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.
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)
Despite the heroics of Neville Southall, the home side triumphed in this qualifying opener for both sides thanks to Gullit's late show of aerial power.
Match 3: Wales 2-2 Finland
19 October 1988, Vetch Field (Swansea)
Finland put up brave resistance, but need 'keeper Huttunen to save a second half penalty from 'Man of the Match' Saunders in order to take a point back home.
Match 4: West Germany 0-0 Netherlands
19 October 1988, Olympiastadion (Munich)
Despite the hosts being on top, particularly before the half-time interval, the Netherlands managed to rescue a point to take back across the border. Neither 'keeper truly tested, though Thon struck the crossbar in the second half.
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.
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)
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.
Rudi Völler (West Germany)
Karl-Heinz Riedle (West Germany)
Lothar Matthäus (West Germany)
Andreas Möller (West Germany)
Mika Lipponen (Finland)
John Bosman (Netherlands)
Ruud Gullit (Netherlands)
Marco van Basten (Netherlands)
Wim Kieft (Netherlands)
Graeme Rutjes (Netherlands)
Erwin Koeman (Netherlands)
Ronald Koeman (Netherlands)
Pierre Littbarski (West Germany)
Jürgen Klinsmann (West Germany)
Thomas Häßler (West Germany)
Dean Saunders (Wales)
Mark Bowen (Wales)
Malcolm Allen (Wales)
Kari Ukkonen (Finland)
Mika-Matti Paatelainen (Finland)
1 own goal
Aki Lahtinen (Finland) v Wales
Top 20 rating list:
1 Matthäus 7,42 (4 apps)
2 Littbarski 7,36 (3)
3 Möller 7,22 (4)
4 R Koeman 7,21 (6)
Völler 7,21 (6)
6 Saunders 7,20 (5)
7 Southall 7,18 (6)
8 Häßler 7,13 (6)
9 Horne 7,13 (3)
10 van Tiggelen 7,10 (5)
11 Rijkaard 7,06 (6)
12 Bosman 7,06 (3)
13 Brehme 7,05 (6)
14 Aizlewood 7,05 (4)
15 Fach 7,03 (3)
Berthold 7,03 (3)
17 van Basten 7,02 (5)
18 Buchwald 7,00 (5)
19 van Aerle 6,98 (5)
20 Wouters 6,97 (4)