Uninspired Soviet Union surrender lead late on
¹ The official stadium name was Tsentralny Stadion Imeni V.I. Lenina. It was, and still is, situated in the Luzhniki area of the Khamovniki district in south west Moscow.
The Soviet Union band wagon was about to march on. Towards their first place target, they had so far only encountered serious trouble in Reykjavik, and here again they were up against the islanders. On home terrain, though, no one expected anything but a routine win for the red machine. They had perhaps not always impressed a great deal through their performances during their three straight qualification wins, but they had been near impenetrable at the back, just conceding that one goal to Sigurður Grétarsson in the Icelandic capital. The visitors had not been in qualification action in a while, and were they to mount a surprise challenge for the second berth, they would need to get something from this fixture. Not that it seemed likely in any way, even if they had a sound team. A team of physically robust men, yet without a certain spark and attacking fluidity. They would need to summon all their top players to stand much of a chance of returning back home with even a point.
Soviet Union team news
Five weeks after the comfortable 3-0 triumph against East Germany and three weeks in the wake of the strong 1-0 victory away to Turkey, the Soviet Union had moved their qualification tent to Moscow. It was time to introduce the current crop of World Cup contenders to the Russian part of the confederation. After three successive qualification wins, the USSR looked on course for Italia ’90 already, and an expected two points tonight would further cement their application.
Since last time around, the Soviets had been bereft of the richly talented Aleksey Mikhailichenko, indeed the match winner in Istanbul. The Dinamo Kiev midfield man was one of no less than seven players who had started all four qualifiers hitherto. Manager Valery Lobanovsky seemed to know where to look for Mikhailichenko’s replacement, though, as he’d decided to include the elegant Vladimir Bessonov. Both were players under Lobanovsky at Dinamo Kiev. Bessonov had been withdrawn, from his full-back role, early in the second half during the 1-1 match in Reykjavik, something which had been his sole participation so far in the ’90 qualification. In addition to Mikhailichenko, defenders Vagiz Khidiatullin and Anatoly Demyanenko remained absent. The emerging Oleg Luzhny, yet another Kiev prospect, had laid claim to the right-back slot, and the 20 year old had so far performed with a lot of confidence and endeavour. He looked odds-on to keep his position yet again, something which could also be said for the experienced Vasily Rats, who had retracted from his left-sided midfield position to fill in for Demyanenko at left-back. This was no challenge for the 28 year old, who was currently undergoing a loan spell with Barcelona club Español in the Spanish top flight.
Two further players who were missing from the squad of 16 which had faced GDR, were defender Vasily Kulkov and midfielder Aleksandr Borodyuk. The two Moscow based men, with Spartak and Dinamo respectively, had been replaced among the 16 by Dinamo Tbilisi defender/defensive midfielder Gela Ketashvili, who had already come on for his debut in Istanbul, and legendary striker Igor Belanov, still only 28 years of age, but seemingly somewhat out of favour at the moment. However, this was the Soviets’ ’86 World Cup top goalscorer’s second successive international inclusion. Borodyuk had also appeared in the dying minutes of that fixture on the shores of the Bosporus. Kulkov’s late substitute appearance in Kiev against East Germany had been his debut at full international level.
Valery Lobanovsky had been utilising a 4-4-2/4-5-1 formation thus far, with the lively Aleksandr Zavarov often operating in the ‘hole’ just off Oleg Protasov up front. A similar formation tonight would hardly upset the odds.
Iceland team news
This was Iceland’s fourth qualifier, the first in more than half a year. Six players had started all of their previous three: Gunnar Gíslason, Atli Eðvaldsson, Guðni Bergsson, (Sævar) Jónsson, Arnór Guðjohnsen and Ólafur Þórðarsson. On this occasion, there was no Sævar Jónsson, as the defender was suspended following the red card he’d picked up during the 2-0 defeat in East Germany. Furthermore, midfield playmaker Ásgeir Sigurvinsson and dynamic forward Guðjohnsen were missing due to not being released by his club (!) and injury respectively. Midfielder cum forward Ragnar Margeirsson had participated in Iceland’s two most recent qualifiers, and he was another absentee. The same went for footballing icon Pétur Ormslev, who had not featured for the national team since a 3-0 friendly defeat at home to Hungary in September. He was still in action for his club side Fram Reykjavík, so the former Fortuna Düsseldorf pro seemed to be simply an omission.
5-3-2 had been Iceland’s formation so far in the qualification, and with much the same players available to West German manager Sigfried Held yet again, a replica seemed to be on the cards. Their only 1989 international had been against an English ‘B’ select 12 days earlier (a 2-0 home defeat). In Iceland, they had counted this as an official international, something which the English obviously had not. In the absence of the suspended Sævar Jónsson, Held had brought in KR Reykjavík defender Ágúst Már Jónsson for the game against the English, trying him out in the five man defensive line along with skipper Eðvaldsson and libero Bergsson. Luzern forward Grétarsson had been ineligible for the England ‘B’ friendly, though he was back again here, looking to make his third start in their fourth qualifier ahead of Italia ’90. In his place against the English had come Halldór Áskelsson, who so far had made a substitute appearance (during the 1-1 draw in Turkey). Back-up goalkeeper, taking over for Friðrik Friðriksson since their last qualification match, the 2-0 defeat in East Berlin, would be Guðmundur Hreiðarsson, who had held this position during the game in Istanbul.
One player who had yet to feature in any squad during this qualification was KR Reykjavík’s 19 year young midfielder Rúnar Kristinsson. He would appear among the 16 on this occasion, probably as Margeirsson’s direct replacement. Along with Akureyri’s 22 year old Þorvaldur Örlygsson, Kristinsson made sure that Iceland had an up and coming midfield generation. The left-footed midfielder had made his international bow during the previous qualification, the one ahead of the 1988 European Championships. This had happened during a 2-0 defeat in Simferopol against the same opponent as tonight. Vitally, Sigurður “Siggi” Jónsson was also back in the mix, having missed out on their two most recent qualifiers through injury. The strong, tall England based player would need to deliever in his expected central midfield role.
The Finnish official had no previous experience at this level, making his first appearance in a full international fixture. Timo Keltanen was 38 years of age, and this would remain his sole qualification tie, with two other internationals popping up in his agenda at later stages in his career.
The ’90 qualification was the third time the two countries had been paired ahead of a major international tournament during the 1980s. They had met for the very first time ahead of the 1982 World Cup, when the Soviets had triumphed 2-1 in Reykjavik and 5-0 at home. Both Rinat Dasayev and Vladimir Bessonov had featured for tonight’s hosts on both occasions, with Sigurður Grétarsson the only representative from tonight’s Icelandic camp on duty, though only for the home fixture.
The two nations had then met in qualification for the 1988 European Championships, when Iceland had gained a highly creditable 1-1 draw, akin to what they’d achieved at the start of these qualifiers. The Soviet Union had, however, won the next encounter by 2-0 on home soil. Thus the record read 3-2-0 in favour of tonight’s home team.
On this early summer’s day in Moscow, the weather was bright and sunny. We have no record of what temperatures were on display.
Soviet Union (4-5-1)
|1 Rinat Dasayev (c)
|2 Oleg Luzhny
|3 Sergey Gorlukovich
|4 Oleg Kuznetsov
|5 Sergey Aleinikov
|6 Vasily Rats
|7 Vladimir Bessonov
|8 Gennady Litovchenko
|9 Aleksandr Zavarov
|10 Oleg Protasov
|11 Igor Dobrovolsky
|12 Gela Ketashvili
|13 Andrey Zygmantovich
|14 Igor Belanov
|15 Yuri Savichev
|16 Dmitri Kharin
|1 Bjarni Sigurðsson
|2 Ágúst Jónsson
|3 Atli Eðvaldsson (c)
|4 Pétur Arnþórsson
|5 Sigurður Jónsson
|6 Gunnar Gíslason
|7 Guðni Bergsson
|8 Ólafur Þórðarsson
|9 Sigurður Grétarsson
|10 Guðmundur Torfason
|11 Ómar Torfason
|12 Guðmundur Hreiðarsson
|13 Halldór Áskelsson
|14 Rúnar Kristinsson
|15 Þorsteinn Þorsteinsson
|16 Þorvaldur Örlygsson
On this final May afternoon in Moscow, the two combatants had appeared for the 6pm kick-off right on the northern shore of the Moskva river, a few miles to the south west of the Moscow city centre. The vast majority of the just over 60,000 present would be expecting the home side to mop the floor with their plucky opponents, as this is what had happened on two previous encounters in the Soviet Union during the 80s. However, Iceland were no longer whipping boys under the guidance of Sigfried Held, and they had intentions of their own, namely to return back home with a result. Conditions appeared ideal for football, and once all formalities had been completed, it was up to Iceland’s forward duo Sigurður Grétarsson and Guðmundur Torfason, both plying their daily trade abroad, like in total seven among their starting eleven were currently doing, to proceed with kick-off.
Early indications of an expected game picture
No one had been expecting Iceland to arrive in the Soviet Union in order to go out and play an attack-minded, open kind of football. Indeed, the opening exchanges would explain what they would be all about: A tight-knit defensive unit with banks of five and three across defence and midfield respectively, and then two willing runners up front to try and put pressure on the defenders and defensive midfielders when the hosts wanted to instigate from the back. Iceland had some big, robust players who were more than ready for physical battle, and some of their players were equipped with a high level of controlled aggression. This suited very well their organised style of play, and although their earlier matches in the qualification group hardly had won them a lot of neutral admirers, it had won them two points from three matches. They had followed this recipe both in the home match against the Soviet Union and on the trip to Turkey, where they’d collected a point on both occasions. GDR were their nemesis from the previous qualification, and they’d come away from East Berlin with nothing on this occasion, too.
Tempo both on and off the ball were necessary should the hosts break down this resolute Icelandic rear line, and it would be instrumental for the Soviets to make good use of their wide play, something which had rarely been a feature against GDR even if they’d won comprehensively. In their most recent win, the 1-0 in Turkey, they had again been more prolific through the centre rather than from their flanks. In denying the hosts space in the middle of the park, Iceland boss Sigfried Held had a clear game plan.
Even if the USSR had knowledge of the importance of shifting the ball around at pace in order to lure their opponents away from their positions, they would not manage to do so in the early moments of the game. This saw to that defending became relatively manageable for the visitors, whose goalkeeper Bjarni Sigurðsson was not called into action from other than high up and unders or back passes. Indeed, were these early indications a pointer in which direction the game was going, then it would appear that visiting manager Held would enjoy greater reward from his tactics than his counterpart in the home dug-out. Valery Lobanovsky was a thorough man in his preparations and would not have under-estimated the opposition in any way. Was there complacency about the USSR, it would’ve come from the players. Usually so thrifty in keeping a certain level of pace and in positional interchanges, the Soviet players appeared meticulous and laboured on this occasion. Sure, they would not be challenged a great deal defensively, so another vital ingredient would need to be patience. Perhaps were these first ten minutes or so merely a test of their own character. The Icelandic resolve they were aware of already.
Huge opportunity for 1-0
On the quarter of an hour mark, the hosts made sure to give the visitors a reminder of their capacity, as if to say “don’t become too comfortable, or we’ll hurt you”: The ingenuity about this particular attack seemed to be defensive midfielder Sergey Aleinikov making a run off the ball, something which clearly disturbed the visiting defence to such an extent that they did not manage to deal with the players who were actually participating on the ball for the hosts. Aleinikov did not get anywhere near the ball, but it was his run outside to the left which opened up space for Igor Dobrovolsky to the left inside the area for flexible central defender Oleg Kuznetsov to aim his low forward pass to. Both in Aleinikov’s sudden decision to make a run off the ball and Kuznetsov’s willing contribution inside the opponents’ half, the Soviets had included two previously untried ingredients, and this worked a treat as Dobrovolsky laid the ball back to striker Oleg Protasov, who took a touch to steady himself for his strike. Protasov, so often sensing the smell of blood, like a true predator, inside the opposing penalty area, hit a curled right-foot shot which smashed off the underside of the bar with Sigurðsson well beaten. However, even if a couple of his team mates had raised their arms aloft as if to celebrate goal, the rebound had landed half a yard away from the goal line. Iceland left-back Gunnar Gíslason would head the ball away to safety for a Soviet right-wing corner.
Iceland formation and line-up
Iceland’s formation was well known by now. Manager Held had been a disciple of the 5-3-2 combination since (at least) the start of the qualification, and this occasion was no different. Between the sticks they had the reliable Sigurðsson, who had returned home to domestic football after four years in the Norwegian league with Brann. The 28 year old custodian thus became team mate with two from the trio which so far in the qualification had made up their central defensive line: Sævar Jónsson and captain Atli Eðvaldsson. However, only the latter, apart from Sigurðsson, would represent the Reykjavik club here in Moscow, as the rugged Jónsson was ineligible for selection. He had received a red card during their 2-0 defeat in East Germany, when Ulf Kirsten had made the most of a bust-up between the two. The highly promising Guðni Bergsson, too, had been Valur property during their three previous qualifiers, but now the libero had begun life as a full-time footballer with no lesser a club than English top-flight side Tottenham. Bergsson had taken over the more central role defensively from the seasoned Eðvaldsson once the qualification had started, with the skipper having been shifted out into the left-sided position at the heart of their defence. In place of Sævar Jónsson tonight had come Ágúst Már Jónsson, another fit defender, who currently was contracted to Swedish top flight club Häcken. This changed next to nothing in their defensive approach, as this Jónsson simply slotted straight into Sævar Jónsson’s role. Ágúst Jónsson would often come up against Soviet striker Protasov.
Along their defensive flanks, West German Held would again rely on Ólafur Þórðarsson and Gunnar Gíslason. Both were ever-present thus far in the ’90 qualification, and they would again take the right and left berths respectively. 23 year old Þórðarsson had made the switch across to Norwegian football during the winter, now representing Brann like Sigurðsson had done before him. Norway’s domestic scene was often a popular choice among Icelandic footballers with a wish to go abroad, and this is where the dependable Gíslason, too, had been operating for a couple of years. He’d even become league champion whilst in action for Moss, but now he’d gone and joined Ágúst Jónsson at Gothenburg club Häcken. Even if both Þórðarsson and Gíslason did possess some qualities in going forward, neither would be allowed to cross the halfway line unless the occasion presented itself too glaringly to be ignored.
With their central defensive line the backbone of their side, the Iceland midfield, too, was a highly important feature in manager Held’s ideas. It consisted of three men whose main priority would remain chasing the opponents at any opportunity, and it must be said that at least two of them were relatively limited possession wise. However, Held’s tactics for Moscow did not involve much in terms of possession, and so even Ómar Torfason and Pétur Arnþórsson would come in handy. Torfason, winning his 37th cap, had been performing in the central midfield role in Iceland’s two most recent qualifiers, but on this occasion he had returned to an errand-boy role; Torfason was playing as the inside right alternative. Across the midfield was the highly charged Arnþórsson, Torfason’s team mate at Reykjavik club Fram. Combined they made sure to put in a lot of miles. Their non-stop running and aggression were vital features in Iceland’s tactics. And in addition to the pair, there was the awaited return of Sigurður Jónsson. Yet only 22 years of age, the physically imposing midfielder had been working abroad as a professional footballer for a few years. He’d been lost to Held’s cause due to injury for the trips to Istanbul and East Berlin, but he’d showed in the home tie against the Soviet Union what an important part of the side he was. His inclusion for this fixture would’ve been a no-brainer for the manager.
No player could afford any luxury in the visitors’ line-up were Iceland to be successful in their plight in behind the Iron Curtain, and the front two surely were no exception. Held had been robbed of Arnór Guðjohnsen’s services, and in his place came the far more stationary Guðmundur Torfason. However, the 27 year old brought to the side a big physical presence up top, and he would add another dimension for attacking set-pieces. Since their last qualifier, Torfason had left Belgian football in order to try his luck with Austrian giants Rapid Vienna. He had scored Iceland’s goal during their 1-1 draw in Turkey. Alongside him, Guðmundur Torfason had the highly agile Sigurður Grétarsson, who was creating a name for himself in Swiss football, where he played for Luzern. Grétarsson had shown his goalscoring ability when he’d pounced to notch their opening strike in this qualification, as he’d seized on a mistake by Soviet libero Vagiz Khidiatullin during the 1-1 draw in Reykjavik. Grétarsson would be another player in the Icelandic camp who would go through the miles.
Protasov sniffing goal again
The hosts had proved through Protasov’s effort that the visitors were not unbreachable. However, margins had failed them, and they’d need to remain patient in their approach. Shortly after, though, there would be yet another opportunity coming the lethal Dinamo Kiev ace’s way, and he would again come close to giving the hosts the lead. Iceland were not always efficient in closing down unexpected runs from the Soviet midfielders, and on this occasion it had been the newly installed Vladimir Bessonov making a terrific run to cause disorder towards the left in the Icelandic defence. The visitors had shown, particularly during their game in Turkey, that they perhaps had a flaw at the back in the space which would occur between left-sided central defender Eðvaldsson and left-back Gíslason. This the Turkish had tried to take advantage of on a number of occasions, and some indecision had arose once again in this area when Bessonov had made a run out into the right hand channel. Without much opposition the once elegant midfielder, whose only performance so far in the qualification had been his cut-short appearance as right-back in Reykjavik, swivelled and swung a cross in for Protasov, who connected first time on the near post. Agonisingly for the home side, his side-footed effort went just right of Sigurðsson’s upright. With two efforts in quick succession the game seemed to come to life after the dull opening sequences.
Focus on the hosts
The Soviet Union had installed themselves atop the group, something which had not come as a surprise to anyone. They’d entered the qualification on the back of their scintillating European Championships run, which had ultimately culminated with that 2-0 defeat to the Dutch in the Munich final. Yet their performances so far had probably belied some of the football which they’d displayed in West Germany. Their efficiency had been good thus far, and you could not argue against seven points from four matches. Winning in Istanbul, against a confident Turkey, had been an important result, and, surely, Iceland would just prove to be another stepping stone towards total group dominance. Signs were that the USSR were beginning to create the openings needed to tear apart this robust Icelandic defence. More runs from midfield would surely follow.
Lobanovsky was again well accompanied on the Soviet bench, where his assistant Yuri Morozov sat immediately to his left, and further along were Sergey Mosyagin and Nikita Simonyan. The foursome had usually set their team up in 4-4-2 or something of a 4-5-1 formation, where the latter would image a modern-day 4-4-1-1, with the ingenious Aleksandr Zavarov running just off striker Oleg Protasov. This time around, though, the 4-5-1 appeared to have a more conventional look about it, perhaps surprisingly, as the quality of the opposition would’ve suggested an attacking approach. Zavarov had been pushed back into something of a slightly deeper role than what we’d seen during the qualification until now, which could well have been the result of Aleksey Mikhailichenko’s absence. Filling in for the missing Mikhailichenko was Bessonov, who did not quite possess the same level of pace. However, having made his mark as a footballer in the centre of the pitch, Bessonov, making his 73rd international appearance, was far from a novice. He would be slotting into Mikhailichenko’s position wanting to make use of his attributes as a footballer: quality in possession. Perhaps is this why the Icelandic had been caught by surprise when Bessonov had made this Mikhailichenko-esque run to set Protasov up for that recent effort wide.
At the back, captain Rinat Dasayev’s place in goal remained unquestionable. Perhaps had he not quite been showing the form yet for his Spanish club side which the world had become accustomed to see, but Sevilla fans could look forward to the veteran stopper’s first full season abroad after the summer-break. With 88 caps, no one came near Dasayev for international know-how. In front of him, he had the strong Sergey Gorlukovich as libero. The 27 year old Dinamo Moscow man had made a big impression during the Olympics in Seoul, and he’d been selected again as the replacement for the injured Khidiatullin. Gorlukovich had so far not displayed much in terms of an attacking wish, but his defensive contribution was second to none. Instead, he would leave participation inside the opposition’s half to central defensive colleague Oleg Kuznetsov. This was one of Kuznetsov’s great strengths as a footballer, and so the division of tasks would come naturally to both. In the continued absence of vice captain Anatoly Demyanenko, Vasily Rats would again slot into the left-back position, with up and coming Oleg Luzhny again seen down the opposite defensive flank. There was little reason to doubt this quartet’s mettle and competence.
Dinamo Minsk’s excellent defensive midfield man Sergey Aleinikov was another one of this team’s hugely vital players. He’d always sure up midfield through his world class positioning and closing down of opponents, and once again he’d be found as the more defensive among the three in their midfield’s centre. On 58 caps, Aleinikov for sure had since long gained enough international experience to provide top quality at the rear of the Soviets’ midfield. Said Bessonov was operating in front of him, and also in a more advanced position was Juventus star Zavarov. The latter had so often been the USSR’s main source of imagination thus far in the qualification, and he’d once again be holding the key to breaking the opponents down. Zavarov had the ability to advance past an opponent or two ball at feet, and he knew how to play his former Dinamo Kiev team mate Protasov with a pass into space. The latter thrived big time on Zavarov’s assistance, and the curly-haired attacking midfielder could even have found Protasov wearing a blind-fold. Such was their understanding of one another.
To the right in midfield was Gennady Litovchenko. Full of work and endeavour, he was also a player well capable of producing class from a wide position. Litovchenko seemed to have a large register of skill from which to draw use, and even if he did not possess a huge deal of pace to leave the opposing full-back for dead, he had in his locker imagination enough to beat most opponents. Add to that a terrific shot and some high quality passing, and you could so easily understand why he’d usually be one of Lobanovsky’s first names in the line-up. At times so far in the qualification, Litovchenko had possibly wanted too much to participate in the centre, leaving their wide play suffering a little. Across the pitch was the highly interesting Igor Dobrovolsky, a player with a magic left foot, who was very adapt to take a man on and speed past him. Dobrovolsky appeared to be an ideal player for a left wing role, though he too sometimes wanted to see more of the ball, and like Litovchenko had tended to seek towards more central areas of the pitch. Having them both patient enough to wait for their opportunity in the wide areas could be a key to the Soviets carving out chances against a stubborn Icelandic defence.
Muted Soviet effort
Despite those two moments of promise through Protasov’s twin effort, the Soviets struggle to break out of second gear as the first half trickles along. The game is not much in terms of a spectacle, and those in the stands who had come to see the hosts gain a comfortable victory must have been disappointed. There is not a lot of life along either flank, and the closing down of Zavarov, predominantly from Sigurður Jónsson, takes much of the sting out from the home side’s supply lines. What is left is a couple of feeble efforts from distance, though neither will trouble the reliable Sigurðsson.
Naturally, there’s not much happening in the other direction either. Iceland are thoroughly content just fending the Soviets off. At the heart of their defence, libero Bergsson is having another solid display, though on this occasion, due to the entire team’s deep nature, he is not sitting a long way off Ágúst Jónsson and Eðvaldsson. Jónsson proves to be an able replacement for Sævar Jónsson, and he is often up against Protasov. It has to be said that the lone Soviet forward is giving a highly flexible display, rarely being motionless, often wishing to drag a defender out wide in order to create space for any midfielder wishing to join in on the action. Problem is, though, that there’s not a lot of running into space from either midfielder since that opportunity created by Bessonov, and this relatively static performance is not too difficult to defend against. That said, Bessonov, individually, has a decent half. He is competent on the ball, and he is spot on in his passing, something which can not always be said for his team mates. Collectively, the Soviets remain too pedestrian, and surely the importance of injecting pace to proceedings must have been one of Lobanovsky’s mantras pre-match.
Dasayev does have a save to match in the opening 45 minutes, which is when there’s a surprise effort from Iceland left-back Gíslason on what was probably he only foray into enemy territory before the break. Not that his shot carries a great level of threat, although it gains his side a left wing corner as Dasayev does not take any chances in trying to hold on to the ball, which probably would’ve went wide of the left upright anyway. Set-pieces appear to be the visitors’ only hope of causing problems attack-wise. There is no indications during the first 45 minutes that they have it in them to create opportunities from open play. Indeed, they realize this, and so remain focused on their defensive task ahead. These are wise tactics by the West German, and surely the only viable tactics were they to nick an invaluable point.
Arriving at half-time
The half-time whistle comes as something of a relief. Such was the tedious level of the game by that time. To wake any viewer up from his slumber, that man Protasov has another go two minutes from the whistle when his effort from 22 yards goes well over, and add to that a fumble in his area by Dasayev to allow Guðmundur Torfason to get his head to the ball from a Þórðarsson free-kick, and we’ve pretty much summed the entire half up. 0-0.
Neither manager had felt the need to make any changes in personnel at half-time, and so both starting elevens return to the Tsentralny Stadion pitch. One manager would’ve been pleased with how the game had panned out in the first half, whereas the other would’ve been less satisfied. Could this mean that we’d see a tweak in Lobanovsky’s tactics for the second half? Kick-off would be proceeded through Protasov and Bessonov as the hosts got the game under way again.
How the USSR had failed to come into their stride yet
Had the Soviet Union learnt a lesson from their static, tempo-less opening half? If so, we could perhaps be in for a different second half treat. They had failed to make much use of either flank, rarely involving players such as Litovchenko and Dobrovolsky, and there had also not been an awful lot of support from either full-back, something which seemed odd considering how deep Iceland continuously were sitting. Defending became a fairly comfortable task for the visitors when all they needed to do was fend off through the middle, where the visiting players were rich in numbers and physically superior. Another key was, of course, movement off the ball, which had been lacking from the hosts during the first 45 minutes. Only very few initiatives to make runs to provide an option for a team mate had been made, and as an outcome Soviet play had mainly happened right through the middle. Sure, when on song, Lobanovsky’s teams could provide some highly intelligent and thrilling football, but once they failed to ignite and bring to the table necessary enthusiasm, they could turn stale. This was the proof of the latter.
Individually, there had not been a lot to shout about in the home camp. Yes, Bessonov had had a decent first 45 minutes in his interpretation of the Mikhailichenko role. He had never gone hiding; he’d always wanted the ball. Problem seemed to be that his team mates had not always sussed out what it was that Bessonov wanted to do, and so he was at times ignored, with players more often tending to feed Zavarov the ball. The little number 9 had often dropped very deep, probably to try and avoid Iceland’s tenacious ‘Siggi’ Jónsson, but in doing so, he had simultaneously made sure to take some of the bite out of his own game. Zavarov was often such a threat when he was playing right in behind the striker, though on this occasion he was too often operating in or just outside the centre-circle. It was not ideal Zavarov territory. This even contributed to make Aleinikov surplus to requirements, and the central midfield rhythm seemed to suffer collectively through the absence of Mikhailichenko, even if Bessonov individually had been doing ok. On 53 minutes, Zavarov does manage to get nearer to Iceland’s goal, and as he side-steps Sigurður Jónsson, he manages to manouevre himself into a shooting position on his left foot. His effort fails to beat Sigurðsson from 24 yards, but at least they’d tested the ‘keeper.
The usually thrifty Litovchenko was another who was seeing way too little of the ball. So often a big threat down the right hand side, the Dinamo Kiev wide man had been easily tamed by Iceland left-back Gíslason, whose task had been made relatively simple, with Litovchenko little involved. There had been times hitherto in the qualification when Litovchenko had wished to come inside and contribute due to lack of opportunities out wide, and although this was far from beyond the elegant number 8, he might have been told to stick wide on this occasion; his wandering into more central positions didn’t occur. The same, too, seemed to be the case with Dobrovolsky opposite. Likewise, the Dinamo Moscow forward had earlier tended to contribute from more central areas, but at the same time he would always be a threat when attempting to make runs in behind his full-back. His goal against East Germany had been excellent proof of what Dobrovolsky could bring to the team. On this occasion, he’d too often be easy fodder for Iceland’s right-back, the highly tenacious Þórðarsson.
Iceland’s plan working to perfection
From the visitors’ point of view, the game picture was exactly what they had wanted. They had so far managed to nullify threats from potentially dangerous Soviet areas, and in sitting deep and collected, they looked an almost impenetrable unit. Their three towering centre-backs would block or head away any attempted ball into the area, and often would their midfielders, also dropping quite deep, get to second balls, to prolongue these in the direction of either forward (usually Grétarsson, who was the mobile one).
It had seemed that the Soviets had been aware of the space which would sometimes open up between left-sided central defender Eðvaldsson and left-back Gíslason, but even this territory had not been left exposed to the same extent as it had, for example, in Turkey. In midfield, the central player among the trio, ‘Siggi’ Jónsson, had been mentioned, and rightly so, as he was instrumental in keeping Zavarov quiet. However, tremendous work off the ball was also a big feature in the play of both Ómar Torfason and Pétur Arnþórsson. Neither of these two had been able to provide much in terms of quality on the ball, but that was not the reason why they’d been picked for their roles either. They would run and chase and harry all afternoon long, and were both as such ideal to Held’s tactics. In particular Arnþórsson, yet another Icelandic player with relatively high levels of aggression in his play, had been useful thus far. He had assisted Gíslason in muting the Soviet right hand side.
Iceland had nothing at all to offer inside the Soviet half of the pitch. Not that it was their intention to even attempt offering anything that far away from their own goal as long as the score was still 0-0. However, one felt that even if they had needed to go forward in search of an equalizer, they’d fall short. Granted, they had had a couple of opportunities to deliever set-pieces into Dasayev’s box during the opening half, and this had been their only weapon of attack. Given how they had lined up, it would remain their sole weapon throughout; there was simply nothing they could muster in terms of possession. Inside the Soviet half, they could rarely string more than two passes together, though such was their focus on defending that they could not be bothered. It did seem apparent, though, that they were without some of their qualitatively better attack-minded players in Sigurvinsson and Guðjohnsen, as for example the planky Guðmundur Torfason had next to nothing in terms of flair. Grétarsson’s forward colleague was simply in the team to win headers, little else. And without the opportunity to do so, he’d looked like a fish on dry land.
Rats more often brought into the game
Soviet left-back Rats would be given the chance to swing balls into the area with his usually precise left boot. To an increasing level as the second half progressed, the hosts appeared to have a wish in making use of their width, something which had since long been desired. Not that it would happen to great effect, as Rats rarely came high enough in the pitch to deliever crosses from telling areas. His lofted balls from quite far back were typically easy fodder for Iceland’s tall defenders. The energetic Luzhny at the opposite full-back would to a lesser extent wish to aim any ball from way back in the pitch; his play was rather built on collaboration with Litovchenko. This was another feature in Soviet play which the visitors were well aware of. And again, praise must go to Arnþórsson for executing Iceland’s chief effort in arresting home progress down the right.
Just as Iceland are lulled into a sense of security, the hosts make the break through. It is perhaps an exaggeration to say that their play so far had warranted a lead, but in terms of superior possession it was at least inevitable that they’d soon again muster another effort on target after Zavarov’s shot earlier in the half. Around 20 minutes in, it was again Zavarov on the ball, this time higher up in the pitch than he’d usually been seen thus far, and he’d spotted a fine run by Bessonov towards the visitors’ penalty area. Zavarov made sure to thread his pass into territory guided by Eðvaldsson, and though the Iceland skipper was a terrific player in battle, he was not always capable of orientating himself quickly along the ground, at least not at this stage in his career. Eðvaldsson had lost sense of his whereabouts in relation to the ball, and as he saw Bessonov coming darting towards him, he proceeded to take hold of the Soviet midfielder’s arm. This saw Bessonov tumble to the ground right on the border of the 18 yard area, and though some people inside the ground would’ve thought that it was a penalty, the irregularity had started outside the area. A free-kick was awarded, and as Rats and Zavarov were discussing between themselves who would strike it, up stepped Dobrovolsky to deliever a low shot into the bottom left corner. The ball took a slight touch off a leg in Iceland’s defensive wall, something which made sure Sigurðsson was beaten. Surely, this was it; two further points in the bag for the Soviet Union. It was the 21 year old Dinamo Moscow starlet’s fourth goal in national team colours.
Minutes after the goal
If it had been felt that there was little Iceland could do in order to come back once they’d fallen behind, the next few minutes would hardly suggest otherwise. The home side continued their possession football, with the visiting players running between, still bent on protecting their goal. Sure, with the score only at 1-0, they’d always stand a chance should they be able to carve out an opportunity for a set-piece high up in the pitch, but there was little suggesting that they would salvage anything from the tie.
As for the hosts, the goal hardly seemed to affect them; they continued in much the same pattern as previously. They rarely upped the pace, but now they had their precious goal anyway, so any adventurousity should come from the visitors. Surely, at some stage in the half, if not immediately, this would make sure the USSR would be given further attempts on goal. If they kept their cool and let their more creative players on the ball, they’d be expected to find openings necessary to carve out threats at Sigurðsson’s goal.
The first substitution comes from the visitors, as the totally ineffective Guðmundur Torfason is replaced by the more agile Halldór Áskelsson a few minutes after Dobrovolsky’s goal. Áskelsson had perhaps so far in the qualification come across more as a counter-attacking player rather than a striker you’d put on the pitch when searching a goal, yet it made perfect sense to take the tall Torfason off. Kuznetsov had been able to neutralize the Rapid Vienna striker in the air, and then there was not a whole lot left in Torfason’s locker. Perhaps could Áskelsson provide a different kind of threat to the home defence, even if it did seem futile at this stage. Gíslason’s opportunistic first half strike had been their only goal attempt yet.
It was hardly a surprise that the Soviet Union kept plugging away inside the visitors’ half, and on their minds was another goal rather than sitting back defending what they’d already got. At this stage, surely they’d have felt that Iceland did not possess enough quality to make a threat towards Dasayev’s goal, and so they could afford this ‘luxury’. At the back, Gorlukovich had led a comfortable life thus far, rarely being challenged defensively, but he’d also not made any sort of runs in the forward direction. Usually, this is what you’d get from Gorlukovich’ central defensive partner Kuznetsov, but even the flame-haired Kiev man had refrained from using his ability to be creative from the back. Full-backs Luzhny and Rats continued to come inside the attacking half of the pitch, though little had changed in their approach, as Luzhny would wish to feed off any pass from Litovchenko (which was rare anyway), and Rats would receive the ball in typically open positions along the left from either team mate. For a player with such a gifted left foot, he would continue to disappoint in crossing throughout.
On a rare foray by Litovchenko along the right, the wide midfielder almost played Protasov in for a side-foot at goal with just over ten minutes remaining. However, Ágúst Jónsson had been able to disturb the striker enough for Protasov to fail in connecting. Then Bessonov has a fine run along the left after some cute inter-play between Rats and Dobrovolsky to set him up. The midfielder would eventually win a corner off Bergsson, something which would more or less be his final contribution as Lobanovsky decided to ring two late changes.
There’s a flurry of substitutions as both teams decide to change around for the final few minutes. Surprisingly, Lobanovsky decides to withdraw Bessonov, who has certainly not had a bad game in midfield. He might have contributed in making the Soviet midfield a somewhat lesser force than usually through his mere presence over Mikhailichenko, but Bessonov had been uplifting rather than disappointing. On for the 31 year old Dinamo Kiev veteran came Dinamo Tbilisi’s versatile Gela Ketashvili, who had also appeared in the dying minutes of the 1-0 win in Istanbul. On that occasion, Ketashvili had replaced Sergey Aleinikov, and perhaps had such a switch made more sense this time around, too. Up top, Protasov’s run himself empty, and he’s replaced by Yuri Savichev. Last time out, Protasov had left the field to be replaced by Aleksandr Borodyuk in the dying minutes, a player who’s not present on this occasion.
This would mean a midfield altercation, with Ketashvili slotting into Aleinikov’s holding role, and with the Dinamo Minsk ace himself moving forward into Bessonov’s position. Savichev was, like Protasov, an out and out striker.
Iceland manager Held had already brought on forward Áskelsson to little effect, and his second introduction was midfield man Rúnar Kristinsson, still a teenager, from Reykjavik club KR, in place of Ómar Torfason. This change did make sense, as midfielder Torfason, akin to the forward with a similar surname in Guðmundur Torfason, who had also gone off, had hardly made much of a creative contribution. The Iceland-fair, tender Kristinsson’s debut, when his country last had played the Soviet Union away in a qualifier, had occured when he was 18. Less than two years on, he was brought on for his sixth international appearance. Kristinsson was thought of as a creative midfielder with a sweet left foot, something which would not feel out of place in the Iceland select at the moment. He’d take directly over from Torfason in the inside right midfield position.
The Soviets will pay dear for their lack of appetite through most of the game. After the substitutions made by both sides, they are content trying to see the game out, passing the ball between themselves inside their own half. They have a degree of complacency about them, and as Iceland have brought on Kristinsson, the youthful energy of the KR midfielder will see him punish Rats into conceding possession only 20 yards away from his own goalline. There appears to be little imminent danger, though, as Kuznetsov clears the ball into touch, but long throws are indeed a massive Icelandic weapon, and it is right-back Þórðarsson who is thrusted with the responsibility four minutes from time. The visitors have pushed three players into the box, with midfielder Jónsson lurking just on the edge.
Þórðarsson’s throw finds the head of captain Eðvaldsson, who is one of the three visiting players inside the opposition’s area, and his flick-on in the aerial challenge with Kuznetsov competely opens up the Soviet defence, which strangely has abandon all principles of defending at such a crucial time. Right-back Luzhny has come into the centre to look after Grétarsson, and even Litovchenko’s pushed into a central position, just like Gorlukovich. Neither picks up the run into the box made by Jónsson, which probably was Aleinikov’s task anyway, but more alarmingly, they all fail to spot Iceland’s first substitute Áskelsson, who until then had been totally anonymous. The 24 year old Valur forward, making his 23rd appearance for his country, steals in at the back post in order to finish with a cute left-footed half-volley beyond the exposed Dasayev. Sensationally, Iceland draw level with their first purposeful attempt of the match.
There is no late riposte by the hosts. They show no urgency following the stunningly dramatic turn in events. There is a volley into the ground and well over by Dobrovolsky after Zavarov’s fine run along the right hand side of the penalty area, but having failed to break out of second gear for most of the match, the USSR are unable to put Iceland properly to the sword in the final couple of minutes. 47 seconds into time added on, Finland referee Keltanen blows his whistle one final time, and the game’s ended all square.
The Soviet Union and Iceland dish out a dull first 45 minutes, where only Protasov’s two efforts around the quarter of an hour mark are worthy of being mentioned. There is almost no pace to the game, and Iceland’s strong defence is well capable of repelling whatever comes their way. One could’ve been hoping for a much improved second half, but it failed to materialize. Despite dominating possession right through the game, the Soviets show a lack of ability to make anything of it. They do get their breakthrough on 65 minutes, though, when Dobrovolsky punishes the visitors from a free-kick right on the edge of the area, but this is a complacent, unconvincing performance from the group favourites, who get pegged back to 1-1 through Iceland substitute Áskelsson’s volley with four minutes to go. The Soviets seem so carefree that they don’t even appear to be bothered.
1 Dasayev 6.5
disappointingly unconvincing in his aerial work. Little chance in saving Iceland’s goal
2 Luzhny 6.7
less active in attacking play on this occasion, even if Iceland never give him trouble defensively. A couple of wild efforts from distance
3 Gorlukovich 6.8
does his libero duties without much fuss, though is caught ball-watching for the visitors’ goal
4 Kuznetsov 6.7
ok in battle, but not his usual self in participating through build-ups from the back
5 Aleinikov 6.4
hugely disappointing on this occasion: sloppy passing and next to no initiatives. Seemed very uninspired
6 Rats 6.5
a willing customer along the left, particularly after the break, but quality in delievery totally failed. Dallied on the ball as Iceland won the throw which brought the equalizer
7 Bessonov 7.0
moments of inspiration, appears to thrive in an attack-minded midfield role, though after the break he has periods when he’s more or less invisible
(12 Ketashvili –
on to sure up the midfield in the remaining few minutes, but fails to defend as Iceland score)
8 Litovchenko 6.6
another player below par, and was rarely involved along the right
9 Zavarov 7.0
again some moments of ingenuity, though at times became too deep, and did clearly not relish coming up against Sigurður Jónsson
10 Protasov 7.0
shows a certain appetite for the game in spells, and comes close twice in the first half. In general a big battle with the sturdy Icelandic defensive line
(15 Savichev –
never settles in his brief cameo)
11 Dobrovolsky 6.9
fine low strike for the goal, although it took a deflection, but other than that found Þórðarsson a tough opponent. Also could’ve worked better with Rats
1 Sigurðsson 7.2
claims when he can, punches when he must. Saves Zavarov’s effort from distance. A sound goalkeeping display
2 Á Jónsson 6.8
has some hairy moments against an at times agile Protasov, but also proves a tough opponent, especially in the air
3 Eðvaldsson 7.1
fails to deal convincingly with Bessonov in the situation which leads to the free-kick for the goal, but other than that a solid defensive display, and makes up for giving the free-kick away as he flicks on for the equalizer
4 Arnþórsson 6.8
very committed, goes through the miles, but also wasteful in possession, and corner delieveries fail to trouble hosts
5 Si. Jónsson 7.2
a thoroughly tenacious display with necessary aggression to intimidate opponents in the centre of the park
6 Gíslason 6.8
rarely challenged directly out wide, puts in a couple of strong challenges, and even tests Dasayev from distance in the first half. Low risk game, though
7 Bergsson 6.9
safety first policy, but the libero was impeccably positioned at all times
8 Þórðarsson 6.9
another one of Iceland’s hugely tenacious figures, and has clashes with Rats in particular. Does not give much away along his side defensively, and plus for his throw which brought about Áskelsson’s goal
9 Grétarsson 6.8
bonus for his workrate, as he is important as first-defender, but shows no goal threat at any point during the game
10 G Torfason 6.0
on the pitch to win headers, which he generally fails to do. Is also static and scarcely contributive as the first line of defence
(13 Áskelsson –
clearly less static than his predecessor, although anonymous until his fine equalizer)
11 Ó Torfason 6.4
offers a lot of running, but has alarmingly little quality in possession
(14 Kristinsson –
intensity in his pressing brings about the set-piece which will yield the equalizer)