The situation was getting critical for France in group 5. Platini's reign had brought with it some improvements, but they were still short of points. For this home fixture in Paris, France welcomed Yugoslavia, which probably had been the most impressive team in the group so far.
France team news
There was a rendezvous here with the 4-3-3 formation that has served Platini quite well last time France played Yugoslavia, away in Belgrade in November 1988. His favoured formation had otherwise been 5-3-2.
The key idea for Platini seems in any case to be that of dominating the central area through a trio of midfielders. This evening, he had selected Sauzée, Blanc and Durand for that purpose, referring Thierry Laurey to the substitutes bench despite a decent performance as pivot against Scotland in February.
The formation could perhaps also be described as a lopsided 4-4-2, as Blanc's role in this match has been dubbed as false wide midfielder, accordingly placing left wide player Perez in midfield instead of attack. Blanc's positioning and role interpretation can however be up for discussion, and we have described this as a 4-3-3. Up front, there was also target man Stéphane Paille, who had been man of the match in Belgrade, and Xuereb, as inside forward.
There were also a few players missing: Jean-Pierre Papin, Jean Tigana and Daniel Bravo were all unavailable due to injury.
Yugoslavia team news
A five man defence seems to have become Osim's preference at this point, not only against tougher opponents (Yugoslavia also played 5-3-2 against Cyprus at home). This defensive quintet would invariably include Jozic, Hadzibegic, Stanojkovic, Spasic and one more player, with the uncertainty related to who would act as left back: either Spasic or the fifth defender. Osim's choice for this match would be utility man Zoran Vujović. He thus kept the same defensive line-up that he had fielded in their last international, against Greece in April, only switching the positions of Vujović and Spasic.
A four man midfield also seemed the natural choice as Osim once again had both Stojkovic, Susic, Bazdarevic and Katanec available. He had been employing a 5-3-2 lately, but always with one out of these four missing. With all four available, 5-4-1 only seemed the obvious choice. It did also make sense from a tactical point of view, as Platini is known for wanting to play through the middle, fielding a three man strong central midfield.
This left Osim with one forward, Zoran Vujovic. Dejan Savicevic, who had enjoyed an international breakthrough in these qualifiers, was out injured, and was not considered for this game.
According to our sources, Yugoslavia only named four substitutes for this match (we will leave open the possibility that this might be incorrect).
|1 Joël Bats||32||Paris SG|
|2 Manuel Amoros (c)||27||Monaco|
|3 Luc Sonor||26||Monaco|
|4 Basile Boli||26'||22||Auxerre|
|5 Patrick Battiston||32||Monaco|
|6 Franck Sauzée||23||Marseille|
|7 Daniel Xuereb||sub 77'||29||Paris SG|
|8 Jean-Philippe Durand||sub HT||28||Toulouse|
|9 Stéphane Paille||24||Sochaux|
|10 Laurent Blanc||23||Montpellier|
|11 Christian Perez||25||Paris SG|
|12 William Prunier||21||Auxerre|
|13 Didier Deschamps||on 77'||20||Nantes|
|14 Thierry Laurey||25||Sochaux|
|15 Christophe Cocard||on HT||21||Auxerre|
|16 Bruno Martini||27||Auxerre|
|1 Tomislav Ivković||28||Genk|
|2 Vujadin Stanojković||25||Vardar|
|3 Predrag Spasić||23||Partizan|
|4 Srecko Katanec||20'||25||VfB Stuttgart|
|5 Faruk Hadžibegić||31||Sochaux|
|6 Davor Jozić||27||Cesena|
|7 Zoran Vujović||30||Cannes|
|8 Safet Sušić||34||Paris SG|
|9 Mehmed Baždarević||28||Sochaux|
|10 Dragan Stojković||24||Crvena Zvezda|
|11 Zlatko Vujović (c)||sub 87'||30||Cannes|
|12 Fahrudin Omerović||27||Partizan|
|13 Dragoljub Brnović||on 87'||25||Partizan|
|14 Dragan Jakovljević||27||Sarajevo|
|15 Semir Tuce||25||Velež Mostar|
Match report and analysis
For the first time during Platini's reign, France were now expected to attack a deep-lying opponent. and they happened to face a cautious and pragmatic Yugoslavian side. The end result was a disappointing one. The 1st half of this match was probably one of duller performances we have seen in the 1990 qualifiers, as France looked devoid of ideas and Yugoslavia happy to resist with their cautious game plan.
Platini has let media know that his philosophy is to have a strong presence in the central areas by building up from behind and dominating the midfield area. Osim had taken due measures as Yugoslavia without the ball were lining up in a very defensive 5-4-1, packing the midfield zone with four players: three central and Stojković tucking in when necessary.
The congested midfield area meant that neither Durand, Blanc or Sauzée found much time on the ball, and they frequently gave the ball away. Durand was the pivot in the French midfield, and as such expected to contribute more to dictating the tempo of the game. He would often drop deep to pick up the ball, but failed to do much of interest with the ball. Incisive passes from the midfield area remained a big lack throughout this game for the French, as Yugoslavia managed to shut it down.
French attempts to build upon from behind was further complicated by the poor passing quality from their defence. A player like Sonor is known to be a very poor passer and little was expected from him, but it was disappointing to see Battiston's passivity this evening. The veteran defender seemed happy to act as deep-lying cover, and did little to transport the ball forward. Boli and Amoros were no better than Sonor. With the French midfielders surrounded and closed down, Platini would have needed to get his full-backs getting forward, but Amoros' did too little (and didn't have the best understanding with winger Perez) while Sonor doesn't quite have the necessary attacking abilities.
Xuereb and Perez finding openings
Platini's game plan seemed undermined as they were unable to provide support to their front trio. Despite the lack of support and struggles to bring the ball into the final third, France had two danger men upfront in Xuereb and Perez.
Both Xuereb and Perez proved difficult to pick up for the Yugoslavian defenders, demonstrating how a 5 man defence can be vulnerable against a 3 man attack. Inside forward Xuereb was running the channels with his vertical movement, using the width of the pitch, and the lateral central defenders seemed unsure how to cope with him. Wide man Perez was up against Stanojkovic, with whom he had had a good tussle in Belgrade. His movement too was multi-dimensional, challenging the Yugoslavian full-back by either using pace down the flank or cutting inside.
Their intelligent, unpredictable movement provided the few openings that France created in the 1st half. The misery of Platini was that the team's support for these two players was so poor, as they really seemed to be able to unsettle the Yugoslavian defence.
Crucially, the third French forward, Stéphane Paille, caused Yugoslavia fewer worries. Osim had this time designated Spasic as man-marker for Paille, relieving Hadzibegovic (who had been clearly inferior to Paille in Belgrade) from this task. Platini is no opponent of a more direct approach, and having Paille in the team means that France should have a player capable of winning aerial tussles high up the pitch. France continued playing direct balls in the direction of Paille, but Spasic showed himself very able in matching the French striker in these situations.
Osim's pragmatic approach
Osim's side delivered what probably was the perfect game away from home. His formation was designed to cancel out the French midfield and Paille, and apart from the potential risk represented by Xuereb and Perez, they coped very well.
As the 1st half wore on, it became clear that Yugoslavia had managed to find a good balance between defensive security and attacking risk. They generally looked comfortable with men behind the ball, sitting with a deep defensive line, and they were rapid when breaking forward. Especially through Stojković on the right flank and forward Zlatko Vujović. The latter has blistering acceleration, and expertly positioned himself to catch the French defenders on the break.
Another factor to Yugoslavia's success, is that they showed themselves as a shrewd side when it comes to time-wasting: provoking free-kicks, taking their time in set piece situations, numerous back passes to goalkeeper Ivković, and finishing attacks instead of getting caught in possession. They showed admirable smartness in these situations which effectively drained any tempo in the game and made France's ambitious game plan more difficult.
0-0 at half-time seemed inevitable, and there really were no big goal scoring opportunities or even shots at target during the first 45 minutes.
Half-time: Platini changes to 4-4-2
During an interview right after the 1st half had been whistled off, Platini told French media that he was reasonably happy with the team tactics so far, although he was preparing a substitution. When France reappeared after the break, he had made a change switching to a standard 4-4-2 formation by taking off Durand and replacing him with uncapped Christian Cocard (Auxerre). Platini has so far been very loyal to the idea of having three central midfielders, and the decision to play 4-4-2 was a first in his reign.
France had been poor in the 1st half, but they were miserable after changing to 4-4-2. Platini's idea behind the change might have been to use a more direct approach and to play through the wide areas, avoiding Yugoslavia's heavy presence in the middle of the field, but the outcome could hardly have been worse.
France did not enjoy any spell of pressure or produce a single good attacking movement for the first 30 minutes after half-time. There was no presence in the central midfield area, no threat in the wide areas, more fruitless long balls in the direction of Paille and any counter-attacking opportunity they were given was quickly wasted.
France's best moments in the 1st half had been through Perez and Xuereb finding pockets of space, but they both disappeared from the game after the break. Perez found himself in less advanced positions and under tight marking, and Xuereb was easily picked up by one of Yugoslavia's three central defenders.
Paille and Cocard
Paille ought to have had a good game if France were to succeed with 4-4-2, but he remained frustratingly ineffective – in stark contrast to his performance in the same role in Belgrade. He was the target of hopeful long balls from the deep, and although he did win a few duels against Spasić, he constantly offered one-twos and knock-downs that his teammates seemed unable to anticipate. Thus, any won header was soon wasted.
At times, France were painful to watch this 2nd half, and nobody had a more miserable evening than poor Cocard. The Auxerre man repeatedly tried to take on defenders, but his efforts were all unsuccessful and he did seem somewhat nervous on the occasion.
France would have needed something extra to break down a very cautious and disciplined Yugoslavian side, such as extensive support from the full-backs. Amoros and Sonor do however have their limitations when going forward. True, Amoros, does willingly shuttle forward from his left back position, but it's more tenacity and will than an idea behind his runs. And he didn't seem to have much of a report with Perez. Consequently, Perez and Cocard were usually left to manage on their own.
Yugoslavia more and more comfortable
Increasingly desperate during the course of the 2nd half, France were conceding large amounts of space inside their own half. Yugoslavia, being one of the better counting attacking sides in Europe, were ready to exploit the opportunities given to them.
It was not necessarily the case that Yugoslavia committed that many players when breaking forward. They did however have the players capable of taking these opportunities, and the key players here remained Zl. Vujović and Stojković. The two were involved in the best opportunity of the game, when Stojković found acres of space on the left hand side, exploiting large swaths of turf without a French player in sight. Approaching the goal area, he played a delightful pass with the outside of his boot, curling the ball to the onrushing Zl. Vujović (and Katanec), who couldn't connect properly one on one with Bats.
Sušić had a less prolific evening than Stojković, and couldn't seem to escape the attention of Boli. The often undervalued Baždarević did however enjoy a good match orchestrating the Yugoslavian midfield from his deeper position: He provides grit to Yugoslavia's midfield, but is also important due to his ambitious passing, often using the length and width of the pitch. Many an attacking movement from the guests started with Baždarević switching play. It can be argued that he was the real playmaker of Yugoslavia here, leaving the more advanced involvements to Stojković.
Other than that, Yugoslavia continued drawing fouls and generally killing the tempo of the game.
. . . Platini reverts to 4-3-3
14 minutes before the full time, Platini decided it was time to scrap 4-4-2 and go back to 4-3-3 with which he had started the match. If there had been few positives before the break, there had been none after the switch to 4-4-2.
The reversion was effectuated by Platini bringing on Didier Deschamps for his first cap, replacing the faded Xuereb.
France ended the match as an improved side. Perhaps due to the formation change, but certainly also because of the introduction of Deschamps, who managed to enliven the crowd. He opened his international career with a fierce challenge on the ball which was followed by a few involvements that helped France establish some presence in the final third. France played their best football in the last 10 minutes or so.
It was too little, too late however.
France finally record their first point under Platini, but the performance is well below expectations. Both the line-up and formation seemed optimal based on what we have seen under Platini's reign so far, but the outcome is a poor one. France were struggling in the 1st half as they failed to provide much support for their three forwards, with their midfield effectively canceled out by a compact Yugoslavian side. Direct passes to Paille fail, but intelligent movement from Perez and Xuereb still caused some openings. The change to 4-4-2 in the 2nd half was catastrophic, and France only managed to exert some pressure after reverting to 4-3-3 and introducing Deschamps.
Yugoslavia were disciplined and managed to find a sound balance between safety and calculated risks, and almost nicked it through one of their many dangerous counter attacks in the 2nd half against a high French defensive line.
1 Bats 7.0
2 Amoros 6.7
3 Sonor 6.7
4 Boli 6.6
5 Battiston 6.7
6 Sauzée 6.7
7 Xuereb 6.9
(13 Deschamps –)
8 Durand 6.5
(15 Cocard 6.1)
9 Paille 6.4
10 Blanc 6.5
11 Perez 6.7
1 Ivković 6.6
2 Stanojković 6.7
3 Spasić 7.0
4 Katanec 7.1
5 Hadzibegic 6.6
6 Jozić 7.1
7 Zo. Vujović 6.8
8 Sušić 6.7
9 Stojković 7.5
10 Baždarević 7.1
11 Zl. Vujović 7.2
(13 Brnović –)