Savićević inspires late win for Yugoslavia

Spasić (12′)
Sušić (76′)
Stojković (82′)


Perez (3′)
Sauzée (68′)

1990 World Cup qualification
UEFA – Group 5
Video: Full match
Stadion JNA, Belgrade
Att.: 7,489
19 November 1988
Kick-off: –
Referee: Erik Fredriksson (SWE)
L1: Christer Drottz (SWE)
L2: Bo Karlsson (SWE)

Match preview

This much anticipated qualifier was headlined by the return of familiar faces in both teams. The visitors France had recently appointed Michel Platini as new national manager in the wake of sacking Henri Michel after the dismal 1-1 draw in Cyprus. Platini, hoping to bring renewed optimism to a French team that had struggled since Mexico’86, had been successful in bringing former teammate Jean Tigana out of international retirement for this encounter in Belgrade. Yugoslavia had started their qualifiers with a decent 1-1 draw against Scotland, and on their part also looked strengthened by welcoming back Safet Sušić, who had not appeared for the national team since the European Championships in 1984.


Yugoslavia team news

While France appeared strengthened by old favourites in Platini and Tigana, Osim was himself able to field a returning hero in Safet Sušić. The PSG playmaker had not played for the national team since 1984, when he had retired from international football. While now 33 years of age, Sušić was still considered one of the most gifted midfielders in European football.

Sušić had received a French passport on 1 November 1988, and it was only fitting that his first cap in more than four years would be against the nation in which he had been plying his trade since 1982 for Paris Saint-Germain.

The return of Sušić meant that Osim had to change things somewhat: How to accommodate Sušić and Dragan Stojković in the same side? Osim’s solution would be a lopsided 4-4-2: Sušić spearheading a trio of central midfielders next to Katanec and Baždarević, with Stojković playing as a wide midfielder. Thus, yet a new formation from the flexible Osim. The line-up was however essentially the same as had drawn against Scotland, only seeing defender Radanović making way for Sušić.

The omitted Radanović was an experienced performer at this level, but – whether injured or not – probably behind Jozić and Hadžibegić in the pecking order among the central defenders.

As for the substitutes bench, it is known that Osim contemplated playing Gordan Petrić instead of Spasić, but he eventually decided to stick to the latter (who by the way would play at the ground of his club side). More attacking options for Osim this time around, as he included forwards Radmilo Mihajlović and Dejan Savićević.

Dejan Savićević had signed for Crvena Zvezda in the summer, but had been called in to serve in the army immediately after, and was only given permission to play continental club matches and  for the national team. Savićević was therefore hardly match fit. He had moreover yet to appear for Yugoslavia this autumn, his previous appearance being against Italy in March 1988.

France team news

The major headline before this game was the debut of Michel Platini as national coach of France. The disastrous draw in Cyprus had been Henri Michel’s undoing, and Platini – without any experience as a coach – was appointed 1 November 1988. As a manager, Platini was therefore somewhat of an unknown quality.

Platini opted for a 4-3-3 formation, not dissimilar from the one Michel and France had used in their first qualifier, against Norway (h).

The most eye-catching thing about the French line-up was without doubt the inclusion of Jean Tigana, the brilliant midfielder who had not played for the national team since June 1987. He had been recalled here by Platini to boost the French team, whose pride had been abased in Cyprus. Perhaps his presence could lift the team to some of its former glory? The decision to recall Tigana was not met with approval by all members of the squad however; experienced players Bats and Amoros criticised Platini’s choice which they felt implied a retrogression for the team. Anyway, Tigana went straight into the first team line-up as the pivot of the midfield, pairing up with Sauzée and Dib in the half-spaces.

There were more changes in the attacking department from Platini, who here appears to have preferred in-form striker Stéphane Paille to Jean-Pierre Papin (sitting on the substitutes bench). Platini’s line-up also gave left winger Christian Perez his first cap for France after impressing for PSG. On the right hand side, Jean-Marc Ferreri would receive his 27th cap, but the first in the qualification so far.

Yugoslavia (4–4–2)

1 Tomislav Ivković28KRC Genk
2 Vujadin Stanojković25Vardar Skopje
3 Predrag Spasić 35′
Sub 54′
4 Srečko Katanec 60′25VfB Stuttgart
5 Davor Jozić28Cesena
6 Faruk Hadžibegić 61′31Sochaux
7 Dragan Stojković23Crvena Zvezda
8 Safet Sušić33Paris Saint-Germain
9 Borislav CvetkovićSub 70′26Ascoli
10 Mehmed Baždarević 87′28Sochaux
11 Zlatko Vujović (c)30Cannes
12 Fahrudin Omerović27Partizan
13 Goran JurićOn 54′25Crvena Zvezda
14 Refik Šabanadžović23Crvena Zvezda
15 Dejan SavićevićOn 70′22Crvena Zvezda
16 Radmilo Mihajlović24Dinamo Zagreb
Manager: Ivica Osim

France (4–3–3)

1 Joël Bats31Paris Saint-Germain
2 Manuel Amoros 57′26Olympique Marseille
3 Sylvain Kastendeuch25Metz
4 Basile Boli 35′21Auxerre
5 Alain Roche21Bordeaux
6 Franck Sauzée23Olympique Marseille
7 Marcel Dib28Monaco
8 Jean Tigana33Bordeaux
9 Stéphane Paille23Sochaux
10 Jean-Marc FerreriSub 78′25Bordeaux
11 Christian PerezSub 69′25Paris Saint-Germain
12 Jean-Christophe Thouvenel30Bordeaux
13 Eric Guérit24Monaco
14 Daniel BravoOn 69′25Paris Saint-Germain
15 Jean-Pierre PapinOn 78′25Olympique Marseille
16 Bruno Martini26Auxerre
Manager: Michel Platini

Tactical line-ups



Match report – 1st half

While Yugoslavia always looked the more threatening team, Platini had a good game plan that ensured that France also had their opportunities. In particular the 1st half was an entertaining, open affair, and the spectacle opened with two early goals:

0-1: Platini’s perfect start

Only 3 minutes into the game, France took an early lead, the goal produced by two of the players that Platini had brought into the team, Jean Tigana and Christian Perez.

The attack leading up to the goal was admirable, as the French managed to play through the home side’s aggressive pressing on the right hand side. Yugoslavia were resorting to hard tackling all evening, but here a couple of rash, failed attempts allowed French technicians – led by Tigana – to advance.

The assist from Tigana to Perez was only successful, however, because of a blatant error by Yugoslavian full back Stanojković. Tigana’s pass in the direction of Perez wasn’t the best and looked destined to be hoofed away easily by Stanojković, only for the latter to miskick and see the ball fall into the feet of Perez. Perez, who had lurked behind the back of Stanojković, made no mistake one-on-one with the goalkeeper to score a goal on his debut.

1-1: Quick equalizer with Spasić’s headed goal

The equalizer was always coming, however, as Yugoslavia put much pressure on the French defence immediately after the goal.

A free-kick was swung in from near the corner flag by Stojković and met by the head of left back Spasić, who beat his marker Boli soundly in the air. 1-1 after 12 minutes. (Let’s not forget that Osim had contemplated playing Jurić instead of Spasić ahead of this match).

The free-kick itself could easily have been avoided, however, if not an aggressive Amoros had made a reckless tackle on Stanojković who was shielding the ball with his back toward the French goal. The Yugoslavian full back was finding himself in a deadlock near the corner flag, and any tackle was unwise in the situation. Amoros offers much to France’s defence with his tenacity, but here he would have needed to keep his head more cool.

Sušić and Stojković

The 1st half was played at a high tempo with openings for both teams, but Yugoslavia dominated possession and created more and better goal-scoring opportunities than the visitors did.

The majority of their opportunities were created from set-pieces, but their open play was overall of high quality too. Much attention prior to this match had been given to how Osim would accommodate Sušić and Stojković in the same team. He eventually decided to play Sušić as a central midfielder and Stojković as an advanced wide midfielder to the right hand side.

Sušić was varying his position, sometimes coming deep to collect the ball (and with defensive duties in the midfield trio), but quickly moved forward to search any space between the lines. His attempts at combination play with forward Cvetković could become somewhat narrow, but he was generally good in transitions (and at set-pieces). Sušić was mainly operating in the narrow, congested middle where France had three midfielders; especially Dib could however concede spaces when closing down.

Due to France’s relative narrowness, there were occasional situations where the two Yugoslavian wide players found themselves in promising 1v1s against the opposing full-back. Zl. Vujović – although otherwise quiet – singlehandedly created a couple of good chances after taking on man-marker Boli, and Stojković repeatedly dribbled past Amoros. (Yugoslavian wide play was heavily dependent on these two’s individualist efforts, as Spasić stayed behind at all times and Stanojković only rarely combined with Stojković.)

Stojković was perhaps less involved than what one ideally would like to see, but he enjoyed much freedom (more so than Sušić) and was the creator of some of Yugoslavia’s very best chances. Using his sublime skill, Stojković avoided Amoros’ aggressive challenges and had the ability to go inside or on the outside of the opponent to set up team mates. Due to Amoros’ pushing forward to close him down, there would often be spaces behind him for Stojković to exploit once he had beaten his man, and France looked vulnerable at both full-back positions here.

Yugoslavia attempt the long ball

Yugoslavia had a multi-faceted strategy, however, and were far from dependent on creative sparks from Sušić and Stojković.

Most notably Yugoslavia frequently tried the long ball. This measure had much sense to it due to the state of the turf, which not exactly encouraged passing along the ground. Interestingly, the main focus of these long balls would be Srečko Katanec, who had been instructed to shuttle forward to join attack whenever possible. His range provided a very useful target for long balls, and France seemingly had some trouble in picking him up and prevent his knock-downs.

Yugoslavia did vary however, and this meant that they could play at a slow pace or increase the tempo, depending on how compact France were looking in a given situation. Much credit must be given to libero Jozić and midfielder Baždarević, who had more withdrawn roles, but did much to dictate the tempo of the game from their deep positions and who expertly played diagonal passes and switched play from one side to the other.

Some positives in France’s attacking play

While France had looked distinctly uninspired in their two qualifiers so far, Platini’s game plan seemed more than sound for this match.

Having opted for a 4-3-3 formation, Platini had two pacy wingers in Perez and Ferreri who remained a useful threat throughout the game when France were breaking forward. Both are better when focusing on attacking rather than defensive duties, and the 4-3-3 worked well for them. 

Even more effective, however, was the hold-up play of Stéphane Paille. The Sochaux man showed that while lacking inside the penalty area compared to Papin, he has much to offer to the team in link-up play. Paille is of course good in the air and has physical presence, but has also much to offer in terms of skill and vision. He was generally excellent this evening, and his hold-up play allowed France to push forward, as the wingers and midfielders connected very well with him.

Notably, Paille was man-marked by Hadžibegić, his Sochaux team mate. The battle was clearly won by the French striker, who got the better of Hadžibegić in the vast majority of the many tussles between the two. What France perhaps lacked, after all, was presence in the box (Papin!), or someone to exploit the space opened up by Paille.

Among the three central midfielders, the rule seemed to be for two to stay back and one to make a driving run forward. Sauzée was probably the one midfielder most often joining attack, with Tigana and Dib (who so far in the qualifiers had stayed behind at all times) also making the occasional run.

All in all, positives to be taken for both sides after an entertaining first 45 minutes in Belgrade, although Platini must have been worried about conceding a number of opportunities to Yugoslavia.

Match report – 2nd half

Yugoslavia: frustation and congestion

It was difficult to recognise the Yugoslavian side that re-appeared after the break. Suddenly they looked frustrated and laboured, completely unable to re-discover the rhythm from the 1st half. Osim had made two visible changes at HT:

1) Stojković had been moved into a more central position and was seeing more of the ball, but found himself further from the danger zones and looked lost for options when receiving it, as there was scarcely any initiative or movement around him.

2) There also seemed to be an instruction from Osim to rely even more on a direct approach in the 2nd half. The long ball did however not work particularly well for them now, as their passing accuracy deteriorated and these passes increasingly had Cvetković as their target. Numerous attempts to find the spaces behind the French defence also failed, despite several attempts from Stojković and Jozić to unlock the French defence from their deep positions.

Yugoslavia were still enjoying majority of the possession, but could no longer transform that possession into action in the final third. Possession was now restricted to the narrow, congested centre and at a pace which made it pretty comfortable for a well-organised French side to defend themselves.

… more wrongs in the Yugoslavian side

There was also a distinct lack of quality in the wide areas for Yugoslavia. Stojković had posed a big threat from his wide position in the 1st half, but found himself unable to influence the game much from the central position, except for a couple of bursts forward with the ball.

The two full-backs (Stanojković and Spasić) were given attacking tasks exceeding their technical abilities. The spirited Stanojković has much agility and willingly shuttled forward, but doesn’t have the skills to do things on his own; Spasić isn’t an attacking full-back at all. Osim tried to improve on this aspect by bringing on Gordan Jurić for Spasić in the left back position in the 53rd minute.

It was also disappointing to see the decline of Safet Sušić. The idea seems to have been for him to player higher up the pitch to find spaces between the lines, leaving the build-up from the deeper positions to Stojković and Jozić. This didn’t work for Sušić at all, however, as he was sandwiched between the French defence and midfield, who successfully compressed spaces in that area. Stojković was ineffectual, so was Susić, and so was the team as a whole.

French resilience

With Yugoslavia increasingly looking stretched and frustrated, the French were thriving as the more organised side.

Although helped by Osim experimenting with new tactics, France were successful in shutting down the game. France were sitting deeper in the 2nd half, and were successful in minimising spaces which had been exploited by Yugoslavia in the 1st half. Instead of headless aggression (Dib, Amoros…), they were more patient in inviting the opponent onto them. Although Yugoslavia’s efforts down the flank were feeble, credit must be given to the two wide midfielders, Perez and Ferreri, for their discipline and positional sense. Especially Perez did more than his share in the defensive part of the job.

They effectively soaked up the pressure that was exerted by the home side, and broke forward when winning back possession.

With Yugoslavia looking increasingly frustrated and exposed at the back when losing possession, there were also a few ugly challenges that commanded bookings from Mr. Fredriksson. The worst of the lot, a late, high tackle from behind by Hadžibegić on Sauzée, his former Sochaux team mate, which might have been of a different valeur today.

1-2 (68′): Sauzée

Yugoslavia’s dismal spell in the 2nd half was capped when France regained the lead in the 68th minute through a Franck Sauzée goal.

Yugoslavia were playing with a high defensive line now, and believed Perez to be offside as he chased a ball down the flank, only for them to realise a tad late that left back Petrić had played him onside on the opposite side. Making inroads towards goal, the pacy Perez squared the ball to Sauzée, who was arriving into the area, and the Marseille midfielder calmly sent Ivković the wrong way. 1-2.

Once again there was a nice passing move leading up to the French goal, this time down the flank on the left hand side, where Paille released Perez with a through ball behind the back of Stanojković. The nice combinations between Paille and the wingers remained a feature throughout this game. While he didn’t have the presence of Papin inside the penalty area, Sauzée proved that he was a goal scoring threat from his midfield position also for the national team.

2-2 and 2-3: Savicević inspires comeback

The one factor that changed Yugoslavia’s luck in this game was Osim’s decision to bring on Dejan Savićević. In the 70th minute he brought on Savićević for Cvetković, who had enjoyed a rather uneventful 2nd half.

Whereas Cvetković had been struggling for any long ball coming his way, and usually losing out in battles with Alain Roche, Savićević was able to do things on his own. He would go wide or deep to receive the ball at feet and attempt to dribble past his opponents. Sticking to his man-marking task, Roche was dragged out of position by the mobile Savićević, who thus managed to open up the so far very safe-looking French defence.

Savićević played no little part in the re-galvanisation of the Yugoslavian team after going 2-1 down, and he was the creator of the two goals that would eventually decide this match:

2-2 (76′): Yugoslavia had completely lacked the ability to penetrate the French defence in the 2nd half, but this was exactly what Savićević did when he came deep to receive the ball and showed great skill to get past his man-marker Roche, effectively unlocking the shield in front of the French defence for the first time after the break.

Running at the French defenders, he played Sušić through in the right moment, and the PSG star man did well to escape the long legs of Kastendeuch to put the ball past Bats. The key was Savićević’s turn on the ball, however, as he transitioned what looked like another stale pass in the middle of the park to a dangerous move.

3-2 (82′): Once again Savićević with the assist, this time a useful cross from the byline. He had received the ball from an attacking throw-in and once again did well to get past Roche. (Roche had been in full control of Cvetković, but seemed clueless on how to stop Savićević.)

Stojković, who had spent so much of the 2nd half in a creative vacuum in the middle of the park, made inroads from the deep and hammered the ball past Joël Bats. Savicević’s movement was constantly unsettling the French defence, tearing up the partnership between Roche and Kastendeuch.

The end

While he did not get on the scoring sheet, Yugoslavia’s two goals were both thanks to the creativity and skill of substitute Savićević.

While the score still stood 2-2, Platini had brought on Papin for Ferreri. The substitution came to little fruition, however, and there was little sign of any comeback from France once going 3-2 down, as Yugoslavia denied the visitors any chance of a comeback.


The win probably did reflect Yugoslavia’s superiority, but Osim could impossibly have been happy after that 2nd half showing, in which Savićević came like a deus ex machina to solve their problems. Given the proceedings, Osim probably didn’t get any obvious answer on how to play Stojković and Sušić together, although the initial line-up probably worked better (despite yielding fewer goals). The only obvious takeaway from this match was that Savićević needed to start their next match.

France shouldn’t be too unhappy about their performance, their first under Michel Platini as national coach. Their 4-3-3 formation with Paille up front proved to be quite useful in a difficult away game. Their defenders struggled at times however, and eventually they were unable to stop the flair of Savićević. They were perhaps also lucky with some of the dispositions of Osim in the 2nd half (up until the introduction of said Savićević). It is uncertain whether Tigana, out of retirement, did much to improve the team. But performances aside, this was a very valuable point – or two – lost to France, who knew they had done much to injure their campaign for Italia’90 with that draw in Cyprus.


1 Ivković 6.5
2 Stanojković 7.1
3 Spasić 6.9
(13 Jurić 6.5)
4 Katanec 7.1
5 Jozić 7.5
6 Hadžibegić 6.3
7 Stojković 7.5
8 Sušić 7.0
9 Cvetković 6.4
(15 Savićević –)
10 Baždarević 6.9
11 Zl. Vujović 6.9

1 Bats 6.5
2 Amoros 6.7
3 Kastendeuch 6.6
4 Boli 6.4
5 Roche 6.5
6 Sauzée 7.2
7 Dib 6.5
8 Tigana 6.5
9 Paille 7.6
10 Ferreri 6.5
11 Perez 7.4

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