Cyprus had not been in qualification action since May, when they’d lost 3-1 to Norway away from home. This was their final home match of the campaign, although crowd trouble after the final whistle during their 3-2 defeat against Scotland in February had made sure that they’d be playing this one on neutral ground in Greece. They were up against Yugoslavia, who were already confirmed as group winners, thanks to Scotland’s defeat in France 17 days ago, on the same day as the Yugoslavs themselves had defeated Norway by a solitary goal. Cyprus had lost 4-0 in Belgrade in the opposite fixture. This was bottom against top, and neither had much but pride to play for.
Cyprus team news
Cyprus could’ve been forgiven for coming into this encounter without too high hopes of avenging the 0-4 scoreline from last year. For this their final ‘home’ tie of the qualification, they had prepared with a recent home friendly against Malta, and among four players who had taken no part at all in the qualifiers thus far, were a total of three debutants. The newbies had been goalkeeper Kyriakos Kouis of APOEL, 20 year old Apollon players Giorgos Iosifidis and Angelos Tsolakis, who had both come on as second half substitutes, and then there was Aris Limassol’s 30 year old Panikos Khatziloizou, who made his fifth appearance for his country, none of which had come during the ongoing qualification.
In all three of their home fixtures so far, Cyprus had given their opponents a scare. They had just managed to escape with that single point which the 1-1 draw with France had provided them, but even during the 3-0 defeat against Norway, they’d given a good first half account of themselves.
Frankly, they were not supposed to be good enough to create much in terms of trouble for as strong a team as Yugoslavia, but without much at stake, the Cypriots could be hoping for a visiting team in a relaxed mood. That could be their opportunity to get something from the game.
Alas, we do not have available to us the entire 16 man strong Cyprus squad. Of players who had contributed well so far, neither defender Giorgos Khristodoulou nor striker Giorgos Savvidis seemed to be available to manager Panikos Iakovou.
Yugoslavia team news
For this their final qualifier, Yugoslavia manager Ivica Osim had predominantly picked a squad consisting of players from the domestic league. With this being a weekend game, several of the men which had featured so far in the qualification were in action for their respective club teams across the continent, so there was no Tomislav Ivković (away at Chaves with Sporting Lisbon), Srečko Katanec (away at Juventus for Sampdoria), Mirsad Baljić (at home to Bellinzona with Sion, and he would score their opener in a 3-1 win), Faruk Hadžibegić (Sochaux thrashed Caen 5-0 on the same day as the qualifier, with the internationally suspended Mehmed Baždarević also in action), Davor Jozić (away at Bari with Cesena), Dragoljub Brnović (at home to Lille with Metz, where he would score in a 1-1 draw), and also no Safet Sušić or Zlatko Vujović (both featuring for PSG at Marseille on the eve of the game; Vujović had scored the equalizer in a 2-1 loss). As for Dragan Jakovljević, who had started Yugoslavia’s two previous qualifiers, he had been sitting out a couple of matches for Nantes, possibly due to injury, so he was also a squad omission.
With the game of less importance, it would appear likely that most of these players would’ve been called upon had the Yugoslav FA felt under pressure to get a result. However, they were also up against an opponent which they would’ve felt confident to deal with no matter the circumstances or the squad nominated, and this would give Osim a fine opportunity to test out players who could be in with a shout for World Cup participation.
Compared to the 15 man strong squad which had made sure Yugoslavia won 1-0 against Norway to confirm their status as group winners only two and a half weeks earlier, only five players remained (Spasić, Stojković, Leković, Stanojković and Vujačić), with no less than eleven new players originally called upon. However, yet again Yugoslavia would end up with a matchday squad consisting of just 15 players, as Red Star’s Goran Jurić would not travel. He had not featured at club level since a 4-1 league win at Rijeka on October 7, a game in which he had been sent off, and he would then go on and be injured while he was suspended. His call-up for the national team had appeared strange due to the injury in the first place.
Yugoslavia had famously won the 1987 Youth World Cup in Chile, and four of the players who had featured in the final against West Germany then, goalkeeper Dragoje Leković, defensive player Branko Brnović, midfielder Robert Prosinečki and attacking player Predrag Mijatović, had been included in the matchday squad on this occasion. Neither had been picked earlier in the qualification, albeit having appeared in friendlies.
Two players who were plying their trade abroad had, however, been included: Mallorca’s defender Zoran Vulić and Torino’s attacking player Haris Škoro. Both of their respective clubs were also in league action this weekend, but the two players must have been motivated by arriving at an opportunity to play themselves into contention for a place in the World Cup squad.
The Baždarević sending off had been a major incident and not least talking point in the wake of the Norway game. He had since received a one year international ban, and he would controversially say to the media that “had it been a player with better relations to the FA, they would surely have urged FIFA to inflict a less severe punishment.” Nevertheless, Baždarević would be a major loss to Osim for the World Cup.
Romanian FIFA referee Ioan Igna had been selected for this clash. The 49 year old from Arad west in the country, not far from the Hungarian border, had officiated internationally since 1980, when he had made his bow with the 1982 World Cup qualifier between Turkey and Iceland (1-3). He had subsequently refereed twice in qualification for the 1984 European Championships, and then three times in qualifying for the 1986 World Cup. In that tournament proper, he had firstly dealt with West Germany’s 2-1 group stage win against Scotland, before he’d been placed in charge of that quarter-final between France and Brazil (1-1, France won after penalty shoot-out). He’d made the controversial decision of leaving Brazil ‘keeper Carlos unpunished after he had come out from his area to prevent French forward Bellone from racing through on goal.
Igna had officiated another three times in the 1988 European Championships qualification, and then once in the tournament proper, but what a game that was: West Germany’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Netherlands in the semi-finals.
At club level, his biggest task had been the 1987 UEFA Cup final second leg between Dundee United and IFK Gothenburg, a game which finished 1-1 to see the Swedish outfit as champions on the back of their 1-0 home leg win.
This was the 13th match Igna would referee in World Cup or European Championships context, and it would also turn out to be his very last.
This was the fourth meeting in history between Cyprus and Yugoslavia. Today’s visitors had won comprehensively all three previous head to heads with the aggregate score of 12-0. In addition to the 4-0 win in Belgrade last December, Yugoslavia had won 3-0 away and 5-0 at home in qualification for the 1980 European Championships. Both Zlatko Vujović and Safet Sušić had featured in the 5-0 home win in Novi Sad in ’79, though even if both had been regulars throughout this ongoing qualification, neither was present on this occasion. For the Cypriots, veteran goalkeeper Giorgos Pantziaras had played in the first four games of the ongoing qualification, and also kept goal in that 5-0 away defeat 10 years ago. He was, however, not a part of this squad. Another who had also featured in the capital of the Vojvodina district during that big defeat, was Marios Tsingis. He was indeed in today’s Cyprus squad.
Thanks to the trouble caused by Cypriot fans after the 3-2 home defeat by Scotland back in February, where the referee had been punched, among other incidents, FIFA had placed a one match ban on them, stating that they must play their subsequent home qualifier away from the island. The Cypriot FA opted for Athens in Greece, some 600 miles away from home.
The Olympic Stadium, Olympiakó Stádio in local jargon, was where Greece had played their two home ties so far in this ongoing World Cup qualification, with the third and final coming up in medio November. We have no record of the capacity at the time, but just in excess of 75,000 had been there for the 1983 European Cup second round meeting between Olympiakos and Hamburg (0-4).
|1 Kyrgiakos Kouis||31||APOEL|
|2 Pambos Pittas||23||Apollon|
|3 Kostas Miamiliotis||29||APOEL|
|4 Spyros Kastanas||26||Anorthosis|
|5 Makis Sokratous||28||AEL|
|6 Giannakis Yiangoudakis (c)||30||Apollon|
|7 Khristos Koliantris||25||AEL|
|8 Floros Nikolaou||27||Nea Salamina|
|9 Kostas Konstantinou||21||AEL|
|10 Kostas Petsas||sub 71′||28||Omonia|
|11 Giannos Ioannou||sub 86′||23||APOEL|
|13 Marios Tsingis||on 71′||30||Aris|
|x Antonis Antrellis||25||Apollon|
|16 Dimitris Agas||on 86′||30||APOP|
|1 Fahrudin Omerović||28||Partizan|
|2 Vujadin Stanojković||26||Partizan|
|3 Predrag Spasić||24||Partizan|
|4 Branko Brnović||22||Budućnost|
|5 Zoran Vulić||28||Mallorca|
|6 Slobodan Marović||25||Crvena Zvezda|
|7 Robert Prosinečki||sub 74′||20||Crvena Zvezda|
|8 Dejan Savićević||23||Crvena Zvezda|
|9 Darko Pančev||24||Crvena Zvezda|
|10 Dragan Stojković (c)||24||Crvena Zvezda|
|11 Haris Škoro||27||Torino|
|x Dragoje Leković||21||Budućnost|
|x Budimir Vujačić||25||Partizan|
|x Andrej Panadić||20||Dinamo Zagreb|
|15 Predrag Mijatović||on 74′||20||Budućnost|
The marching band was playing the two countries’ national anthems from inside the centre-circle: first Yugoslavia’s, as per custom for visitors, then Cyprus’. The officiating trio, all Romanians, obviously, would then be greeting the two teams’ captains, and they were Dragan ‘Piksi’ Stojković and Giorgos Yiangoudakis. Both were firmly aware of what international football was all about, as were these officials, among which two (Igna and Constantinescu) were former top flight footballers themselves.
In the vast Athens Olympic stadium, there were almost eight seats available to each spectator present, and with sections of the sparse crowd gathered in just a few areas, there was the inevitable feeling that this game was played out in front of an empty arena. Would it affect the teams, though? Yugoslavia could probably be forgiven, at least from the outside looking in, for treating the fixture lightly, given the fact that they’d already won the group, albeit they’d not want to slip up against a team notoriously known for rarely winning qualifying matches. The Cypriots could probably find courage in the possible fact that the visitors were under-strength.
Kick-off was given to the visitors after the toss of the coin, and it would be two Red Star Belgrade players in Darko Pančev and Dejan Savićević to get us under way, kicking from right to left as the cameras were looking. Yugoslavia, nicknamed ‘Plavi’ (‘the Blues’), were clad in all white, as their traditional shirts clashed with those of the hosts.
Cyprus immediately drop back inside their own half, sitting deep with two blocks of four, though leaving forwards Khristos Koliantris and Giannos Ioannou relatively high up the pitch in order to deal with any booted clearance to try and cause trouble on counters. What is easy to spot right away is how both the Cypriot forwards are pulling wide, something which has also been visible for large portions of the qualification: Ioannou finds himself towards left-sided areas, with Koliantris occupying wide right positions. With no central striker to lean on, the two Cyprus wide forwards need to positively deal with any balls coming in their direction and look to tackle the Yugoslav defence head on. It could well be so that they wish to stretch the opposition’s defence in order to create more space in central areas for any midfielder trotting forward.
Yugoslavia, unsurprisingly, display their wish to keep the ball between themselves. As is common knowledge, they have players so secure in possession that they can do this and work and tire an opponent in order to prepare for any lapse in concentration on the other party’s behalf. They may be fielding a fairly different team to ones which we’ve seen earlier in the qualification, but with the vast array of talent at their disposal, it is not as if they’re abandoning usual principles. They have a great midfield presence, almost overwhelming their opponents with bodies, and they work the ball between themselves and from side to side.
Visitors strike early
Yugoslavia are almost immediately rewarded with a goal. However, it is a goal which doesn’t come because of patient build-up and interchanging of positions; the goal has a huge degree of fortune to it. So often in this qualification, Partizan Belgrade’s former Vardar Skopje wide player, Vujadin Stanojković, is an outlet along the right, and having been found with a pass by qualification debutant Robert Prosinečki, he looked to have been set up in order to play his captain Dragan Stojković, who was making a run outside of him, down the right hand side. Stanojković, though, who had experienced a few misunderstandings with Stojković in the space of the final five minutes or so during the previous qualifier, for whatever reason chose to ignore his number 10, and having taken a few steps in forward direction, delievers a shot on target some 25 yards from the byline, from the right hand channel. It is an effort which should pose no threat or trouble whatsoever for any international goalkeeper, but Kyriakos Kouis, despite his advanced years, is a novice at this level, and clearly riddled by nerves, he proceeds to fumble the ball into the back of the net. Admittedly, Stanojković’ shot had bounced right before the goalline, but it had been a massive howler from the 31 year old to gift the visitors a fifth minute opener. As he got back up onto his feet, Kouis was surely looking for a hole into which he could disappear. Stanojković’ goal was his first for Yugoslavia in 13 appearances.
Having secured an early lead, how would Yugoslavia go on and treat the game? Clearly, they had been expected to deal swiftly with Cyprus, even if the game was of little importance, and even if there had been wholesale changes in Osim’s eleven. Now that they had their goal, would they go on and produce a display of utter dominance and with goals to show for, or would they instead go on and think that the job’s done, and rather treat Cyprus with a reduced level of care and attention? If the latter should prove to be the case, then there could still be a way back into this for the hosts, even if they should stand no chance when looking at the respective selections.
A look through the host team
The Cyprus line-up is a familiar one to those who have followed their fortunes throughout the qualification. However, there’s a couple of notable exceptions, and goalkeeper Kouis had introduced himself already, albeit he’d have wished that it had happened in more favourable circumstances. The stopper is one of three starters from Nicosia club APOEL, who will ultimately be crowned as league champions by the end of the 1989/90 season, taking over from holders and strong city rivals Omonia, who, incidentally, just have one starter in this Cypriot eleven.
In their four man defensive line, which it clearly is, Cyprus appear to have an identical outline to the one which they’d had during their ill-fated 3-2 home loss to Scotland in February. As a right-back, though perhaps not in the most traditional of senses, was Kouis’ team mate at club level Kostas Miamiliotis, a very experienced player at 29, making his 34th international appearance, easily the second highest caps number in their select. Miamiliotis had been the Cyprus libero in their opening couple of qualifiers, but had since lost that spot to Andreas Papakostas and ultimately Makis Sokratous, who was seen in that capacity on this occasion. Miamiliotis was a fairly compact player, though he would rather deliever the ball to a team mate than burst forward from that full-back position. Instead, he would on several occasions be drawn inside to his left, almost as if he still has his mind set on central duties. It should not be seen as though Cyprus are operating with two spare men, but Miamiliotis’ right-back role is deviating from a customary one.
28 year old Sokratous is one of the three man strong AEL Limassol contingent. They will only finish the season sixth. Having made five starts in the previous qualification, Sokratous was now appearing for the fourth successive time in this one. Still, he had only clocked up 12 internationals. He did look to have good positional awareness, and he would be looking to sweep behind his fellow central defender Spyros Kastanas, who was working in a man-marking capacity on Yugoslavia striker Pančev. Kastanas was another player who had seemed to grow on manager Iakovou, as he was by now an established member in their select. He was a gangly player who seemed to thrive as a man-marker, and he appeared to hold limited ability possession-wise. Still, he would work to the best of his resources in preventing the opposition striker a sight on goal.
To the left in Cyprus’ defence was arguably one of their finer players. Talented left-back Pambos Pittas had established himself in the side during the previous qualification, and had been an ever-present hitherto in the ongoing one. He possessed a particularly sweet left foot, which would capably assist team mates from various positions, as he would occasionally also join inside the opposition’s half. He might still have a few points of improvement to make defensively, but altogether Pittas was a player who seemed to make a mockery of their lowly status internationally. This was the 23 year old’s 16th appearance for his country.
Manager Iakovou had alternated formation wise so far in the qualification: 5-3-2, 5-4-1, 4-5-1, and now having set his charges up in a 4-4-2 outlook. Their midfield had the shape of a diamond, and at the rear there was a debutant in the relatively tall frame of 21 year young Kostas Konstantinou. A team mate of libero Sokratous’, Konstantinou’s main task appeared to be keeping tabs on the Yugoslav inside midfielders whenever they were making advance. They were highly skilled opponents in Stojković and Savićević, and in addition to that, another player who would naturally come into Konstantinou’s territory was Škoro. The rookie could well have been forgiven for thinking his task was an insoluble one, and he kept himself out of the limelight in the early stages, rarely seen in possession, but typically orientated towards either of these three opposition players. It was hugely important to the Cypriot defence that Konstantinou also did his utmost in sheltering them from the barrage of ability which potentially could cause major damage.
The rest of their midfield consisted of familiar material in work horses Kostas Petsas and Floros Nikolaou, as well as moustached and slender-framed captain Giannakis Yiangoudakis. Petsas, a 28 year old of Omonia, the reigning league champions, was a combative player without a whole lot of ability on the ball, so he, too, was rarely someone seen in possession. He would concentrate on being a menace to the opposition’s midfield, clearly working in a somewhat more withdrawn role to that of his compatriot Nikolaou, who had scored their away goal against Scotland. Nikolaou would be something of a second in command in the Cypriot midfield, not afraid to transport the ball into opposition territory, and also not afraid to get stuck in when intensity levels rose. He had been seen out of position at right-back during their loss in Norway, but he was clearly more at ease in the centre of the pitch. 27 years of age from Famagusta club Nea Salamis, Nikolaou was giving his 22nd interpretation in country colours. He was one of a small handful ever-presents in this qualification.
Captain Yiangoudakis was possibly Cyprus’ best known player internationally, as he’d racked up no less than 45 caps by this point. At 30, he seemed to carry the team through his leadership qualities, sporting the captain’s armband throughout the qualification. He was a rather lightweight player who thrived in possession, and he could pick a pass with either foot, although he would prefer to use his right. He was also well capable of making penetrating runs into the area, and on this occasion Yiangoudakis seemed to be enjoying the freedom of an advanced midfield role, lending his support to the two wide forwards. The idea could well have been that he would provide runs into the heart of the Yugoslav defence, even if the level of the opponent made sure that practice didn’t always prove as straightforward as theory. A ‘false 9’? Well, this term was still far from being invented, and even on today’s premises, I would not necessarily say that he was, as his actions quite often were focused on wide midfield areas, and not so much through the centre.
Yugoslavia: in detail
There is little goalmouth action in the first half of the opening 45 minutes. There had been an attempted snapshot from inside the area when centre-forward Pančev had arrived to the ball ahead of his marker following some fine work by Savićević, but the striker’s effort came off Kastanas for a left wing corner. There were quite a few flag kicks for the hosts throughout, but they rarely managed to cause havoc in the Cypriot defence, as some of these corner kicks were delievered too far, and thus eventually controlled by the home side’s defence. This was disappointing, especially as it had been Stojković delievering most of them. By now a major continental influence, the Yugoslav captain had drawn plenty of attention from some of Europe’s big clubs, although he would so far remain loyal to his Belgrade employer. With the amount of Yugoslav players plying their trade in France, could the same country ultimately be a lure to him, too?
Even if Stojković had failed to apply precise set-pieces hitherto, his involvement in open play was great, as would’ve been expected. Even if Cyprus had set their central positions up to try and stop the Yugoslav midfield from overwhelming them, it was still often so that the visiting number 10 found himself in available spaces along the right hand side. Working as part of a five man midfield, he would be drawn wide from his inside right position, and would look to team up with Stanojković, who originally sat in the extreme position along this flank. Even centre-back Brnović behind them would lend his support, but first and foremost Stojković would be found by his Red Star team mate Prosinečki, one of the players that promised so much from this crop of massive talents.
In the centre of the Yugoslav midfield, in the role which Mehmed Baždarević had originally held from kick-off in their previous qualifier until his early expulsion, sat 20 year young Robert Prosinečki. This was his third international since his recent debut during the 2-2 draw in Finland, where Yugoslavia, much like now, had also travelled with an alternative squad. This had made natural sense for a friendly, and the same would still apply for this journey to the Greek capital, even if the stage was now one of qualification. Prosinečki would pick the ball off his defenders in that deep central midfield position, and then try to look for Stojković or sometimes Dejan Savićević ahead of him. So comfortable on the ball, the blonde figure of Prosinečki would also not be afraid to take on a man and dart past in order to create better conditions for himself and his passing game.
The perhaps more eye-catching player in the early stages for the visitors, was ‘new’ libero Zoran Vulić. With his fellow central defenders, qualification debutant Branko Brnović, younger brother of wide left regular Dragoljub, and Predrag Spasić often drawn out into wide positions to deal with the wide Cypriot forwards, Vulić would need to sweep both to his right and his left, something which he appeared to relish and do with great natural instinct. He’d in fact mopped up anything which would come from the Cypriots thus far, and though he did not seem as the most imposing of figures, he would still play with an aura of confidence created through the fact that he was part of one of the continent’s stronger national teams. Like Yugoslav liberos before him in this qualification, Faruk Hadžibegić and Davor Jozić, he would rarely venture deep into the opposition’s half, much due to the fact that it was the responsibility of their midfielders to be in possession of the ball in advanced areas. At club level, the 28 year Vulić, formerly of Hajduk in Split, was forming a central defensive partnership with Miguel Nadal at Real Mallorca in the Spanish top flight. This was the moustached defender’s 11th international appearance.
Branko Brnović was almost four years younger than his brother, and at 22, the Budućnost Titograd player was making his second international appearance. He’d only made his debut in the 3-0 friendly win over Greece last month, a game in which he had originally excelled as their wide right player in their 3-5-2 formation. Whilst the formation was identical this time around, Brnović had been moved back into central defence, although he would not act as an outright man-marker, much due to the fact that the Cypriot forward on his side, Ioannou, was playing far wide to the left. This even meant that Brnović was allowed to show up in support for Stanojković and Stojković along the right hand side, although not so much yet in the game. He had also proved that he could hold down the central defensive midfield position during that Greece friendly, so Branko Brnović was yet another multifaceted Yugoslav international. Across from him in central defence was the tall and strong Predrag Spasić, who was a regular in the team, having started each of their eight qualifiers. This was the Partizan defender’s 13th cap. Like Brnović, Spasić would also not be a typical man-marker, but he would certainly keep an eye on Koliantris, with the Cypriot player appearing as their right-sided forward.
With Partizan’s Stanojković a familiar qualification face along the Yugoslav right hand side, this his sixth start, it was a different matter out towards the left, where another Belgrade based performer in Red Star’s 25 year old Slobodan Marović was featuring for the very first time in a qualifier, and only for the second time altogether internationally. His one former appearance had come during a 1-0 home friendly loss against the Soviet Union two years earlier. Marović possessed a sweet left foot, and he would cross the halfway line and participate along the left hand side, although not as frequently as would be seen across to the right through Stanojković. Instead, Marović would aptly assist in dealing with Koliantris, as well as keeping an eye on Yiangoudakis when the Cypriot captain ventured into his territory. In fact, the Yugoslav left-sided player could count himself a little lucky not to have been booked after two identical fouls from behind on Yiangoudakis during the first 25 minutes.
All the way at the rear, between the sticks, was 28 year old Fahrudin Omerović, who had made his international debut earlier in the year, when he’d featured during the 1-0 friendly defeat in Belgium. He’d replaced Ivković at half-time then, and subsequently played the full 90 minutes during the 2-2 draw in Finland. This was the Partizan ‘keeper’s third cap, and he’d enjoyed a very quiet first half so far.
Yugoslavia directed their operations through midfield, and with Prosinečki mentioned as their ‘holding’ man, the somewhat more advanced roles belonged to his Red Star team mates Stojković and Savićević. Altogether, this was an attacking Yugoslav line-up, as Savićević could easily hold down a striker’s role, like he had done last time when he’d started a game in this qualification, namely at home to Cyprus: He’d bagged a hat-trick in that 4-0 win. Still, he’d sometimes been too outspoken for manager Osim’s liking, and thus he’d struggled to win a regular starting berth, even if his talent had probably warranted one. A tremendous drive on the ball and equipped with an awesome left foot, Savićević was a menace to any opposing team when on song. In the first phases of this game, he had not been utilised a whole lot, even if he’d shown in glimpses his ability in passing. Stojković, though, Yugoslavia’s premier playmaker throughout the qualification, had been heavily involved, even if he’d yet to unlock the home defence through the means of one of his exquisite passes, or even failed to test goalkeeper Kouis after his early blunder had led to that goal. Stojković’ ‘office’ would be towards the right of centre, and whilst he would be sought by Prosinečki, he would either make forward runs into the channel or interact in possession with Stanojković and even Brnović.
The two most advanced visiting players were also making their first appearances of this qualification: Torino’s Haris Škoro was helping the tradition-bound Italian club make it back to Serie A, though he’d been allowed a leave for this game, with his club side being away to Reggiana the following day (they would be held to a scoreless draw). Operating in a role just behind the lone striker, Škoro failed to find necessary spaces in which to operate for his team mates to involve him in the early stages of the game, though he would adjust, and soon he would team up with the midfield behind him in trying to free striker Pančev. Škoro played with rolled-down socks and could give off a somewhat carefree impression, but there was little doubt about his ability. Also, he should be ‘thirsty’ enough for this game, as this was the 27 year old’s first international in almost a year and a half. His forte was clearly being on the ball, trying to use his creativity in spotting a team mate ahead of him. Often, that team mate would be Darko Pančev, the Yugoslav league’s leading goalscorer with ten goals from twelve matches. Pančev was one of those strikers who could look deceptively lazy and uninterested, but then explode into action once he sniffed an opportunity inside the area. This had been the case when he’d almost tested Kouis from that earlier snapshot. Also Pančev was making his first Italia ’90 qualification appearance in what was the 24 year old’s eleventh international presence altogether.
Cyprus have a positive five minute spell from around the halfway point in the first half, when they string together moves involving several players, although it is their players more familiar with possession which are instrumental in keeping the ball inside the Yugoslav half for an amount of time: Pittas, Yiangoudakis and Ioannou, helped out by the battle skills of Nikolaou, who wins the first of a succession of corner kicks. Yugoslavia do not always appear most keen out of possession; they rely on their goalkeeper and defence to sort out any attacking waves from the hosts.
There’s a shot fired from 20 yards by Petsas, which is Cyprus’ first noteworthy effort at target, though it takes a deflection off a visiting defender and goes out for a right wing corner. Petsas’ effort had not been bad, merely drifting a couple of yards over its intended target. The Yugoslav midfield’s defensive workrate was unimpressive at this point. Cyprus trust debutant Konstantinou into the area for their series of corners, but he’s surveilled by the rugged Spasić, and is nowhere near getting on the end of either delievery. Yiangoudakis is their set-piece conductor whether it be from the right or from the left. Ultimately, Omerović can safely gather and momentarily take the sting out of the Cypriot enthusiasm.
For all their talent and creativity, Yugoslavia at this point in the game could’ve needed someone to give them a right kick up the backside. They were not doing enough running out of possession, and some of their midfielders were the main culprits. In fact, Cyprus would get to another couple of half chances, notably when they’d counter-attacked through Yiangoudakis along the right, and his airborne cross towards the diagonal end of the area was met by Pittas, who could not control his header, which flew yards over. Later, the same Yiangoudakis, who was having an inspired period, almost got a toe to the ball to prod it over Omerović after Koliantris had chested down a cross into his path. Credit to the goalkeeper for being brave and diving down at the Cypriot captain’s feet to take away Yiangoudakis’ opportunity. Whilst Osim could not have been best pleased with what he saw, his counterpart Iakovou looked fired up on the hosts’ bench, unafraid to light a cigarette up.
The hosts are about to be rewarded for their belief. They keep feeding on this disappointing Yugoslav mentality, and when Konstantinou clips a second ball over the top of the Yugoslav defence, Koliantris can run through the centre. However, the ball’s too high for him to get to immediately, and so he needs to adjust and instead try and get his head to it after its bounce. The only problem with this is that it has bought Omerović enough time to come out from his line. Koliantris has spotted this, but he still goes in bravely for the ball, although he’s luckily reserved himself slightly. Had he not, he could’ve taken a much more severe blow when the ‘keeper came out and collided into him with his boot high. Koliantris had arrived first to the ball, and upon being flattened, the referee had no alternative but to award the hosts a penalty. After some treatment for their stricken forward, who looked somewhat groggy when he got back up on his feet, left-back Pittas steps up to outwit Omerović from twelve yards: he rolls the ball left-footed to the right and into the back of the net, with the goalkeeper going in the other direction. One apiece.
Through to half time
Yugoslavia have been the masters of their own downfall, as they had clearly fallen into the trap of underestimation. Their collective performance, and in particular out of possession, had at times been abysmal, and they had not deserved more than they’d got in reward for this first half performance. They had looked sound in the initial stages, but as sometimes happens when the far superior side moves in front, they forget that there’s an opposing team there doing their utmost to cause trouble of their own.
After the equalizer, the visitors fail to up the tempo, and it is relatively comfortable for the Cypriots to see the half out. There is a single moment three minutes from the half-time whistle when Savićević tries to take matters into his own hands, or feet, and upon turning Nikolaou, he proceeds to advance goalwards and fire from 22 yards out with his often lethal left foot. However, the man who struck three times in these two’s previous encounter, could not direct his low shot on target, with Kouis diving to his left to see the ball miss the goal frame by a yard or so. A minute from the break, Stojković is unable to find a team mate to thread the ball through to in a congested area, and he opts for an ultimately disappointing effort from outside the box, which has no chance of finding the back of the net as it is a couple of storeys too high, with Kouis controlling the powerless effort anyway.
Referee Igna did not allow for any injury time, and blew his whistle right on 45 minutes. It had been fascinating to see how the plucky minnows could rattle one of the continents more impressive national teams, although you felt that there was a lot more to this Yugoslav select than they’d shown so far, even if they were without the brunt of the players who had got them into pole position.
With Yugoslavia looking more than just a tad uninterested during the second phase of the first half, manager Osim could’ve been forgiven for contemplating half-time changes. His counterpart Iakovou must have been delighted with how the first half had progressed, and so what would his interval messages have been? He must have been aware that Yugoslavia were capable of so much more, and inflicting real damage if they got going again.
Neither team had made any changes in personnel during the break, so the same two sets of eleven reappeared for the start of the second half. It would be the hosts who would get the game back up and running, and this happened through midfield duo Petsas and Yiangoudakis, the latter who had enjoyed such a fine 20-25 minutes through to the end of the opening period.
Despite the game’s lack of importance, Yugoslavia surely would not want to exit the qualification stage remembered for their first half performance. Could they take it up a notch and put this Cypriot team truly to the test? There had not been sufficient tempo to Yugoslavia’s passing game before the break, but it does appear that they have come out for this second half with a wish to address this. There had also not been enough movement off the ball, another ingredient which is vital in combatting a deep-lying opponent. Credit to the hosts for managing to take Yugoslavia down to their own level, but with the abundance of talent on display, this could not be expected to carry on.
With just over 48 minutes on the clock, Yugoslavia retake the lead. They’ve been passing the ball around inside the Cypriot half of the pitch, much like in the first half, but this time around it had felt as if they were willing to dig a bit deeper to create openings. And when it happened, it was no great surprise that it was Stojković who put the cross into the box from the left handed channel to find his Red Star pal Pančev. The domestic league’s leading goalscorer had freed himself from Kastanas on this occasion, and he managed to take the cross down and quickly poke goalwards with his left foot, only to see ‘keeper Kouis get a hand to his initial effort. It looked as though Cyprus would clear it, as Miamiliotis was next in line, but inexplicably, the right-sided defender failed to get a touch, possibly as he’d originally rested on his left leg, something which meant he’d not been able to shift his weight across to the other leg in time for him to connect with the ball. This meant that Pančev, who had followed up from his original attempt, like a true goal-sniffer, could only poke the ball a second time to see it end up in the back of the net, despite Kouis’ late effort to reach him. Back in front, would the visitors now go on and win at a canter?
It certainly is so that Yugoslavia have their appetite back, and this had been demonstrated as early as 34 seconds into the half, when Stojković had accepted responsibility and fired goalwards from 20 yards, only to see his right-footed effort end up a yard too high. The Yugoslav captain had assisted for Pančev’s goal, and now his tail appeared to be up again, something which could only spell danger for the hosts. Working from his relatively free attacking midfield role, he would constantly seek to be on the ball, and he would try little passes in forward direction for any team mate who would now display movement off the ball, something which occured much more frequently than before the break. Cyprus’ Konstantinou definitely has a big task on his shoulders in trying to stop the Yugoslav inside midfielders to play, not just Stojković, but also Savićević, and though the 21 year old had done a fine job thus far, there now appeared to be a slightly bemused look on his face. He’d failed to get close enough to Savićević for a point-blank header two minutes after the goal, leaving the challenge job to his libero Sokratous on that occasion, but fortunately for the hosts, the Yugoslav midfielder had been unable to direct it either side of Kouis, who could breathe a sigh of relief as he grasped it once the ball arrived straight at him.
Vulić in the way of home counters
Cyprus in these early stages of the second period have little to offer possession wise, and the only sensible thing to do is to sit deep and collected, and try to soak up this Yugoslav pressure. There’s obviously a danger in such a plot that they could concede further goals, but their ability, or rather lack of, in possession ensured that they had limited offerings as an attacking threat. However, there was the speed of Koliantris along the right, and he would continue to prove an outlet for which they could aim when they had enough time inside their own half of the pitch to direct a measured pass. Captain Yiangoudakis would continue to work as an advanced central midfielder, and he would be the one the best equipped to search out Koliantris. On 57 minutes, he succeeded in feeding the wide forward with a raking pass from inside his own half, though despite Koliantris darting towards goal, he could not outrun Yugoslav libero Vulić, who sped to the visitors’ rescue to wrestle possession away from the hosts. Three minutes earlier, the same Vulić had kept track on another Koliantris burst to concede a right wing corner for Cyprus. The libero was in fact having a splendid game defensively.
Brnović more involved
The visitors’ dominance is almost total as the game reaches the hour mark, and they manage to create openings through their quicker ball tempo and interchanging of positions. Especially their right hand side has been in use so far since the break, and to try and counteract this, Cyprus have pulled wide left forward Ioannou into a much more defensive position in this second half. Ioannou needs to try and prevent both Stanojković and Brnović from getting into crossing positions. The latter had indeed been starting out at centre-half, trying to keep track of Ioannou, though with defensive priorities much less in this second half, the qualification debutant was allowed several forays forward. We remember him from operating in the wide right position in the recent Greece friendly, and he appeared to relish coming into these positions. On one such occasion, having been played down the right by Stojković, he would return the ball to his captain through an angled pass from the byline, only to see Stojković place a touch too much weight under his effort.
Petsas takes aim again
A single goal lead is obviously never safe. Even a fluke moment can undo such a slender winning margin. There had been a first half effort from outside the box by industrious midfielder Petsas for the hosts, although it had not troubled Omerović. Similarly, the midfielder had arrived at a relatively identical shot ten minutes into the second period, but also this had failed to test the goalkeeper. It had come closer, even if the threat had not felt great to the visitors. However, Yugoslavia had shown during the first 45 minutes how they could switch off and allow their opponents back into the game, and they could risk falling into the same trap once again. Or did they have a possible half-time rollicking from their manager still sounding in their ears? They did, after all, not allow Cyprus the same amount of time on the ball as they had done in the second part of the opening half.
Yugoslavia’s centre of operations
The Yugoslav midfield saw new members for this game: two if we’re talking about the central three, three in total if we also include the wide players. It had come out of necessity, obviously, as there was no Katanec and also no Baždarević available. As we know, Stojković had dropped back into the central role among the three after the Blues’ early expulsion against the Norwegians, but he was back in that more advanced role again here, being able to use his creativity further up in the pitch. It had so far benefitted the Yugoslavs since the break, and in the highly skillful Savićević in the other inside position, the visitors had a double threat from advanced midfield positions. Behind them sat freshman Prosinečki, an immensely gifted 20 year old, as someone who realized their role as a Wasserträger. Whilst clearly well capable of hitting an exquisite pass of his own, Prosinečki rather let the other two take care of creativity. He was also very useful in collecting second balls, clearances from the Cypriot defence, and certainly justified his inclusion.
Off the woodwork
On 64 minutes, there’s yet another warning shot for the visitors, who still do not do enough backtracking whenever there’s an opportunity for a counter from the hosts. This could again have proved their undoing when left-back Pittas, who on several occasions throughout the qualification had displayed his more than useful left foot for delievery, was allowed space and time from an advanced position along the left to aim a ball into the centre. Arriving in the area was Ioannou, who rose to connect with the ball some ten yards out. Just directing a header goalwards from that distance was not easy, especially with a fairly high and powerful cross like this one from Pittas. However, the wide forward managed to cause severe stir, as his header smacked off the bar with Omerović beaten. It had been mightily close to a second Cyprus goal. Stanojković had pulled into the centre on that occasion, with Vulić the player nearest to Pittas before the cross.
The second half is not short in incidents, and less than a minute after Ioannou’s header off the goal frame, Yugoslavia seem to think that they have increased their advantage. In fact, it is not unlikely that Pančev had a valid second goal taken away from him, as he had run on to Savićević’ deft through pass between Miamiliotis and Kastanas to slip it under Kouis and into the back of the net. Whilst the angle of the TV camera was inconclusive, it had looked like either Sokratous or Konstantinou had lingered even further behind, thus playing the striker onside. The linesman on the near side had other ideas, though, and it could well be so that his view had been a perfect one anyway. No goal.
Cyprus become the first to make a player change when they take Petsas off for Marios Tsingis. The substitute’s an experienced player, aged 30 and winning his 25th cap, though this was only his second appearance in the ongoing qualification. Incidentally, he had featured in the 4-0 away loss to Yugoslavia, when he had played wide to the right in midfield. However, it would quickly be revealed how he had replaced Petsas directly in the centre of their midfield, alongside Nikolaou. Tsingis had not left a lasting impression on his last qualification display, and he did seem a somewhat lightweight character to thrust into the centre of the pitch. Still, he had good mobility, and perhaps could he turn out useful for counters, which was still Cyprus’ best attacking weapon with some 20 minutes left for play.
On Škoro and first substitution for visitors
Once Tsingis was on for the hosts, Yugoslavia, too, looked to make their first substitution, almost as if they were counter-acting the change which Cyprus had made. It was probably just a coincidence, though, that another qualification debutant, Budućnost’s 20 year young forward Predrag Mijatović, would enter the fray at this point. It would take a little while, though, for the ball to exit play so that the substitution could go ahead, and in the mean time there had almost been a third Yugoslav goal, this time through the nearly unmentioned Haris Škoro. The Italy based attacking player had shown some nice touches, but he had struggled to get into positions where his team mates would find him. He had tried to come wide to both flanks as well as working through the centre, but it had not been a truly fruitful afternoon for the 27 year old. One could’ve been forgiven for thinking it was he who would be taken off in order to accomodate Mijatović, but prior to any substitution, Škoro had time to connect first time from seven yards with Stojković’ mishit shot from inside the box. Again, much like with Savićević’ early second half header, had Škoro been able to direct the ball to either side of the goalkeeper, it would probably have meant 3-1. At least he would remain on the pitch, as Osim next withdrew Prosinečki for Mijatović. The substitute was the eighth Yugoslav to feature in this match who had not previously appeared in the Italia ’90 qualification.
Dynamics in the respective midfields do not appear to have changed through the two substitutions. Cyprus still work through that diamond-shape of theirs, where Konstantinou continues to sweep behind the central two of Nikolaou and Tsingis, whilst Yiangoudakis probably has a more attacking role since the start of the second half. The Cypriot captain has a knack of getting into fine positions away from opponents, although the defensive nature of their set-up makes sure he’s not found anywhere near as often as he wishes. When he does get on the ball, Yiangoudakis is by far Cyprus’ most creative player. Their next effort on target, though, had come from the recently arrived Tsingis, but his tame shot along the ground from 30 yards did not pose any difficulties whatsoever for Omerović.
Mijatović has slotted straight into Prosinečki’s role as the deeper-lying among the three central midfielders, and he would appear to have some of the same attributes as the fair-haired Red Star man. Prosinečki’s passing ability had probably not been his outstanding feature on this display, as he was hardly allowed to stroke it far, even if he had shown glimpses of his potential. The same could be said for Mijatović, whose main task was also supplying Stojković and Savićević, but he was also allowed to make forward runs into space, something which had been unseen from his predecessor. On 76 minutes, though, it had been too difficult for Mijatović to control Stojković’ pass into the area, as there had been next to no angle on the ball.
Pančev so close again
Yugoslavia have certainly created opportunities to add to their tally, and they will come immensely close once more on 78 minutes, when Pančev yet again is the danger man. The striker had been a menace to the hosts in this second half, and had grown in belief once he’d tucked away that goal early in the half. Perhaps he would often hear how it must have been a pleasure to play as a lone striker in front of such a gifted midfield, but it would appear true, as he got some excellent balls to work with. Not least from the team captain, and it was again Stojković who found Pančev with a lifted ball into the centre for the goal poacher to head onto the right hand post via the ground, before Pittas could boot it away with Kouis still sprawling on the floor.
Nearing the end
The next few minutes are unremarkable, with Yugoslavia continued in possession, however, without trying excessively to threaten Kouis’ goal. They are keen on exploiting that right hand side, where it is now again Stanojković rather than Brnović who operates along with Stojković, although the latter can be seen popping up almost anywhere in an advanced position, as he’s still having a major say in Yugoslav creativity. Mijatović has fallen back into the midfield deep, and is not often seen making advance, although he’s quick in searching for team mates positioned further up the pitch. Škoro also engages in play, even if he’ll still need to act as second or even third fiddle behind their two attacking midfielders.
As for the Cypriots, still just a goal down and approaching the final few minutes, they continue with their counter-attacking approach, clearly realizing that this is the only way they can rattle their illustrious visitors. One long punt downfield from goalkeeper Kouis almost sees Ioannou through, as Yugoslavia are again lenient in pressure inside their own half of the pitch, and there had been a threat from Koliantris again after Pittas’ long, diagonal pass from the left hand side, albeit he’d been whistled off for offside. He would continuously remind the Yugoslav defence of his presence.
What proves to be the third and final substitution of the game belongs to the hosts, with Ioannou coming off for debutant Dimitris Agas. Ioannou had run himself into the ground, as he had had to do plenty of defensive cover work, especially in this second half, and the 30 year old from APOP in the south west corner of the island, would turn out to be a like for like replacement with his predecessor.
Omerović to the rescue
Two minutes from time, Yugoslavia, who have been comfortable for such large portions of the game, need Omerović to bail them out following another foray deep into enemy territory by the hosts, who certainly are not afraid to have a go. Of course, with nothing to lose, the Cypriot team are playing with low shoulders, and one final approach sees Yiangoudakis receive a pass from Miamiliotis some 25 yards away from goal, in the left hand channel. Stanojković, rather than put pressure on the Cyprus skipper, backs towards his own goal, thus giving Yiangoudakis the time and space he needs to take aim for the top right corner. From 22 yards, his shot’s an excellent one, but a huge leap from the ‘keeper, where he ultimately punches the ball away with his left hand, ensures there is no further goals. The hosts had come so close to nicking a late point.
23 seconds into time added on, referee Igna, faultless display, blew his whistle one final time, and at the same time it signalled the end to Yugoslavia’s qualification campaign. 14 points from a possible 16 would’ve been received well, and they could probably gather for a party back home before they started preparations for the World Cup proper. As for Cyprus, they still had an outstanding qualifier ahead of them, namely the away fixture in France, but they could take heart from some committed performances during the qualification, even if they only had a single point yet to show for.
Yugoslavia are gifted an early goal after a big mistake from goalkeeper Kouis, who fails to keep out a simple shot from Stanojković, and the visitors have little wish to settle just for that, and go in search of further moments to enhance their lead. However, they will soon be lulled into a false belief that the job’s done, and Cyprus gleefully accept the invitation back into the game, as sloppy visitors display some dodgy defensive work. The hosts are rewarded with a penalty goal from Pittas after Omerović had ‘done a Schumacher’ on Koliantris, but right from the start in the second half, Yugoslavia look to have an improved mentality, and are rewarded with another early goal, this time through the persistence of Pančev, who will later have another goal disputedly chalked off for offside, and also see a header come back off the upright. Cyprus almost steal a point late from Yiangoudakis’ effort from distance, but Omerović does not want to be beaten a second time.
1 Kouis 6.8
gifted early goal with howler, but would redeem himself, and made a few noteworthy saves. Also proved his worth in coming off his line to deny Savićević in second half
2 Pittas 6.8
would struggle defensively as Yugoslavia would often look to attack down his side, but he showed again his value in coming forward, and came close to an assist when Ioannou’s header smacked off the bar
3 Miamiliotis 6.7
predominantly a defensive focus, but with the opponents less intent on attacking down his flank, he would at times be drawn towards the centre. Fine late initiative saw him hand his captain that shooting opportunity two minutes from time
4 Kastanas 6.2
did his best to keep track with Pančev, but had a mighty struggle, especially after the break, when he would often see his opponent arriving at opportunities
5 Sokratous 6.6
solely a defensive focus in mopping up behind the other defenders. Well positioned, but relatively unremarkable performance
6 Yiangoudakis 7.1
would spearhead midfield in the first half, but would prove more efficient even further ahead after the break. So close to stealing a late point
7 Koliantris 6.8
at times went hiding along his flank, but also proved a threat on the counter through his pace. Flattened by Omerović for the penalty
8 Nikolaou 6.9
a tireless grafter in the centre of the pitch, and also not without qualities in possession
9 Konstantinou 6.6
main task was trying to stop Stojković and also Savićević from arriving too close to Cyprus’ goal, but despite some fine physical presence, he had a big struggle on his hands
10 Petsas 6.3
battled hard, but his passing game was abysmal. A natural player to take off
(13 Tsingis –
relished his central role on this occasion, and had a fine and committed cameo. Good workrate)
11 Ioannou 6.9
saw that second half header come back off the crossbar, and also seemed capable in possession at times. Needed to do plenty of defensive work, especially in the final 45 minutes. Grew tired and came off
(16 Agas –
just had a couple of touches along the left after coming on for his debut late on)
1 Omerović 7.0
too risky in the situation where he conceded the penalty, but dived down bravely to thwart Yiangoudakis first half, and had that late one hand save to preserve the two points
2 Stanojković 7.1
Scored early thanks to a poor goalkeeping error. A willing customer in coming forward, and a useful outlet along the right. Stood off too much defensively
3 Spasić 7.0
in command aerially at the back, and was even played in for some second half attacking contribution
4 Brnović 7.2
versatile performance in which he covered at centre-half and assisted in coming forward along the right, particularly after the break
5 Vulić 7.7
superb awareness defensively, and had pace to burn. Took out necessary depth, and there seemed to be sound thoughts behind his attacking forays, even if they were not many
6 Marović 6.9
relatively quiet along the left, from where Yugoslavia attacked less, but still got into a couple of crossing positions. Defensively would often tussle with the speedy Koliantris
7 Prosinečki 7.1
collected several second balls in advanced positions, and kept the ball moving in the centre of the park
(15 Mijatović –
would continue along the same lines as his predecessor, and certainly displayed composure in that central role)
8 Savićević 7.2
drifted in and out of the game, and did not sacrifice a whole lot for the team defensively from his midfield position, but a big threat when inspired and coming forward
9 Pančev 7.8
a massive thorn in Cyprus’ side, especially in a very good second half performance, and could’ve added to his 49th minute goal. Maybe even unlucky to have that third ‘goal’ called off. Showed plenty of appetite
10 Stojković 7.5
another who didn’t bother so much in tracking back, but would at times orchestrate Yugoslavia’s attacking play with his superb flair and vision. Three shots off target, and some corner kicks which went too far
11 Škoro 6.8
apt technically, but did not quite seem to find his place between midfield and the lone striker. On this performance not too useful