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 had a 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.
The West Germans were among the World Cup greats, having won the Jules Rimet twice, and having been losing finalists in the two most recent tournaments. The semi-final defeat by the Netherlands on home soil during the summer will have been mightily upsetting, and they must have been very bent on setting the record straight for the double header against the Dutch in the qualification for ’90. Manager Franz Beckenbauer, or Team Chef as he prefered to be titled, was still at the helm. They had a core of players in the best years of their careers, and West Germany were probably shaping to be even stronger post ’88. The five Italy based players, Brehme, Matthäus and Klinsmann at Inter, as well as Berthold and Völler with Roma, would be the soul of the team, but the crop of home based players was looking increasingly solid. You’d look beyond the West Germans at your peril.
European Champions Netherlands were second seeds, and would probably have prefered to avoid West Germany in their group. Nevertheless, they had no reason to be fearful. Legendary manager Rinus Michels would be a big miss; he had been replaced by Thijs Libregts. In what direction would he develop the Dutch national team? On the players front, they had only lost veteran midfielder Arnold Mühren to international retirement since the summer, and their core of players were mostly at a very good footballing age. They were equipped with strength, pace and skill, and were a match for anyone. They had their super trio of Rijkaard, Gullit and van Basten together in Milan, and around them the manager could call on such talent as R Koeman, Wouters and Vanenburg to name but a few.
Wales were under the guidance of Terry Yorath, who was still working as manager of Swansea in the English third division, so his commitment to the Wales job was on a part-time basis. They did possess some good players from top English clubs, and in particular their forward trio of Ian Rush (Liverpool), Mark Hughes (Manchester United) and Dean Saunders (Derby) sounded fearsome. Altogether, their squad was too unevenly balanced, and they should be of little threat to the big two over six matches. However, they would be a tough nut to crack in Wales. They knew Finland well after the teams had been in the same qualifying group also ahead of the European Championships, with Wales winning resoundingly 4-0 in Wrexham.
Finland boss was Jukka Vakkila. He had replaced Martti Kuusela after the disappointing European Championships qualifying campaign, which, however, had ended on a light note: The Finns had thrashed Czechoslovakia 3-0 in Helsinki! They would renew their acquaintance with Wales, whom they’d managed to draw 1-1 with in the home tie in the previous qualification. Both West Germany and the Netherlands would surely prove a too big ask for the plucky Finns to do anything with, but like Wales, they did have potential to cause the odd upset. In addition to a few home based players, they had people with smaller clubs on the continent. Midfielder Kari Ukkonen was with Belgian greats Anderlecht, which was probably as prominent as it got for Finnish players in the late 80s. They were a physically well-equipped side, but were lacking in skill and finesse.