹ Filling in for the absent Valery Lobanovsky
Icelandic media had done their best in trying to lure locals to flock to the ground. They were claiming this was the strongest ever squad assembled in their footballing history, and with solid recollection of a 1-1 draw against the very same opponent two years earlier, they would’ve been optimistic about getting something out of the match. This was despite of the Soviet’s wonderful European Championships campaign. Some were lead to believe that their earlier encounter in the same stadium counted in the visitors’ favour, as the “element of surprise” would no longer play into the hosts’ advantage. A first ever ‘streaker’ appearance at an Icelandic sporting event occured prior to kick-off: The island had lost its virginity.
Four players in the Icelandic line-up were 30 or older; there was plenty of experience within the team. In comparison, just two of the Soviet Union’s players had surpassed the 30 mark. For the opening period, the away team would be playing with the wind at their backs; there appeared to be some movement in flags on display inside the stadium. In addition to the breeze, both teams would also have to conquer what did not look like a pitch in pristine condition. The ball appeared to bounce awkwardly, an element often associated with favouring the proverbial underdog.
A look at the visitors
The opening stages were unspectacular. There was little in the visitors’ play which suggested that they were looking to emulate their own attacking enterprise from the summer tournament in West Germany. The Soviet Union looked meticulous in their approach, and they were up against aggressive opponents. Sure, the level of close control within the away team’s ranks made clear that they would be dominating possession, though this fact the Icelandic would have been very aware of pre-match. The hosts set themselves up in a compact formation, where their two wide players within the 5-3-2 system seemed quite strictly instructed as far as venturing forward went.
The Soviet Union had been without the wonderfully talented Oleg Kuznetsov at the heart of their defence in the European Championships final, after the Dinamo Kiev ace had been booked early in the semi-final. He had been replaced at the back by hugely influental defensive midfielder Aleinikov, something which had robbed them of possibly their most vital midfield man. Aleinikov had been paired with Khidiatullin in Munich. The Dinamo Minsk man would always give a reliable interpretation of any role. In moving Aleinikov back into defence, Lobanovsky had had to move Khidiatullin into Kuznetsov’s role as the ‘roaming’ central defender. The Soviets did not play with a typical ‘man marker’ in central defence, as the more forward of their two at the heart of the defence instead carried greater responsibility when they were in possession. Kuznetsov was the perfect man in bringing the ball into the opposition’s territory. It had been Aleinikov as the libero again for their friendly in Finland, as Khidiatullin had been unavailable. Now all three were again present, and one would’ve thought that this gave them renewed confidence for the backbone of their side: Aleinikov was back in his favoured defensive midfield position.
Khidiatullin, along with Zavarov, had left his country to try himself abroad since the European Championships. To cut a longer story short: He did perhaps not seem quite himself in Reykjavik. Perhaps had his start to life abroad affected his confidence, a confidence which seemed a highly necessary ingredient in the way that Lobanovsky wanted his teams to play. Emphasis was always on possession, movement and speed. Khidiatullin was perhaps not best pleased to be up against such aggression from the home side, where strikers Guðjohnsen and Grétarsson never wanted to give the visitors’ defenders a moment’s peace. A hint of uncertainty at the back then seemed to spread within the side, and despite an initial and expected superiority in possession, the visitors never managed to lay siege on the hosts’ goal during the opening 45 minutes.
Focus on: Iceland
Iceland were set-up in a 5-3-2, much like they had been in their recent friendly against Bulgaria. However, there had been a vital switch at the back, as their experienced captain Atli Eðvaldsson had been moved away from spare man duties at the heart of the central defensive line. This role was now occupied by an up and coming defender in Guðni Bergsson, who seemed to be equipped with better pace than his Valur team mate. Had this been done deliberately to counter some of the strength in pace from the Soviet side? Hardly unthinkable. The imposing Sævar Jónsson completed their central defensive line-up, featuring to the right of the other two. To a certain extent, both Sævar Jónsson and Eðvaldsson were allowed to wander across the halfway line, whereas Bergsson would remain at the back. During the first half, he would not move into the Soviet half ball at feet once.
At the rear of their midfield, the Icelandic had the young Sigurður Jónsson, who despite his 21 years already had been playing in England for a few seasons. He was a tall, lean figure, and despite his young age, he seemed relatively street wise for this important role in the centre of the pitch. Naturally, his tasks were predominantly of a defensive nature, but on a couple of occasions he would make huge runs deep into Soviet territory, runs more associated with the inside half midfield role. The blonde England based youngster would also win his share of aerial challenges, and with his natural aggression he seemed an automatic inclusion in Held’s select.
Ahead of Jónsson in midfield were two players with far more experienced heads. To the anchor man’s right was Pétur Ormslev, who was a hugely popular player in his country. He had won the ‘Player of the Year’ award the previous season, and he was a vital cog in league leaders Fram’s team. Ormslev was another disciplined player, who also was a strong runner, and would go through a good amount of work in midfield. Across the pitch, in the inside left position, was the team’s oldest player in Ásgeir Sigurvinsson, for many a year a professional in the demanding West German Bundesliga. Sigurvinsson possibly did no longer have the legs to do an identical pressing job such as his fellow two midfielders, but he possessed necessary guile and ability in passing, and he would display his quality in distribution on several occasions. The Stuttgart ace would also arrive at the first opportunity of the match, when he rose above Bessonov after Guðjohnsen’s cross from the right hand side to head a yard wide from inside the six yard area. It had been an attacking moment which would spread belief throughout the team.
The home side stunningly move in front with less than eleven minutes gone. They burst forward in the centre through Sigurður Jónsson, and the combative midfield man spreads the ball wide for Þórðarson on the right. The latter had perhaps thought about crossing into the centre, but rather than doing so, he passed the ball back to defender Sævar Jónsson, whose first time ball into the box was totally miscued by Khidiatullin. Having conceded that opportunity for Sigurvinsson’s header, the Soviet libero now had failed to clear his lines, and as the ball broke loose in the centre, Grétarsson, lurking behind Khidiatullin’s back, pounced to beat Dasayev for the ball to prod it into the back of the net. The hosts, already with their tails up, had taken the lead. Laugardalsvöllur did not typically carry large numbers, but in relative measure the stadium did so on this occasion. The almost 8000 strong crowd was brought further to life by this goal, and they replied to their team’s obvious flirtation by celebrating Grétarsson’s goal wildly.
The Soviet Union had looked paceless during their recent friendly in Finland, and it was not as if they were a big improvement on this far more important occasion. In the continued absence of their manager, they once again looked somewhat lifeless: Their aggression levels, their running off the ball to provide options for team mates, their discipline…what so often had been associated with this side appeared to be lacking. Assistant boss Morozov, who had been in charge in Finland and who was yet again making the decisions from the touchline, had set the visitors up in their customary 4-4-2, where the central spine was always hugely important.
At the back were Khidiatullin, already looking a bit out of sorts, and Kuznetsov, with Aleinikov sat in the deep midfield role. Ahead of the latter was the usually inspired Mikhailichenko, who had also been disappointingly bleak in Turku. Here again, the Dinamo Kiev engine had failed to ignite early on. Further afield, in a deep forward position, was the often sparkling Zavarov, another player who had broken away from the safe environment in Kiev since his very recent move to Juventus. Zavarov was looking to exploit the space between the hosts’ midfield and defence, and he would try to feed Protasov ahead of him with little balls into the box when in possession. Problem was only that there was precious little space for Zavarov to take advantage of. Iceland had done their home work, it seemed.
It was not as if the Soviet wide players were unimportant, even if emphasis seemed to be on central areas. Full-backs were Bessonov and Demyanenko, two more players from the Kiev school of excellence. At the top of their game, they would both be wonderful assets in their contribution when going forward. Here, somewhat out of sync, something which could describe their team as a whole, neither were able to offer much support. Bessonov had the busy Litovchenko ahead of him, and it would be the latter who would test Sigurðsson for the first time when his low shot from 20 yards posed no real danger to the ‘keeper only a minute or so after the goal. Litovchenko was less intent on keeping constant width than Rats along the opposite flank. Vasily Rats possessed a left peg which had previously caused some net bulge; he was a wicked shot. There would prove to be just one occasion for him to let fly on this Reykjavik evening.
One could certainly question the effort from the Soviet side, as their performance, much like had been the case in the Finland friendly, seemed anemic. They did not break with pace, and their passing was at times abysmal. Some stray passes could perhaps be excused on the poor quality of the pitch to a certain extent, but definitely not all. And Khidiatullin continued his disappointing start to the game when all he could do after a clearance from the hosts’ ‘keeper Sigurðsson was to boot the ball into touch. Movement off the ball was scarce, and so far Iceland had had a very manageable task in defending. Protasov, a fearsome goal poacher, was being contained by the home side’s defence, even if he did lurk inbetween them, looking to get on the end of any ball in the forward direction. So far, Zavarov had not been able to involve himself high up in the pitch, and so Iceland had severed an important supply line for Protasov.
Sigurður Jónsson’s ability to make runs deep into enemy territory had been mentioned, and on his first such display, he outsmarted Kuznetsov in the right hand channel to feed the ball for goalscorer Grétarsson to have another big opportunity from inside the penalty area. This came just short of the halfway point during the first half, and only an excellent intervention from Dasayev spared the Soviets’ blushes. Iceland could so easily have been two goals ahead. Along with fellow striker Guðjohnsen, the previous year’s ‘Sports personality of the Year’ in Iceland, Grétarsson was a constant thorn in the Soviet Union’s defence. They would never give the away defenders a moment’s peace, and the pair always provided a forward option for their team mates, as the hosts were looking to catch the USSR on the break.
The lack of industry along the flanks for the visitors has been mentioned. Some credit for this should definitely also go to the two Iceland full-backs, as both Þórðarson to the right and Gíslason along the opposite side were set up in order to prevent Soviet wide threats. Gíslason, who by the way was not foreign to playing in more central positions, made sure Litovchenko would often retreat or look to get himself into central areas, was perhaps not the most visible performer in the Icelandic side, but he certainly did an effective job. Þórðarson probably had his work cut out to a slightly greater extent, as Demyanenko, the Soviet left-back, was more willing to come forward than Bessonov on the opposite side. Coupled with Rats’ preference to stick to a wide position, this could have spelled trouble for the home side, but Ormslev took big shifts in assisting his full-back. Thus, the Soviet Union’s attacking down their right hand side was not as purposeful as it could’ve been.
The visitors, with their famous Cyrillic ‘CCCP’ inscription in the chest region of their shirts, were by far dominating possession, but they were not capable of doing much with it. The discipline among the home side’s players saw to that, and at the same time the continued lack of fluency within the Soviet camp made sure that defending their slender lead was so far relatively doable. Protasov was left isolated quite a lot up front, and so he tried to go solo, something which was rarely successful against a sturdy home backline. The visionary Zavarov did once manage to loft the ball into space behind the Icelandic defence, but as he found Bessonov on a rare, deep forward run, the right-back’s lack of control made sure Sigurðsson could remain untroubled as Iceland cleared their lines.
Yet another Iceland opportunity
The busy Grétarsson had already come close to adding to his tally, and around the half hour mark he could’ve scored again. Þórðarson did well to win possession and feed Guðjohnsen a ball to chase down the right, and once again Kuznetsov seemed to slumber as he allowed the Anderlecht man space to get on to the ball and deliever a pass beyond Khidiatullin, something which saw Grétarsson in another one on one with Dasayev. The Soviet goalkeeper came racing off his line, something which made Grétarsson having to rush his effort, and the Spartak Moscow ‘keeper got his right foot to the low shot and deflected it wide for a corner. It was the second time within the past ten minutes that Dasayev had come to the rescue, and Lobanovsky, who must have been watching from home, would’ve been shaking his head at the way his team was exerting themselves. They were indeed fortunate not to be two goals behind by now.
Where’s the Soviet ignition?
In watching this first half, one is just waiting for an element of surprise from the Soviet Union. It was as if what they had displayed during the first 35-40 minutes was far from what they were capable of, and so they were just a spark, an ignition, away from bursting into life. Problem is that there was no element of surprise; there was no ignition. The Soviet Union were playing as if they only knew one single way. Yes, Rats and Demyanenko were able to interchange positions along the left, but neither was capable of getting in behind Þórðarson to deliever a precise ball into the box, and if either had been able to do that, then there is every chance that Sævar Jónsson, Bergsson or Eðvaldsson would’ve got to the ball ahead of Protasov. Having said that, Protasov would actually wriggle free along the left himself and deliever a ball for Mikhailichenko to get his head to, but the effort was never in danger of being directed on target. It sailed unceremoniously wide to the right of Sigurðsson’s goal, just like a tame Aleinikov shot from distance had done moments earlier.
And so it is that Iceland see the first half out a goal to the good, despite another Aleinikov shot moments from the whistle (making Sigurðsson throw himself this time, even if Aleinikov’s right boot effort goes a yard wide to the right) . Referee Alan Snoddy, who had had an easy job until then, could direct the teams towards the dressing rooms at half time with the possibility that a few players had hardly broken sweat. Such was the absence of pace in the game as the visitors looked rattled and lost for ideas, whereas the hosts sat back and soaked up the pressure, looking to catch the Soviets on the break. Should Iceland be able to replicate this level of performance after the break, it appeared they would have every chance of gaining a famous win. Half-time: Iceland 1, Soviet Union 0.
After a first half where the visitors had pushed high with most of their team, and thus exposing themselves for counter-attacks, would they attempt a more conservative approach in the final 45? As for the hosts, the likelihood of them continuing their first half approach was overwhelming, as their sitting deep and defending in numbers, looking to catch the Soviet Union on the break, had served them so well.
There had been no changes in personnel at half time for either side, and for the second half the hosts would be playing with the wind behind them.
During the first half, the Icelandic had displayed their keenness to exploit what was perhaps some lack of pace inside their own half by the Soviet Union. In willing strikers Guðjohnsen and Grétarsson they had players capable of getting in behind the Soviets’ four man defensive line, and through their hard work and endeavour, the home side’s forward pairing caused quite a lot of worry for the visitors. Dasayev had had to come off his goalline to save twice from Grétarsson, who had been set up by Sigurður Jónsson and Guðjohnsen respectively for his golden opportunities in moments when Iceland had caught the away side on break aways. One would’ve thought that a team of their actual class would’ve learnt from such defensive complacency, but just a few minutes after the restart and the hosts take advantage of similar tactics once again: It is Sigurvinsson who uses what energy’s still left in his feet to get away down the left hand side, and as the experienced campaigner crosses with his delicate left foot, he picks out Guðjohnsen in the centre. The Belgium based forward’s gained a few feet on Kuznetsov on this occasion, and he is able to direct a header on target from only a few yards out. The effort had ‘goal’ written all over it, but cat-like Dasayev gets up to make a fantastic two-handed stop just under his own crossbar. The super ‘keeper had yet again come to the Soviets’ rescue as he had managed to instinctively palm the ball over for a corner kick.
The poor state of the pitch is clearly the culprit for some of the stray passes and slow control of the ball, but some players appear to tackle these conditions worse than others. Obviously, it is a surface which is better suited to Iceland’s style of play rather than that of the Soviet Union, and it is the latter’s players who seem to struggle the most. This is particularly noticeable in the otherwise solid full-back Demyanenko’s play. On quite a few occasions he needs to take an extra touch in order to gain control of the ball, something which helps slowing down the away team’s attacking build-up. He might be one of the players suffering the most, but there are other examples as well, such as Zavarov, who’s also enjoyed more prolific afternoons on a football pitch. A world class footballer should be able to overcome such hurdles, though, and it is not just the pitch issue which tends to slow the Soviet Union down on this Reykjavik occasion. With Zavarov only recently having completed his transfer from Kiev to Torino, perhaps was there a hint of fatigue about him.
Soviet right-back Bessonov becomes the first player to have his name taken by the referee. Mr Snoddy has had a fine command of the match so far, and despite the fervour shown by the hosts, the Northern Irishman’s not had a difficult task. However, when Bessonov decides to attempt a body-check on Sigurvinsson inside the centre circle after the Icelandic number 10 had already shifted the ball forward to Grétarsson, the official produced the yellow card. It had not looked like a particularly nasty foul, though it could be claimed that the experienced Bessonov had tried to halt another effort to quickly counter the visitors by stopping Sigurvinsson in his tracks. The 33 year old is in need of some treatment from the medical staff, so it had possibly been a good spot by the referee after all.
Bergsson moves forward
Until almost a quarter of an hour into the second half, Iceland’s libero Guðni Bergsson had been sitting deep, behind his two fellow central defenders, who had both previously ventured into opposition territory. Presented with the opportunity to break, however, the athletic number 5 brought the ball across the halfway line and deep into Soviet sector where Khidiatullin has to body check him to prevent him from going all the way. Again, the Icelandic had met little resistance at the rear of the Soviet midfield, which had seemed slow to back check after losing the ball. These tactics Iceland manager Held had got absolutely spot on so far.
By the hour mark, there had been few signs of a Soviet comeback. Iceland had limited the visitors to midfield possession, and they had not allowed the normally so dependable away team to cause much in terms of danger in front of goalkeeper Bjarni Sigurðsson. The ‘keeper, plying his daily trade in the Norwegian league with Bergen side Brann, indeed one of two home players currently under contract in Norway, had looked confident behind his five man strong defence, even if he had only had to make one proper save when Litovchenko had hit a low shot from distance shortly after Grétarsson’s goal. He seemed strong when coming off his line to claim crosses, did Sigurðsson. Acting Soviet manager Morozov decided to try and shake things up a little, as he brought off the recently cautioned Bessonov, his oldest outfield player, and sent on Moscow based striker Dobrovolsky. He had made his international debut as an 18 year old in a rare Soviet home defeat, 1-0 to England in Tbilisi, and now his introduction meant he would come on in a wide role. Only four days earlier had the Dinamo Moskva man celebrated his 21st birthday. Dobrovolsky would take the wide left position, something which pushed Vasily Rats, so far ineffective, back into a left-back role, and previous left-back Demyanenko switched over to the departed Bessonov’s side.
Dobrovolsky shaking things up a little
The introduction of Dobrovolsky would provide an element of something less predictable about the Soviets’ play. Hitherto, the greatest ‘surprises’ their left hand side would offer was when Demyanenko pushed forward and Rats stayed back, rather than opposite, which was their outset. Dobrovolsky had freedom and imagination to roam; he would make runs, both on and off the ball, across the pitch, and cause counting errors for the home side in lending Litovchenko support along the right. This would occur infrequently, and although it did not yield any immediate chances created, it prompted keen runner Ormslev to track Dobrovolsky across to the extent that he brought the substitute down in a foul which saw referee Snoddy produce a second yellow card of the afternoon. This new level of creating the unexpected through different patterns of running could possibly aid the visitors in their search for an equalizer. Only moments prior to being felled by Ormslev, Dobrovolsky had darted forward from a central position, having received the ball from Mikhailichenko. Without being properly closed down, he was able to tee Litovchenko up for an effort from just outside of the penalty area, an attempt which would ultimately slice off the Kiev flank midfielder’s foot and sail well wide.
Almost 20 minutes into the second half, the game is beginning to open up a little. The visitors need to start taking further risks in their plight to find an equalizer, and in their eager to do so, they keep getting exposed at the back. Khidiatullin, who had endured a poor first half, would concede possession inside his own half when he could only find ‘Siggi’ Jónsson with a weak ball forward, and the most tigerish of the home side’s midfield men would lift the ball into space for Guðjohnsen to chase. The striker got to the ball on the right sided corner of the six yard area, and in order to tee himself up for a strike at goal, he needed to lift the ball over the head of the onrushing Kuznetsov. However, the angle became too difficult, and Guðjohnsen’s strike is also not a particularly impressive one, as he does not make clean connection with the ball. Rather than testing Dasayev yet again, the shot goes across the six yard box and out of play for a goal kick. Guðjohnsen had done well until the finish.
Back on level terms
The introduction of Dobrovolsky had given the Soviet Union some needed impetus. He was able to run out of position and shake things up inside the Icelandic half, and he showed some neat close control, even at times providing an added outlet for striker Protasov, who for large chunks of the game had been left isolated up front. Protasov had rarely looked frustrated, it must be said to his advantage, but the battle against the Icelandic rearguard had hardly looked like one he’d win. When the equalizer comes about, though, it happens through a moment’s indecision by Sigurður Jónsson inside the centre circle. The Sheffield Wednesday man had not done a lot of wrong until then, but losing the ball to Mikhailichenko would prove fatal. Mikhailichenko, another player who had been well below expectation so far, played in Zavarov a couple of yards higher in the pitch, and enjoying some rare space without being closed down, the Juventus ace, now in a somewhat deeper role since the introduction of Dobrovolsky, was able to tread a fine left-footed pass forward for Litovchenko to run on to. The right-sided midfielder tried to lob the ball over Sigurðsson as he took on Zavarov’s pass in behind Eðvaldsson, though the ‘keeper was able to get his fingertips to it. Unfortunately for Sigurðsson, he could only poke the ball back into the direction of Litovchenko, who proceeded to find the back of the net with a low finish from an accute angle, and past both Bergsson and Sævar Jónsson on the goalline. It was the Kiev ace’s tenth goal in international colours. The USSR were back on level terms, having taken advantage of what was their first big goal threat all match. Iceland, having produced a number of scoring opportunities since their opener, would’ve felt hard done by.
How would the hosts respond to this blow? Ok, perhaps was it an exaggeration to call the Soviet equalizer a ‘blow’, as the visitors had clearly been the favourites going into the game, but the way the hosts had kept the visitors at bay until then had surely made them felt hard done by as the ball had trickled across the goalline. Was there still juice left in the legs of Guðjohnsen and Grétarsson up top? The Iceland forwards had run their socks off all night, and they had conjured up no less than five scoring opportunities between them, Grétarsson’s goal included.
Massive Protasov opportunity
Iceland had been disciplined and not lost their defensive shape all evening so far, but with just over ten minutes left for play, right-back Þórðarson had committed himself too high in the pitch as the home side had been attempting to mount an attack involving a surprisingly high number of players. The speedy Dobrovolsky would take advantage of this, as he darted across the halfway line ball at feet along the left hand side. He had started his run midway inside his own half, having been fed by Mikhailichenko, and Þórðarson had not been able to keep pace. Advancing to 25 yards from the byline, Dobrovolsky attempted a cross for Protasov in the centre. Gíslason looked to get in the way of the ball’s flight, though, but the left-back was off balance after backtracking, and the ball would elude him and find its way to a completely unmarked Protasov around the penalty spot. It was the kind of opportunity which the top marksman usually thrived on, and looking odds-on to score his 22nd international goal in his 42nd appearance, he attempted to strike low under Sigurðsson. To his great credit, the home ‘keeper had come racing off his line, giving Protasov much less time and angle, and Sigurðsson saved the striker’s effort with his legs, diverting the ball out for a corner. It was a massive opportunity spurned for the Soviet Union to move in front. The ensuing left wing corner saw Protasov attack Sigurðsson in the air, perhaps in a display of frustration, and the solid ‘keeper won a free-kick.
Home goalscorer substituted
With five minutes remaining and the visitors in the ascendancy, home manager Sigfried Held decides to withdraw goalscorer Grétarsson to bring a fresh pair of legs into the attack. Another Belgium based player comes on in the shape of Guðmundur Torfason, who, like the player he had replaced, was a striker. The Soviet Union were eyeing an unlikely winning goal, and so Held clearly felt his side needed someone to exert some pressure on the visitors’ defenders when they wanted to build from the back. Torfason, one of two in the Iceland squad by that surname, was the man for the task. The hosts had not been able to threaten Dasayev again since Guðjohnsen’s finish across the six yard area more than 20 minutes earlier. By now, it appeared that Iceland would have to settle for a point, a result which they’d surely have grasped had it been offered to them pre-match. However, with the number of chances they’d created after taking the lead, they must have been disappointed to have let the visitors back in.
Approaching the end
With the match proceeding into its final stage, it is blatantly clear that the hosts are unable to offer further attacking threat. They had run themselves into the ground, and the point did, after all, seem fair reward against what was still the group favourites. As the Soviet Union were by some margin looking the fresher side towards the end, they would appear at some half chances inside the final few minutes. Firstly, Protasov, who had done well for most of the match, took on a long forward ball from Zavarov, controlled it with his back to the goal and watched by Sævar Jónsson, before he made a quick turn and decided to shoot from 20 yards. High and wide. Then Zavarov, more involved in the game in the latter parts and after Dobrovolsky had come on, would have two shots from almost identical positions from left range outside the penalty area saved by Sigurðsson, who had almost spilled the first shot into the feet of Dobrovolsky before he reclaimed the ball.
As Mr Snoddy produced the final whistle, the match had finished all square, a 1-1 result to match the previous meeting on the same pitch between these two, played out only two years earlier. It was a result with which the Soviet media would surely be displeased after their summer showing in West Germany, but it was at the same time a result which the Icelandic performance had warranted. In fact, had it not been for a very alert performance by Dasayev, the match would’ve been beyond the visitors’ reach by the time Litovchenko found the equalizer. Having been below par, the Soviet Union should be pleased with a point. Iceland had shown discipline, commitment and desire, and the performance had been one which manager Held and his players could take pride in.
In a match played in wind and on an uneven, hard pitch, the hosts went in front early on through Grétarsson’s opportunism, and Iceland made sure to work hard in closing the visitors down on every opportunity. This never gave the Soviet Union peace to build attacks from the back, and they were possibly a tad fortunate to go into the half time break only a goal down, as Dasayed had had to save twice from goalscorer Grétarsson in one on one situations. The other home forward, Guðjohnsen, would be the source of two further opportunities in the second half, as Dasayev again came to the Soviets’ rescue in acrobatically keeping out the first of these two. Then acting manager Morozov brought Dobrovolsky on, a substitution which would swing the game into the visitors’ favour. The 21 year young forward was given a lot of attacking freedom, something which also benefitted Protasov, who began to look a threat up front, despite seeing his earlier forward partner Zavarov come into a much deeper role. Litovchenko squeezed home the equalizer from a tight angle, and then Protasov should’ve scored when clean through inside the area, only for Sigurðsson to make a close range save as he had raced off his goalline. It had hardly been the most entertaining of matches, and in the end both teams could possibly take heart from a point gained.
1 Sigurðsson 7.2
confidently claimed crosses. Somewhat unfortunate to concede in the manner that he did
2 Gíslason 6.9
solid, unspectacular performance out of position at left-back
3 Eðvaldsson 7.0
vital with his composure at the back, and a big aerial presence in both boxes
4 Ormslev 6.8
tireless midfield runner, but had little to offer when in possession
5 Bergsson 7.2
big defensive performance in the centre. Strong in the air and in the tackle. Had one run well into Soviet territory in advancing on the ball
6 Sæ. Jónsson 6.9
won headers, and provided a fortuitous assist for the goal
7 Guðjohnsen 7.4
such a menace to the Soviet defence with his ceaseless running, and so close to adding to Iceland’s tally twice after the break. Linked up well with both Sigurvinsson as well as his forward partner
8 Si. Jónsson 7.1
good tussle with Mikhailichenko. Fully committed, strong in the air. Made two fine runs into the deep during the first half, but lapse of concentration when conceding possession in the centre circle just before the equalizer
9 Grétarsson 7.3
never stopped running, and got himself into three fine goalscoring positions during the first half, one of which he accepted as he gave Iceland the lead. Tired late on, happily substituted
(16 Torfason –
offered legs up front in the dying minutes; one poor and one good touch)
10 Sigurvinsson 7.1
very important in the way he was able to hold on to the ball and bring others into play. Good vision and distribution, but of less workrate than the other midfielders
11 Þórðarson 6.9
full of battle at right-back
1 Dasayev 7.5
three huge stops to deny Iceland further goals
2 Bessonov 6.6
at times uninspired, but had a couple of runs deep into enemy territory, once fed by Zavarov, but could not take advantage. Off shortly after being booked
(13 Dobrovolsky 7.2
offered something else after coming on: rich in initiative. Caused problems with his runs across the pitch, and set Protasov up for what should’ve been the winner)
3 Khidiatullin 6.3
lack of confidence apparent, and at fault for Iceland’s goal
4 Kuznetsov 6.8
calm and composed, though played with little risk
5 Demyanenko 6.3
struggled to maintain control of the ball, and disappointingly sloppy in his passing
6 Rats 6.7
modest performance along the left, and saw the game out at full-back after the substitution
7 Aleinikov 6.9
hardly enterprising, but kept the Soviets tick in the middle of the park
8 Litovchenko 7.0
no lack in effort and commitment, and got his reward when he scored the visitors’ goal. Quite often sought central positions
9 Zavarov 6.8
disappointing up front, but clearly enjoyed himself more when retracting into a deeper role after the introduction of Dobrovolsky
10 Protasov 7.0
difficult task in an often isolated role up front, but never gave in to frustration. Should’ve scored from Dobrovolsky’s pass late on
11 Mikhailichenko 6.7
struggled to cope with the aggression of Sigurður Jónsson, and never managed to boss the midfield