Finland – Netherlands: Yet another late Dutch winner
As expected, group 4 was developing into a two-horse race, and the Dutch would probably need to win this encounter in order to keep up with the West Germans. After all, only the winner of the group would qualify automatically. Beckenbauer’s team had won 4-0 here in Helsinki, and Libregts would have known that goal difference might become decisive in the end to separate the two teams. There was already a gap down to the two remaining teams, and Finland (playing their first qualifier since October last year) would have to battle it our with Wales for 3rd place.
Finland team news
Vakkila remained faithful to the 4-4-2 formation that he without exception had fielded so far. Finland had played a number of friendlies since their last qualifier against Wales away, in which Vakilla had had the chance to evaluate several new players. In the end, only one player did emerge from these experiments to actually make it in the line-up for the match against the Netherlands, young centre half Ari Heikkinen (TPS Turku), who had made his debut in the friendly against Egypt in January. Heikkinen would later become Player of the year in Finland in 1989, and soon established himself in the national team. He replaced veteran defender Aki Lahtinen, who was relegated to the bench.
There was also a re-introduction of a player that we haven’t seen so far: experienced defensive midfielder Jukka Ikäläinen (Kiruna FF), a man of more than 50 caps to his name who had not featured for the national team since 1987, at which time he was appointed as manager of Swedish second tier team Kiruna FF. One might assume that he found it impossible to combine his full time job for Kiruna with international football, but here he was, back in the line-up after Finland had struggled with their midfield so far in the qualifiers.
There was also a first appearance from start for Mika Lipponen (based in Dutch club Twente), a speedy striker who would give Finland something different from Rantanen and Hjelm, who had been paired with the impressive Paatelainen so far. Hjelm, hitherto a rather underwhelming figure, took place as a left sided midfielder, which (once again) contributed to Finland’s midfield looking quite attacking-minded.
Netherlands team news
Good news for Libregts as Ruud Gullit was deemed fit to take a place on the bench – he had injured his knee in the European Cup semi final against Real Madrid in April, and one may surmise that Libregts only would risk throwing him on (as he still wasn’t fully fit) if his team were desperate for goals. But in his continued absence from the XI, Libregts would need to improvise again. This time he opted for a very attacking-looking 3-3-4, with Kieft more or less taking the role of Gullit as a second striker behind van Basten.
The solid midfielder Jan Wouters was still injured, and in his place Libregts this time moved forward defender Frank Rijkaard, feeling that he could need Rijkaard’s industry in that department. Graeme Rutjes was emerging as a very interesting centre half (having made his debut against the Soviet Union in March), and Libregts could thus enjoy the services of Rijkaard in midfield instead.
The only other notable thing about this line-up was Juul Ellerman (PSV), who came in to play as a left winger, his second cap after making his debut against Israel in January. We remember that Libregts had tried out another PSV winger in this position earlier in the qualification, in the person of Hendrie Krüzen, now completely out of form and out on loan at Den Bosch, in addition to Pieter Huistra (Twente), who did reasonably well against West Germany. With Huistra seen on the bench, Libregts now obviously favoured Ellerman.
Rain was pouring down over the functionalist stadium in the suburbs of Helsinki as Finland welcomed the Netherlands to this 1990 World Cup qualifier. The terraces were covered with colorful umbrellas, giving this soaky wet fixture some of the brightness that the early Nordic summer denied it.
Referee? Mr. Piotr Werner of Poland, who was a week from his 40th birthday. His was an emering name in the officiating circles of European football at the time. He would later in these qualifiers officiate the decider between Austria and East Germany, in November.
|1 Kari Laukkanen||25||Stuttgarter Kickers|
|2 Markku Kanerva||45′||25||HJK Helsinki|
|3 Ari Heikkinen||25||TPS|
|4 Jari Europaeus||26||RoPS|
|5 Erik Holmgren||24||GAIS|
|6 Marko Myyry||21||SV Meppen|
|7 Kari Ukkonen||sub 68′||27||Anderlecht|
|8 Jukka Ikäläinen||32||Kiruna FF|
|9 Ari Hjelm||sub 83′||27||Stuttgarter Kickers|
|10 Mika-Matti Paatelainen||22||Dundee United|
|11 Mika Lipponen||25||FC Twente|
|12 Olavi Huttunen||28||FC Haka|
|13 Erkka Petäjä||on 83′||25||Östers IF|
|14 Ismo Lius||23||Kuusysi Lahti|
|15 Aki Lahtinen||30||OTP Oulu|
|16 Markus Törnvall||on 68′||24||IFK Norrköping|
|1 Hans van Breukelen||32||PSV|
|2 Berry van Aerle||26||PSV|
|3 Adri van Tiggelen||71′||31||Anderlecht|
|4 Ronald Koeman (c)||26||PSV|
|5 Graeme Rutjes||29||KV Mechelen|
|6 Erwin Koeman||27||KV Mechelen|
|7 Gerald Vanenburg||sub 83′||25||PSV|
|8 Frank Rijkaard||26||AC Milan|
|9 Marco van Basten||24||AC Milan|
|10 Wim Kieft||26||PSV|
|11 Juul Ellerman||sub 56′||23||PSV|
|12 Wim Hofkens||31||KV Mechelen|
|13 Pieter Huistra||on 83′||22||FC Twente|
|14 René Eijkelkamp||25||FC Groningen|
|15 Ruud Gullit||on 56′||26||AC Milan|
|16 Joop Hiele||30||Feyenoord|
Match report: 1st half
Attacking formation from the Dutch
The Dutch formation in this game has been determined as a 3-3-4, although the involvement of Vanenburg in central areas of midfield may justify a 3-4-3 also. Numbers aside, this was at any rate a remarkably attacking choice of line-up by Libregts.
The main talking point would be how the Netherlands planned replacing Gullit this time around. It hadn’t worked too well last time (against West Germany at home) when Winter was asked to support van Basten, although Winter justified the inclusion through his defensive performance. Now, against Finland, Libregts had opted for a far more attacking player in Kieft, who would play as a second striker, behind van Basten. This was an attacking choice and a slightly curious one, as Kieft isn’t usually considered a second striker by nature, but a regular advanced forward in the role here occupied by van Basten himself.
The other curious thing about the line-up was the apparent solitude of Rijkaard in central midfield. He would be accompanied, however, by Vanenburg, who shuttled between his nominal right wing position and central midfield, and by R. Koeman, who by nature enjoys venturing forward with the ball at feet. Against a slow Finnish midfield that had far from impressed so far, Libregts might have reasoned that Rijkaard could handle much on his own.
The Netherlands do just fine, but don’t find the goal
To jump to the conclusion, the Netherlands did just fine in the first half, controlling the game and producing enough goal scoring opportunities to take the lead, but without making them count. They created at least five situations in which a goal might be expected, but last-ditch interventions and details in the finishing prevented the Dutch from finding that first goal. Curiously, Ellermans was on the finishing end on four of these situations, van Basten on the last one; two of these attempts were saved on the line.
The best part of the Dutch performance in the first half was probably the high tempo on the ball (Libregts appears to be no fan of slow build-ups and possession for its own sake) and the intensive pressing high in the pitch. To the Netherlands’ advantage, Finland were this evening relying far less on long balls than what they had done hitherto in the qualifiers, and the at times too ambitious attempts to play their way out was a gift to the opponents’ tactical instruction of high pressing. Finland struggled at times with crossing the midfield line, forced to strike aimless balls forward when they found themsleves surrounded by Dutch players.
The Kieft role (and the other forwards)
One of the main talking points before the game was how Kieft would do as a second striker. You couldn’t call Kieft’s interpretation of that role very exciting. He mainly limited himself to come deep to meet the ball, and often very deep, and not always with the most elegant or creative touches on the ball. He was quite mobile, though, almost lively, and constantly dragged Europaeus, who tended to follow him, out of position. In that way, the Kieft ploy did contribute to unsettling the Finnish defence. You did feel that he would have been found out against a better opponent, but it did the trick against Finland.
Van Basten was presented with one good opportunity during the first half (blocked by a defender), and otherwise did show some of his (underrated?) all-round abilities. He had also against the Germans proved that he is a good header of the ball, and he has the technique and balance to escape from defenders in tight situations, as well as the vision to pick out team mates in better positions (as he did on one of Ellerman’s four opportunities). While mostly known for his clinical finishes, there was more to van Basten than that. Both he and Kieft were much involved in team’s build-up, often playing with their back to goal, and did well to shrug off tough Finnish defenders.
He came in the limelight because of his four opportunities, but Ellerman didn’t contribute a lot otherwise to the game. The right back Holmgren enjoyed a very good game, and mostly kept him quiet as long as he stayed in the wide areas (he proved more dangerous when making inroads into the penalty area). Yet, the Netherlands were a lot more exciting in the wide positions this time around than against West Germany, due to Libregts taking a lot more risk, and a player like Erwin Koeman was prolific with his precise crosses. There was yet more happening on the right hand side, with Vanenburg again being a main source of creativity in this side: a constant threat when facing defenders, and unusually adept at finding spaces as he shuttled between that right wing position and the centre of midfield. Van Aerle was a willing customer going forward, combining well with Vanenburg, although he frequently proved that he didn’t possess the crossing abilities of Erwin Koeman.
Rijkaard and R. Koeman
Still, much of the Dutch play wasn’t about playing around Finland, but through them in the centre.
In the absence of Wouters, another player was tried in the vacant midfield position of the Ajax war horse, Frank Rijkaard. This seemed like a sensible option. Libregts needed someone with the motor to drive the team forward, and as Finland weren’t likely to poise too much of a threat attacking-wise, he felt that he could move Rijkaard up to midfield (and leave Rutjes, his replacement, at the back).
And Rijkaard did drive the team forward with his tremendous work rate and physical prowess, making him able to cover almost an entire midfield area by himself. What he did lack, was some finesse in his passing. At times it was unimaginative, and in this way showed himself no better than Hofkens had done in the previous game in that role. He was very direct, however, and even somewhat sloppy passes towards Kieft and van Basten could turn out to be fruitful, much due to the battling spirit of the two forwards. More disappointing, however, was the attacking contributions of Ronald Koeman, a player we expect to deliver in this respect. He would find space to run into in midfield with the ball at feet, but despite given plenty of time, he proved unusually wasteful with his passing – a big disappointment when compared to his performance against West Germany, and somewhat out of character.
Finland refrain from long balls
Much has now been said about the Netherlands, and they were no doubt the more exciting team out there this evening in Helsinki. In comparison, Finland found it difficult to establish any kind of play, and struggled as much as they had done against West Germany in August (despite not letting in any goals this time).
Long balls had been a favoured approach for Finland so far in the qualifiers, with Aki Lahtinen as the regular supplier of ball lofted above the midfield area in the direction of the team’s big strikers. But Lahtinen was now placed on the substitutes bench, and the instruction to play the ball long appears to have disappeared together with him. Finland were now more intent on exploiting the abilities of Lipponen, who was known as a fairly agile and quick forward.
But as has been mentioned above, they were now perhaps too ambitious in their passing intentions (too ambitious to their technical abilities, that is), and they would constantly be deprived of the ball within their own half or in the end loft it forward in a hurry, without time to find their target, in the hope that one of the forward would be able to run onto it. Also somewhat disappointing to see that Lipponen to such a little degree had any advantage on the Dutch defenders with his alleged pace. It would often be Ronald Koeman who sensed the direction of these aimless passes and intercepted well before Lipponen managed to have a say in the matter. The tactics worked exceptionally bad, and also to a great degree explain why Finland were so inferior in this half, as another Dutch wave faced them almost as soon as they had won back possession.
Old problems and new players
Kari Ukkonen had been one of the biggest disappointments so far in the qualifiers. He is a playmaker with European aristocrats Anderlecht, but it appears that pace too often catches up with him, and that he is used with more time on the ball than he is getting in these qualifiers. This first half would see no improvement for Ukkonen, who often moved higher up in the pitch than in the previous matches, but still without any effect.
The two wide players in the team had had mixed fortunes so far. The diminutive Myyry looks a treath with his pace, although his forays down the right hand side rarely proved fruitful in this match. Still, the always imminent threat makes the opponents careful about his presence. Ari Hjelm on the opposite is a different story: He is a natural striker converted to a left sided midfielder in Vakkila’s team, and doesn’t seem to have the qualities to perform in that position, simply looking languid and lost of ideas. Both Myyry and Hjelms main contributions in this game were their defensive duties, which they duly adhered to.
There was also a “new” face in this now familiar midfield line-up, with Jukka Ikäläinen as a the ball-winning midfielder. There was a lot going on between the Finnish lines in this half, with Rijkaard, Vanenburg and Kieft swarming that area, and Ikäläinen, like the rest of the team, didn’t always manage to keep track. Difficult to tell after just this half whether Ikäläinen was an improvement compared to, say, Pekonen.
End of the 1st half
Somewhow, the Netherlands didn’t lead after that display, where they had pushed Finland back into their own goal yard for most of the half. If they could maintain the same intensity, a goal would surely follow, however. Libregts had improvised in the absence of Gullit, and the ploy with Kieft, Rijkaard and 3-3-4 worked satisfactorily. Finland were in trouble, however, and looked as inferior as they had done against West Germany last autumn (only exception being it was now 0-0, not 0-2).
There was also a yellow card to Vakkila, towards the end, for a foul on Vanenburg.
Match report – 2nd half
The second half was a different affair – still with the Netherlands in the driver’s seat, but now largely held off by Finland. It would be a frustrating half for the European champions, before Gullit in the end produced some of his wonderful ability and Kieft found another late winner.
Gullit enters the fray
The second half was probably one of the worst delivered by the Dutch in the 1990 qualification. They started the half nervously, and never seemed like they would get going again, nowhere near reproducing the pressing and tempo on the ball of the first half. It appears that the 3-3-4 formation worked well as long as the Netherlands managed to sustain intensive pressing, as that kept the (impressive) forwards involved in the game. When the pressing diminished, the players in the rear part of the team was given too much responsibility for driving the team forward, and the forwards looked stranded upfront – with more of the game happening in the midfield area, the good involvements from van Basten and Kieft from the first half dried completely up, and the Dutch thereby lost much of what had worked so well in the first 45 minutes.
The Dutch frustration started to spread already from the very beginning of the second half, as they were forced into making a few simple mistakes and just couldn’t seem to reproduce the intensive pressing they had exerted on their opponents before the break. Were they possibly tired after that high-intensive pressing in the first half on a soaky wet surface?
It didn’t take long before Gullit was seen warming up at the touchline, and in the 56th minute he replaced Ellerman. Ellerman had hardly touched the ball after the break, and he had to make way when Libregts decided he needed to play his half-injured star player. Gullit first took place on the right wing, with Vanenburg moving over to the opposite side, but the AC Milan star would, as the second half wore on, try to move between the lines behind the two strikers Kieft and van Basten.
From the minute he entered the fray, you could tell that there was something about him. Few players in the world could imitate his intelligent and powerful running. But you could also tell that he was moving in a somewhat awkward fashion here. He looked far from fit, and Mr. Werner saw the need to protect him by awarding him a couple of early free-kicks for very innocent infringements. Still, an injured Gullit might yet provide the sting that the Dutch suddenly had lost, you would think.
Finland’s sources of excitement
This was a much better half by Finland, who managed to frustrate the Dutch much more than in the first 45 minutes. Where they had been constantly too late before the break, they were now far better at closing down.
Finland’s main source of excitement was set pieces. Not a very good counter-attacking side, they were still able to produce a few corners and free-kicks that always could end up with fortunate results. Credit must also go to the Helsinki attendance, who acknowledged their team’s inferiority, but always would create exuberant life in these situations. The enthusiasm was moreover easy to understand, as Finland here undoubtedly had assets with which they could create an upset against their opponents. It would turn out, however, that also the Netherlands have plenty of aerial ability, and with the exception of a Paatelainen header that went a few meters wide, Finland didn’t actually create opportunities here (either).
It was Ukkonen’s job to curl the ball in from set-pieces, and this is a part of job that he did with satisfaction. There were other parts of his game that were found more wanting. Paatelainen, Heikkinen and Europaeus were the usual targets, but with opponents like Rutjes, van Tiggelen and Rijkaard the competition was rather even. Rutjes should moreover be applauded for taming Paatelainen better than any other centre-half had done so far in the qualifiers. The Rutjes/Paatelainen tussle was a highlight in the game, and although Paatelainen again showed his great strength and control of the ball, he was given less space than in previous matches. Lipponen, on the other hand, remained ineffectual throughout the game, and the two had poor understanding in between.
Early desperation from the Dutch
Unable to reproduce the intensive pressing from the 1st half, the Netherlands looked quite average, with their 3-3-4 formation doing them no favours any longer. Now having to build up more from behind, Oranje had too few driving forces in defence and midfeild, and simply couldn’t engage their many forwards. A half-injured Gullit had his moments with bursts of pace and brilliant technique, but he also needed many pauses.
And how wise was the decision to transfer Vanenburg to the opposite side? He had been the main attacking threat in the first half, shuttling between the flank and central midfield, but disappeared completely after the break, just as Ellerman had done in that position before him. He and Erwin Koeman didn’t forge any report, and van Aerle was usually left on his own (a situation he doesn’t seem to thrive in; he needs a more skillfull player by his side – Vanenburg!).
Again, wrong players were given time on the ball. Players like Rutjes, van Tiggelen, van Aerle and even Rijkaard are not players that you wish to take care of the passing distribution for your team, but that is what happened in the second half. Add to this that Ronald Koeman for some reason still couldn’t seem to refind his ability to aim pinpont passes at team mates, the Netherlands were struggling on the ball. Usually opening up defences from his deep position, R. Koeman was this evening appearing rather sloppy in his distribution.
As van Basten and Kieft couldn’t involve themselves, Vanenburg struggled on the left, Gullit was half-injured and Rijkaard and R. Koeman had little to offer with their passing – there was a near complete meltdown for the Dutch attacking-wise, unfortunately, in the second half.
Vakkila sends on Törnvall for Ukkonen
Midway through the second half, national coach Vakkila decided he had seen enough of playmaker Ukkonen. It had been another disappointing display from the Anderlecht ace, seemingly needing too many touches to control the ball and not always being terribly precise in his passing. He had once again delivered a few decent set-pieces, but it wasn’t much to say hurrah about. Ukkonen was here replaced by Markus Törnvall, who is a tall, all-round central midfielder; more imposing than Ukkonen, but less tigerish than Ikäläinen.
With regard to Ikäläinen, it must be said that he improved after the break, contributing to Finland’s small resurge as they denied the Dutch the time on the ball they had given them in the first 45 minutes. He did look an okay improvement compared to Pekonen after all. His radius of action is wider than Pekonen’s, or he is at least quicker off the mark to close down opponent. He is possibily also more assured on the ball, and all in all did an okay job. Holmgren had done a decent impression in the ball-winning role against Wales, but could also be handy in other positions (as he indeed was in this game). Holmgren even came close to grab a goal, in what was Finland’s only major opportunity all evening, as he joined Myyry for a rare counter-attack (not often seen by Finland, at least not as a concertive effort) and finished the attack with a hesitant mind. Perhaps not surprising that the only good example of Finland breaking forward came through Myyry and Holmgren.
As Vakkila saw that a 0-0 result was imminent, he also sent on the full-back Erkka Petäjä to replace Ari Hjelm (seeing Petäjä taking the wide position to the right in midfield, Myyry going over to the left). It was another disappointing game for Hjelm attacking-wise, but you must credit him for some brave defensive contributions. If he couldn’t show the attacking qualities he was known for in Finland, he at least proved his legendary enthusiasm. At the same time, Libregts played Pieter Huistra as his last card, as a direct replacement for Vanenburg, who had completely disappeared from the game after switching side. But why the left-footed Petäjä on the right? One might speculate that this was a sort of “reply” from Vakkila to counter the fresh legs of Huistra (for example if Huistra was seen warming up, prompting a reply from Vakkila. Pure speculation, though.)
0-1: Gullit’s assist from the right
But it would be Libregts’ first substitute who would prove decisive in this match. Gullit had spent most of his time on the pitch behind the two strikers, in an attempt to find spaces between the lines. He was able to accelerate when needed, but was understandably restricted in his movement by the injury, often a mere bystander to what took place around him (it seemed that the only thing he could do was strolling or sprinting, nothing inbetween).
During the last ten minutes, something interesting happened: Gullit returned to the right wing position where he had been introduced as he was sent on as a sub. And within these ten mintues, he was able to free himself and curl some dangerous crosses into the Finnish penalty area. The second saw Kieft connecting and heading the ball in the far upright, while also the third cross found the head of Kieft, who expertly headed the ball in the net behind Laukkanen. A fine header by Kieft, and it was lovely set up by Gullit, who got away from tired-looking Ikäläinen and Europaeus. (Should perhaps the fresh legs of Petäjä instead have been employed on the left, one might ask with hindsight?)
Thus, three minutes before full time, the Netherland had produced yet another very late decisive goal. They had found a late winner against Wales, a late equalizer against West Germany, and now, for the third time, against Finland. The game was virtually over, as Finland now looked beaten and unable to stage any sort of come-back.
Libregt’s attacking strategy proved to work just allright in the first half, as their intensive pressing and all-out attack style of play produced a fair amount of opportunities. When they failed to capitalize, they came out in the second half as a much more tired version of themselves, and some of the shortcomings of this improvised team started to show, giving a rather inefficient and frustrating performance. An injury-plagued Gullit was needed to produce the moment of genius that it would take to break down Finland. The hosts could take pride of their fighting spirit in the second half, although especially the first half confirmed some of the tactical choices that Vakkila still struggled with.
1 Laukkanen 6.4
A couple of good saves, but struggles on crosses.
2 Kanerva 6.5
Stood his ground well, in general.
3 Heikkinen 6.7
Tigerish performance. Up against van Basten, and doesn’t always win.
4 Europaeus 6.6
Some good interceptions. Tough opponent in Kieft.
5 Holmgren 7.2
Very solid game. Reads the game well, some surprise offensive runs.
6 Myyry 6.7
Busy, as usual, down his right hand side, but more valuable for his work rate than his attacking contributions.
7 Ukkonen 6.3
Too slow on the ball.
(16 Törnvall –)
8 Ikäläinen 6.7
Somewhat overran in the 1st half, but important in Finland’s improvement after the break.
9 Hjelm 6.4
Again entirely ineffectual when going forward. Commendable for his bravery.
(13 Petäjä –)
10 Paatelainen 6.9
Another battling display from the big Dundee Utd. man, but doesn’t always get his will against Rutjes.
11 Lipponen 6.1
Surprising to see him beaten for speed. Hardly any effect on the game.
1 van Breukelen 6.7
2 van Aerle 6.9
Easy game against Hjelm. A willing customer going forward, although somewhat lacking in the final delivery on crosses.
3 van Tiggelen 7.0
Fully in control of Lipponen. Not scared to make crunch tackles.
4 R. Koeman 6.7
Disappointing distribution of the ball. Actually better as a sweeper in this game.
5 Rutjes 7.2
Gets the better of Paatelainen usually, which is no small feat.
6. E. Koeman 7.0
Good 1st half, curling in a few lovely crosses. Enjoys a good tussle with Myyry.
7 Vanenburg 7.0
Great 1st half, creative and lively, but completely disappeared from the game when moved from the right to the left hand side. Strange decision by Libregts.
(13 Huistra –)
8 Rijkaard 6.8
Covers a lot of ground, but also reveals his limitations when asked to spray the ball around.
9 van Basten 7.0
Good job with his back to goal, showing his all-round qualities. Not much involved after the break.
10 Kieft 7.1
Decent enough job as a second striker. Always a threat in the air, and scores a fine goal.
11 Ellerman 6.8
Involved in four goal scoring opportunities, but otherwise somewhat lost out in his wide position.
(15 Gullit 7.0
Excellent assist. There are moments as that where he shows his fantastic qualities, but clearly impeded by the injury.)