Few were doubting that the Soviet Union would grab one of the two berths for Italia’90 from qualification Group 3. But which nation would join them? Was it finally time for East Germany again to progress to the finals? Their hardest opponents looked to be Austria, who frankly hadn’t shown too many promising signs over the last few years. Iceland and Turkey were not highly rated, but were known to be able to cause problems for most teams in individual fixtures, although not a lot of people would put their money on either to qualify for Italia’90.
Taking into account their opponents and the fact that two teams would progress directly, it is difficult to think of a more clear favourite in any of the qualification groups than the Soviet Union. Their two last tournaments had both been impressive displays, reaching the final of the 1988 European Championships, but only the round of 16 in Mexico’86. Lobanovsky maintained the same core of players, which was built on his Dynomo Kiev team. But would it not also be time for rejuvenation soon in that group?
Despite not having qualified for a major tournament since 1974, East Germany were second seeded for the draw. They were a team consistently performing well in qualifications: Their campaign for the 1988 European Championships had been solid, in the end finishing just two points behind winners Soviet Union. A similar effort this time around would surely grant them a place in Italia’90. Manager Bernd Stange had overseen the two last qualications, and largely kept the same squad.
Austria (ranked third) had decent teams in 1978 and 1982: They had set standards that the latest generation had not been able to live up to. Players like Prohaska and Weber were still around, hoping to transmit some World Cup experience to the young team that had emerged under the disappointing qualification for the 1988 European Championships. They would be led by former U21 manager ‘Pepi’ Hickersberger.
Iceland had never qualified for any major tournament, but remained a tricky opponent. Especially on home soil, at Laugardalsvöllur, they were a side hard to beat, although East Germany would have fond memories from their trip to the island for the 1988 qualifiers (0-6!). Sigfried Held, their West German national coach, had a disciplined team full of hard-working players, including players plying their trade at a high European level, like Arnór Guðjohnsen (Anderlecht) and the experienced Ásgeir Sigurvinsson (Stuttgart).
Turkey had been relegated to the bottom level for this draw, which may be surprising, but their latest qualifications had produced rather weak results. In fact, their campaign for Mexico’86 had been nothing short of terrible, with a small improvement recorded in the next qualification. Turkey were now being managed by Tınaz Tırpan, who would lead a talented group of players in need of a good manager. The Turks surely wanted to show that they didn’t belong in the same category as Luxembourg and Malta.