UEFA Group 4

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Preview

Group 4 had West Germany (seeded 1st) and the Netherlands (2nd) paired together, with only one direct qualifying berth. The two teams had met as late as in June 1988, in Hamburg, when the Netherlands had come from behind and beaten the hosts in a dramatic game in the semi-finals of the European Championships, and gone on to win the tournament. The fight for the number one spot would surely be between these two teams. Wales (3rd seeds) and Finland (4th) concluded the group. Although the Welsh were known for having a more than decent side, they were not seen as a threat to split up the mighty two expected to finish first and second. Finland were also able of dishing out a result every now and then, but they were not thought to be much other than also-rans in this group.

Results

Match 1: Finland 0-4 West Germany
31 August 1988, Olympiastadion (Helsinki)
Game is over within 15 minutes, as West Germany run rampant in Helsinki.

Match 2: Netherlands 1-0 Wales
14 September 1988, Olympisch Stadion (Amsterdam)
The Netherlands, fresh on the trails of their continental title in the summer, face a British side bent on denying them space in this Amsterdam qualifier. The Welsh deploy man-marking tactics against both van Basten (Knill) and Gullit (Horne), and the Dutch do not quite excel to the level which had perhaps been hoped by neutrals. Still, they were the dominant team for most of the game, with Southall producing a brilliant goalkeeping display to keep the scores level until the 83rd minute. The winning goal comes courtesy of Gullit’s immense aerial strength. It is a thoroughly deserved two points. 

Match 3: Wales 2-2 Finland
19 October 1988, Vetch Field (Swansea)
Looking to open their home account with a victory, Wales could’ve been forgiven for feeling that they had the upper-hand psychologically speaking: They’d won 4-0 in this fixture in the previous qualification. Finland, who had lost by a four goal margin at home in their opening tie, showed no fear, and they pulled level on the stroke of half-time, having earlier gone ahead from Ukkonen’s fine free-kick. In the second half, wide forward Saunders, who had a very good game for the hosts, failed to convert a penalty, as Huttunen saved the effort from 12 yards. A point doesn’t really do either team much good. 

Match 4: West Germany 0-0 Netherlands
19 October 1988, Olympiastadion (Munich)
Considering that they had met in the semi-finals of the European Championships a few months earlier, this was billed as ‘the big one’ across the continent. With just a single automatic qualification berth up for grabs, defeat could prove so harmful. In a game of relatively few chances, it was the West Germans who had come the closest to scoring when Thon hit the bar from distance after the break. The game effectively had two 3-5-2 formations up against one another, cancelling each other out. There was little space available in midfield, where Thon and Häßler still dominated for the hosts. Certainly a crucial away point for the Dutch.

Match 5: Netherlands 1-1 West Germany
26 April 1989, Stadion de Kuip (Rotterdam)
Another tense display between the two. Van Basten equalizes as Kohler comes off.

Match 6: Finland 0-1 Netherlands
31 May 1989, Olympiastadion (Helsinki)
Ultra-attacking Netherlands with yet another late winner.

Match 7: Wales 0-0 West Germany
31 May 1989, Cardiff Arms Park (Cardiff)
It is very intense, very physical as these two battle out a goalless draw. Despite clear cut chances being at a minimum, the intensity levels always make sure that this is a fine spectacle. Illgner earns his money after saving close range from Rush at the end of the first half, whereas an improved West Germany turn the screw on the home side after the break, and have a fine Häßler long range effort impressively saved by Southall with just over ten minutes left for play. Vital point for the visitors in a difficult away fixture, whereas Wales are now out of contention for qualifying for Italia ’90.

Half term report

Match 8: Finland 1-0 Wales
6 September 1989, Olympiastadion (Helsinki)
Wales officially out of World Cup contention after poor performance in a windy Helsinki, where the hosts intimidate their opponents through some brute force tactics. Playmaker Ukkonen redeems himself after some lacklustre displays earlier in the qualification. Lipponen settles the game through an early second half header. Game also sees uncharacteristic spitting incident from Rush on Laukkanen.

Match 9: West Germany 6-1 Finland
4 October 1989, Westfalenstadion (Dortmund)
The home side do well in the opening 15 minutes, go ahead, but then lose their pace and fluency. Ukkonen has a free-kick goal ruled out for offside against Lipponen, perhaps harshly, but after the break the visitors simply have no answer when the home side turn the screw. Laukkanen keeps the score down for the visitors, but still the hosts brush their way to the top of the table a week before the Netherlands’ difficult trip to Wales.

Match 10: Wales 1-2 Netherlands
11 October 1989, Racecourse Ground (Wrexham)
Several key players missing for both teams, but as expected, the Netherlands have better replacements. They are helped by an early goal from a free kick, but are not very successful in their attempts to break down Wales from the flanks. Things look a bit better when second goalscorer Bosman comes on as midfielder after the break. Wales battle, but fail to seize the few opportunities they’re given.

Match 11: Netherlands 3-0 Finland
15 November 1989, Stadion de Kuip (Rotterdam)
Aware of the prize for a win, the Dutch seal their passage through to the World Cup with their most resounding victory of the qualification. They fail to open their account during a first half of some pressure, but eventually make their dominance count in the second half. There’s scenes of jubilation among players and fans alike in the wake of their triumph.

Match 12: West Germany 2-1 Wales
15 November 1989, Müngersdorfer Stadion (Cologne)
West Germany are through to the 1990 World Cup, but only by a narrow win against a stubborn Welsh side. The score is 1-1 at half-time, which meant that the Germans at the time were eliminated from the World Cup given the standing in the other groups. Home favourite Häßler seals the win shortly after the break, and there are plenty of chances to consolidate, but the ending is a nervous one and with some bad luck the history of the 1990 World Cup could have been very different . . . 

Final table

PosTeamPlWDLGFGAPts
1 Netherlands64208210
2West Germany63301339
3Finland61144163
4Wales6024482

Conclusion

As expected, the group turned to be a two-horse race between the old arch-rivals the Netherlands and West Germany. Despite difficulties in midstream, it would be the Netherlands who finished at the top of the group, qualifying directly for the 1990 World Cup. The reigning European Champions were perhaps not always fulfilling their expectations, and Libregts admittedly had some trouble in making his team gel. His biggest worry stemmed from Gullit’s injury plagues, and the inability to find an appropriate replacement in the attacking midfield role. Much of his experiments in this position was arguably not a success. The Netherlands left it late in many of their matches, only finding the decisive goals toward the end of the 90 minutes.

Based on their double encounter and the overall performances, it would not be correct to claim that much separated the two teams in quality. In fact, some of the most exciting football in these qualifiers were delivered by West Germany, as Beckenbauer was fostering a new and more fluid-looking side, driven forward by the engine of Matthäus and the guile and skill of newcomers like Häßler and Littbarski. Beckenbauer still had some excogitation to do regarding the composition of his defence, as he changed between a defensive line of four and five players, and had he toward the end returned to Augenthaler as his regular libero instead of Fach? Despite some exciting football, West Germany only barely scraped through to Italia’90, much due to the draconic qualification system which in the end condemned Denmark to watch the tournament as bystanders.

Wales and Finland were never really in contention, although Wales almost got their point in the first match against Netherlands away. A fatal draw in the following match, against Finland at home, meant that they stood little chance. Much expected from the world stars of the Welsh team, but Hughes and in particular Rush made few contributions to this qualification, experiencing a veritable goal drought. Instead, the team was lifted by the lively Saunders and the always reliable Southall.The most exciting aspect of this campaign was perhaps Yorath’s conversion to a 3-4-3 formation in midstream, initially thought to facilitate the three forwards Rush, Hughes and Saunders, but which he would maintain also in their absence. In theory, this would be a team in two parts, with a hard-working rear end allowing much freedom to the trio upfront.

Statistics

Total number of players used: 91
Total number of players including unused substitutes: 112
Ever-presents (540 mins): 5 (Illgner, Brehme, R Koeman, Europaeus, Southall)
Leading goalscorer: Rudi Völler (West Germany) 4
Yellow/red cards: 31/0

Goalscorers (29)

4 goals
Rudi Völler (West Germany)

2 goals
Karl-Heinz Riedle, Lothar Matthäus (1 pen), Andreas Möller (West Germany), Mika Lipponen (Finland), John Bosman (Netherlands)

1 goal
Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Wim Kieft, Graeme Rutjes, Erwin Koeman, Ronald Koeman (pen) (Netherlands), Pierre Littbarski, Jürgen Klinsmann, Thomas Häßler (West Germany), Dean Saunders (pen), Mark Bowen, Malcolm Allen (Wales), Kari Ukkonen, Mika-Matti Paatelainen (Finland)

1 own goal
Aki Lahtinen (Finland) v Wales

Top 20 ratings list

1 Lothar Matthäus (West Germany) 7,42 (4 apps)
2 Pierre Littbarski (West Germany) 7,36 (3)
3 Andreas Möller (West Germany) 7,22 (4)
4 Ronald Koeman (Netherlands) 7,21 (6) and Rudi Völler (West Germany) 7,21 (6)
6 Dean Saunders (Wales) 7,20 (5)
7 Neville Southall (Wales) 7,18 (6)
8 Thomas Häßler (West Germany) 7,13 (6)
9 Barry Horne (Wales) 7,13 (3)
10 Adri van Tiggelen (Netherlands) 7,10 (5)
11 Frank Rijkaard (Netherlands) 7,06 (6)
12 John Bosman (Netherlands) 7,06 (3)
13 Andreas Brehme (West Germany) 7,05 (6)
14 Mark Aizlewood (Wales) 7,05 (4)
15 Holger Fach and Thomas Berthold (both West Germany) 7,03 (3)
17 Marco van Basten (Netherlands) 7,02 (5)
18 Guido Buchwald (West Germany) 7,00 (5)
19 Berry van Aerle (Netherlands) 6,98 (5)
20 Jan Wouters (Netherlands) 6,97 (4)

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