Stojković shines in fluid midfield four
14 June 1989
Ullevaal stadion, Oslo
Ref.: Vadim Zhuk (SOV)
On the back of two good victories over the last month, Norway welcomed Yugoslavia to this 1990 qualifier. Ingvar Stadheim’s men had convincingly defeated Cyprus, before notably hammering Austria 4-1 – both at their home venue Ullevaal stadium, situated north to the city centre of Oslo. Less would have been expected before this match, however, as Yugoslavia – despite only 2nd on the table – had been perhaps the most impressive team in qualification group 5 so far.
Norway team news
New-found confidence in Stadheim’s team, as they over the last month had beaten Cyprus 3-1 and Austria 4-1. Admittedly, these two score lines probably didn’t reflect the amount of chances created, as Norway had been lethally effective, but still two convincing wins. Still, it was probably the summit of Stadheim’s career as national manager so far.
There were still a few worries and doubts for Stadheim before the team selection here. He needed a deputy for 1st choice goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt, who was injured. Ola By Rise had been unused goalkeeper substitute in the previous four qualifiers, and was, as expected, named in the starting line-up here. His cover would here be Thor André Olsen (Molde). Notably, they had each played 45 minutes in the recent B friendly against England.
In defence, Stadheim had revealed before the game that he was uncertain whether to pick experienced head Terje Kojedal or the younger and quicker Erland Johnsen. Although not certain about his choice, he had finally opted for the former. Stadheim also welcomed back Rune Bratseth, who had just in time recovered from a knock that had put him out of contention for a couple of Bundesliga games and the fixture against Austria.
Wide midfielder Karl-Petter Løken was quickly emerging as the most valuable Norwegian player: he was top scorer in the domestic league and had had a brilliant game against Austria. He was however carrying a minor leg injury and there were fears that he wouldn’t be able to last the entire game. Stadheim’s emergency plan had been to use Simen Agdestein (usually a forward) in Løken’s wide position, although the Lyn forward also was a contender for one of the two striker positions. Stadheim moreover kept with Ørjan Berg, Kjetil Osvold and Jahn Ivar Jakobsen. Tom Sundby (long-term) and Kai Erik Herlovsen were both injured.
Up front, Stadheim continued with the partnership between Gøran Sørloth and Jan Åge Fjørtoft. This despite the call from parts of media to give Agdestein a starting berth next to Sørloth.
Yugoslavia team news
Continuity for Ivica Osim, who was able to field the same team that comfortably had seen out a 0-0 draw in Paris on 29 April. 5-4-1 seems to have become Osim’s favoured formation by now. That formation had worked very well in Paris, where Osim’s game plan had been cautious and intent on frustrating the opponents. Could it work also in a match where they were expect to be more proactive?
There were however a couple of new names on the substitutes’ bench that should draw our attention: central defender Budimir Vujačić and forward Dragan Jakovljević. Central defender Vujačić had earned his first cap as a sub against Belgium some weeks earlier and was a key member of the Vojvodina side that surprisingly had won the domestic league the 88-89 season.
|1 Ola By Rise||28||Rosenborg|
|2 Gunnar Halle||23||Lillestrøm|
|3 Terje Kojedal||31||Ham-Kam|
|4 Rune Bratseth||28||Werder Bremen|
|5 Anders Giske (c)||29||1 FC Nürnberg|
|6 Kjetil Osvold||28||PAOK|
|7 Karl Petter Løken||22||Rosenborg|
|8 Ørjan Berg||sub 83′||20||Rosenborg|
|9 Jan Åge Fjørtoft||21||Lillestrøm|
|10 Gøran Sørloth||sub 63′||26||Mönchenbladbach|
|11 Jahn Ivar Jakobsen||23||Rosenborg|
|12 Thor André Olsen||25||Molde|
|13 Simen Agdestein||on 63′||22||Lyn|
|14 Tom Gulbrandsen||on 83′||25||Lillestrøm|
|15 Erland Johnsen||22||Bayern München|
|16 Stig Inge Bjørnebye||19||Kongsvinger|
|1 Tomislav Ivković||28||Genk|
|2 Vujadin Stanojković||25||Vardar Skopje|
|3 Predrag Spasić||24||Partizan|
|4 Srecko Katanec||25||VfB Stuttgart|
|5 Faruk Hadžibegić||31||Sochaux|
|6 Davor Jozić||17’+68’=||28||Cesena|
|7 Zoran Vujović||30||Cannes|
|8 Safet Sušić||sub 73′||34||Paris SG|
|9 Mehmed Baždarević||28||Sochaux|
|10 Dragan Stojković||24||Crvena Zvezda|
|11 Zlatko Vujović (c)||30||Cannes|
|12 Fahrudin Omerović||27||Partizan|
|13 Dragoljub Brnović||25||Partizan|
|14 Budimir Vujačić||on 73′||25||Vojvodina Novi Sad|
|15 Dejan Savićević||22||Crvena Zvezda|
|16 Dragan Jakovljević||27||Sarajevo|
1st half: Match report and analysis
Yugoslavia dominating midfield
The 1st half was probably one of Dragan Stojković’s finest performances in the 1990 qualification.
Stojković was still nominally a right wide midfielder in this tactical line-up, but deliberately played more in the central zone than we have seen earlier in the qualifiers. Drifting into the middle, Yugoslavia at times had a 4 v 2 advantage in that area, completely overloading confused Norwegian midfielders.
Havoc was at times total in this 1st half for the Norwegians. Norway’s pressing attempts didn’t do them any favours. Berg and Osvold were clearly instructed to close down Yugoslavia’s two playmakers, Stojković and Sušić, also when these two went deep to collect the ball. There was no team structure in Norway’s pressing, however, and Berg’s and Osvold’s pressing only created gaps in midfield as Yugoslavia as easy as nothing combined their way forward. Berg and Osvold were perhaps showing the right level of tenacity in closing down, but there was no team unit here.
The wide midfielders (Løken and Jakobsen) moreover had to tuck in to support the central midfielders defending, hence leaving openings in the wide positions for Yugoslavia to exploit through their wing backs. In this way, Yugoslavia were always able to stretch their opponents by switching play from one side to another. In particular Stojković and Baždarević are experts in this dimension of the game.
Notes on the midfield
Again, Stojković was the key player here, expertly making vertical runs with the ball that carved Norway’s midfield open and exposed their defence.
Katanec, who so far in the qualification has acted as the team’s second centre-forward when Yugoslavia get into the final third, was far more reluctant shuttling forward in this game. The plan here might have been for him to focus on combative play and avoid attacking intents, as Yugoslavia played more on the ground here, perhaps intentionally avoiding aerial tussles with the Norwegian central defence.
The duo Katanec and Baždarević provided ample cover for the central defence as Osvold and Berg posed little threat. Italia1990.com have previously highlighted the somewhat weak Norwegian central midfield. There is a lack of physical presence, and seemingly nobody able to make a calm or incisive pass in the injury absence of Tom Sundby. Ørjan Berg was moreover allegedly in poor form. But Katanec and Baždarević also needed to support their wing-backs, and this is perhaps where Osim’s 5-4-1 runs a risk.
Sušić as usual played on the top of Yugoslavia’s midfield.
0-1 (21′) Stojković free-kick
21 minutes into the 1st half, Yugoslavia took the lead through Stojković, who curled a free kick into the top corner. The free kick had been given just outside of the penalty area, and Norwegian goalkeeper Ola By Rise later admitted that he found it difficult to decide which post to cover. In the end he opted to cover the far post, trusting his wall; Stojković did however place the shot at the near post.
The free-kick was conceded by Terje Kojedal, who resorted to illegal means to stop Zlatko Vujović breaking forward. Baždarević had picked up a loose ball in his own half and with one of his trademark ambitious passes started a counter attack by releasing Zlatko Vujović on the left flank. Vujović had managed to escape the attention of Rune Bratseth who was well into the opposition half, and quickly found himself with only Kojedal to beat before being one-on-one with goalkeeper By Rise.
Norway were exposing themselves somewhat at the back when going forward, not the least since Bratseth so often joined attack. Bratseth is a real asset for Norway going forward, but this leaves Norway not only short at the back, but also left with their slowest player, Terje Kojedal.
Norway’s direct approach
Stadheim had recently converted to an orthodox 4-4-2; a formation designed for a direct approach. The two Norwegian strikers are both strong and able to hold up the ball well; especially Sørloth is strong with his back to goal.
The Yugoslavian defence tended to sit very deep in this match, more so than in their previous qualifiers. But why was that? A deep defence can be useful against teams with quick attackers, as they can play passes over the defence. But Norway were constantly targeting their forwards for headers, or playing into their feet. And as the Norwegian strikers at times were successful in winning possession, Norways frequently managed to establish some play high up the pitch – causing worries for Yugoslavia’s defence whenever Fjørtoft or Sørloth managed to hold up the ball.
The deep defensive line played it into the hands of Norway, for whom direct approach was a very attractive option.
Norway’s problem was the next step – there were no late arrivals from the central midfielders, few initiatives from the wide players. There were just no movement that could exploit the possible knock-downs.
Løken under par, Bratseth excelling
Norway do potentially have a very decent partnership on their right hand side between Karl-Petter Løken and Gunnar Halle.
Løken was however less prolific than suggested by his latest performances for club and national team, and he may have been hampered by the injury that had made him a doubt before the match. Halle, however, was adventurous and played higher up the pitch than his counterpart Giske, also getting into good positions either going outside or inside. This suggested that Yugoslavia’s 5-4-1 system may experience problems picking up full-backs shuttling forward. While very compact in the central zone, they can be short in the wide areas.
Exceptionally, Norway’s most dangerous player going forward was central defender Rune Bratseth, who at times showed his class. The acclaimed Werder Bremen libero has terrific pace and is able to carry the ball forward quickly and start attacks.
2nd half: Match report and analysis
A more even contest
The 2nd half was far more evenly contested than the opening 45 minutes. In comparison, Norway were now able to keep more possession of the ball, and even had spells when they managed to put Yugoslavia under pressure and refused them time on the ball.
Had Osim changed to a more reactive style of play, focusing on men behind the ball and counter-attacking opportunities? Or were his team simply pegged back by Norwegian direct play and better pressing? There is probably more to the second hypothesis. Norway’s pressing was clearly more organised and synchronised in the 2nd half, as they now pressed the opponent as a team. So much had been ruined for Norway with their one-man pressing in the 1st half; Stadheim had apparently made vital instructions in the break.
On numerous occasions the Norwegians managed to re-win possession inside the opponents’ half, meaning that they sustained the pressure and enjoyed longer spells of possession. There was a higher number of physical battles now, and Norway profited from that. As a result, they refused Yugoslavia to play their way out of defence.
Despite struggling more to play their way out, Yugoslavia still produced good attacking movements. They were committing fewer men when going forward, however, mainly attacking through a front trio of Zlatko Vujović, Sušić and Stojković. The latter was still the player behind most of Yugoslavia’s attacking efforts in midfield, but he also seemed frustrated by being kicked down a few times.
Norway’s most dangerous asset remained set-pieces, however, and they created two good goal scoring opportunities in the opening minutes of the 2nd half – one from a long throw-in by Halle, one from an Anders Giske free-kick into the penalty area.
Norway’s biggest threat in open play came from their ability to hoist long balls into the box from different angles.
Pushing full-backs Anders Giske and Gunnar Halle forward, they seemingly always had someone to put a cross into the box, although usually from a deep position. Yugoslavia have most of their interest in the central area, and although the idea evidently is for Baždarević and Katanec to offer protection to their wing-backs, they could look vulnerable in the wide areas when the opposition full-backs shuttled forward to assist the wide midfielder.
Gunnar Halle had willingly joined Løken in the attack in the 1st half, and the 2nd half saw left full-back Anders Giske growing into one of the main figures of the contest. He didn’t enjoy the same relationship with Jakobsen as Halle had with Løken, but showed that he is brave on the ball and possesses a cultured left foot. With Halle still dynamic and Giske joining attack, Norway continuously found good angles for pumping the ball into the box.
A good strategy that Norway developed during the course of the 2nd half, was to hit balls into the spaces behind left wing-back Zoran Vujović. Jozić sitting deep and Zoran Vujović shuttling forward, there was bound to be spaces for Norway to exploit. Battle between two very mobile players, Zoran Vujović and Gunnar Halle.
Able to work the ball into the box, Stadheim only needed his strikers to win the decisive battles to create openings for Norway. The Ullevaal crowd (which btw. was directly encouraged by the stadium speaker to do the Mexican wave) were on two occasions chanting the name of Lyn player Simen Agdestein, who was seen warming up down the touchline. There had been debates in Norwegian media about whether Agdestein should start the match, although Stadheim in the end decided to stick with the partnership of Sørloth and Fjørtoft.
The change between Sørloth and Agdestein had been a like for like replacement, and although Agdestein evidently was a much fancied player among the Ullevaal audiences, his performance would prove disappointing.
Jozic sent off, Yugoslavia put men behind the ball
Yugoslavia went down to 10 men in the 68th minute of the game, as Jozić was sent off for his second bookable offence.
The libero had already been shown a yellow card in the 1st half for a challenge on Jakobsen, and when he upended Løken, who had found acres of space down the right flank (behind Zoran Vujović, see above), Soviet referee Zhuk had no choice but to issue a second booking.
As a consequence, Norway completely dominated the final 20 minutes of the game, while the visitors from now on focussed entirely on keeping men behind the ball and clear long balls.
After Józic was sent off, Osim replaced the fading Safet Sušić with defender Budimir Vujačić, signalling that he wanted a purely defensive display for the rest of the match – a 5-3-1 formation. Taking off Sušić made sense, as he was the least effectual of Yugoslavia’s players with attacking instructions; Zlatko Vujović was instrumental due to his work rote upfront, Stojkovic had given a man of the match performance . . . Sušić was participant in a few counter attacks, but generally faded out in the physical battles of the 2nd half.
Frantic end to the contest (0–2 and 1–2)
Despite their one-man advantage and dominance, Norway failed to create much after Jozić’s expulsion. However, as the game looked certain to peter out to 0-1, each team scored a goal in quick succession during the final 5 minutes of the game.
0-2 (88′): Having made a successful block to an attempted cross from Osvold inside his own half, Zlatko Vujović was able to mount a one-man counter-attack with no opponent in sight. Osvold was effectively Norway’s last man, as their defenders had taken up positions in the wide areas, assuming that Osvold not possibly could waste the ball. He did, however, and with no cover in the central area, Vujović quickly accelerated to face Ola By Rise in the Norwegian goal, whom he rounded to score (despite a late effort by Osvold to catch up). 0-2.
1-2 (89′): Straight after the goal, Yugoslavia again fell deep and repeatedly failed to clear the ball properly. In the end, Ørjan Berg lifted the ball over the defence in the direction of Jan Åge Fjørtoft on the shoulder of the Yugoslavian defence. From a seemingly impossible angle, Fjørtoft somehow managed to steer the ball into the far corner with a powerful header. Can be argued that the technique behind this goal was even more sublime than that of Stojković’s.
Osim’s fluid 5-4-1 formation again gave results, here against an opponent where attack was more required than against France six weeks earlier. Stojković was again the main player in this system, and enjoyed an even more free role than usually. Norway just couldn’t cope in the 1st half, and the Yugoslavian wing-backs were good at exploiting the spaces created by the midfielders.
Yugoslavia were defending deep, however, and this invited Norwegian pressure through long balls. As Norway managed to coordinate their pressing and involved in more physical battles all around the pitch after the break, they also did cause Yugoslavia to sweat more than expected. There are also question marks around how robust Yugoslavia are defending their wide areas; do the wing backs have sufficient protection? The expulsion of libero Jozić will cause Osim some worries before their next qualifier.
1 By Rise 6.5
2 Halle 7.0
3 Kojedal 6.9
4 Bratseth 7.2
5 Giske 6.7
6 Osvold 6.2
7 Løken 6.5
8 Berg 6.4
(14 Gulbrandsen -)
9 Fjørtoft 6.8
10 Sørloth 6.7
11 Jakobsen 6.4
1 Ivković 6.3
2 Stanojković 6.8
3 Spasić 6.9
4 Katanec 7.0
5 Hadzibegic 6.7
6 Jozić 6.6
7 Zo. Vujović 6.9
8 Sušić 6.7
(14 Vujačić -)
9 Stojković 7.6
10 Baždarević 7.1
11 Zl. Vujović 7.4