Roxburgh unable to stop Stojković et al.
Two teams in an excellent position to qualify for Italia’90. A draw would be enough for Scotland to ensure qualification, while Yugoslavia needed a win. Thus, one of these teams would be able to secure a place in the 1990 World Cup at the end of this night. The previous encounter between these two teams had ended a 1-1 draw.
Yugoslavia team news
Remarkably, Osim’s named a XI with no designated right wing-back, in what we need to describe as a lopsided 4-4-2. Vujadin Stanojković had been ever-present in the qualification so far in the right wing-back position, but was relegated to the substitutes bench here as Osim evidently found that his position was surplus to requirements.
Compared to the 5-4-1 used in the previous qualifiers, Osim sacrificed wing-back Stanojković and added an extra striker. That additional forward was Jakovljević, who recently had switched to Nantes in French football (the club of Scottish star Mo Johnston).
Osim revealed to media that he had excogitated whether to play Jakovljević or Savićević. Once again the latter needed to content with a place among the reserves – a status he had publicly announced he was unhappy with, and which had caused some unrest after the game against Norway in June.
Regular libero Davor Jozić was suspended after being sent off against Norway in their last qualifier. In his absence, Osim drafted in Mirsad Baljić as new stopper, and referred Hadžibegić to the vacant libero position. Baljic is usually a left wing-back by trade, but his position in this match would clearly be that of a man-marking stopper along with Predrag Spasić. In the left wing-back position, Osim had instead trusted Dragoljub Brnović, who has been a regular in the squad so far in the qualification, but only once previously started a qualifier.
Scotland team news
No surprise formation-wise from Andy Roxburgh: 4-4-2.
In midfield, Roxburgh had pondered whether to play Murdo MacLeod or Peter Grant as left sided midfielder – the position in the team that had troubled him the most so far in the qualification. In any event, MacLeod or Grant would become the 6th different player thus to play in that position… Roxburgh eventually opted for MacLeod, who would play as a left sided midfielder when Scotland were in possession, but tuck inside to assist Aitken and McStay against Yugoslavia’s attempts to penetrate through the middle.
Both MacLeod and Grant are moreover by nature central midfielders known for their battling skills, not wide players. The lack of options meant that Roxburgh simply had to play someone out of position (as he for example had done with Ian Ferguson previously; the Rangers man was now by the way ruled out with injury.)
Mo Johnston was injured, meaning that Roxburgh only had McCoist available from his favoured striker duo. To partner him, Roxburgh had the choice between Gordon Durie and Alan McInally up front. The decision to play Durie gave the team more options when breaking forward, which surely was a likely scenario for the game.
In defence, Richard Gough had been a revelation so far in the qualification, not the least thanks to his towering headers which were proving a real goal scoring threat. He was injured at the time, however, meaning that reliable Gary Gillespie would play as right back – a task which he had completed with much satisfaction earlier in the qualification. Thus no sign of Stewart McKimmie, who had played twice for Scotland in the Rous cup before summer.
Scotland’s subs were Goram, Clarke, Grant, McClair, McInally.
|1 Tomislav Ivković||29||Sporting Lisboa|
|2 Predrag Spasić||24||Partizan|
|3 Mirsad Baljić||27||Sion|
|4 Srecko Katanec||26||Sampdoria|
|5 Faruk Hadžibegić||31||Sochaux|
|6 Dragoljub Brnović||25||Metz|
|7 Safet Sušić||34||Paris SG|
|8 Mehmed Baždarević||28||Sochaux|
|9 Dragan Jakovljević||sub 77′||27||Nantes|
|10 Dragan Stojković||26||Crvena Zvezda|
|11 Zlatko Vujović (c)||31||Paris SG|
|12 Fahrudin Omerović||28||Partizan|
|13 Vujadin Stanojković||25||Partizan|
|14 Darko Pancev||24||Crvena Zvezda|
|15 Dejan Savićević||on 77′||22||Crvena Zvezda|
|1 Jim Leighton||31||Manchester United|
|2 Gary Gillespie||29||Liverpool|
|3 Maurice Malpas||27||Dundee United|
|4 Roy Aitken (c)||30||Celtic|
|5 Alex McLeish||30||Aberdeen|
|6 Willie Miller||34||Aberdeen|
|7 Steve Nicol||27||Liverpool|
|8 Paul McStay||24||Celtic|
|9 Ally McCoist||26||Rangers|
|10 Murdo MacLeod||30||Dortmund|
|11 Gordon Durie||sub 75′||23||Chelsea|
|12 Andy Goram||25||Hibernian|
|13 Steve Clarke||26||Chelsea|
|14 Peter Grant||24||Celtic|
|15 Brian McClair||25||Manchester United|
|16 Alan McInally||on 75′||26||Bayern München|
1st half: Match report and analysis
Roxburgh’s deployment of MacLeod
Roxburgh had however made one modification to the traditional 4-4-2 formula, instructing Murdo MacLeod to tuck inside to assist Aitken and McStay when Scotland were not in possession of the ball. Roxburgh must have been well aware of Yugoslavia’s ability to dominate possession in the central area, as witnessed in their latest qualifiers, and had deemed that an extra man would be useful in stopping the attacking movements of Stojković et al.
This was surely well reasoned by Roxburgh, but it was measure that proved to have only limited effect. Yugoslavia’s midfield quartet anyway dominated play just as much as they had done in the previous qualifiers, as they frequently penetrated the Scottish midfield and played through balls to the forwards. For large parts of the half, Scotland were outpassed and outplayed by Yugoslavia.
Why? Well, Scotland’s central midfield might have had an additional man here in MacLeod, but their pressing and positioning was poor overall. MacLeod, McStay and Aitken were at times completely disjointed, and the Yugoslavian midfielders were usually able to simply play around them. Scotland’s pressing would have needed to be much better organised, and McCoist and Durie more focussed on Baždarević and Katanec (rather than closing down defenders).
Roy Aitken in particular had a night to forget. He constantly looked too slow for these proceedings and did an ineffectual job in closing down opponents. Space between the Scottish defence and midfield was compact, though, and both McLeish and Miller did their best to intercept whenever Yugoslavia were penetrating a weak and disjointed midfield department.
At one point, it seemed that Yugoslavia were able to work the ball into dangerous areas every time they went forward.
Yugoslavia’s domination was once again built around the strong, fluid midfield quartet that we have become used to: Sušić, Stojković, Baždarević and Katanec. So far in the qualification, we have seen Stojković as a right sided midfielder with much freedom, frequently drifting inside to command play in the central area. Here, however, he had a free role in the centre of the field, and rarely moved into wide positions (right or left) at all.
Katanec was again, as against Norway last time, reluctant to join attack. Previously in the qualification, we have seen him shuttle forward and act almost as a second forward at times; using his aerial abilities and goal scoring abilities in the penalty area. But with Jakovljević in the side and the need to keep an eye on any Scottish movements down the right hand side, Osim had likely told Katanec to be more cautious.
Baždarević and Sušić had roles similar to what they had in the last qualifiers. Notably, with Stojković in a more central position, there was less need for Baždarević to orchestrate play, and hence there was less seen of his sweeping passes. Sušić was again sitting on top of Yugoslavia’s midfield, in the narrow gap between Scotland’s defence and midfield, and looked to play through balls for the two forwards whenever he received the ball (in particular the excellent Vujović in the channels).
No right wing-back for Yugoslavia
Curiously, Osim’s team formation had not included any designated right wing-back. There was a left wing-back on the opposite side, Dragoljub Brnović, but no player to the right. Moreover, as the Scottish left midfielder MacLeod tucked inside, unusually large swaths of space could be seen opening up on the home side’s right flank whenever Yugoslavia were in possession of the ball.
Despite having no designated right wing-back in the team, this space was not left unexploited by Yugoslavia: But only sparingly, and by alternating players:
The three central defenders, Spasić, Baljić and Hadžibegić took turns to motor into this space whenever they saw fit. This could be a useful instrument for example if Yugoslavia’s attacking movement had halted, as they always had a “release option” down the right. The defender shuttling forward was usually able to advance high up the field without any Scottish player closing him down, and this provided Yugoslavia with some very good opportunities for crosses.
Brnović darting foward
Seemingly alert to Yugoslavia’s intent to penetrate through the middle, Scotland defended narrowly. In particular Gillespie, the right back, kept a tight distance between himself and Willy Miller. Roxburgh had likely reasoned that his side could rather sacrifice some space in the wide areas in order to consolidate in the middle; they would after all stand a better chance clearing crosses.
It is a pattern in Yugoslavia’s style in these qualifiers that they rarely threaten down the flanks except through the wing-backs, which means that they almost never create 2v1s. The meaning is for the wing-back to motor forward and work the ball into the box. And nobody performed this task better than Dragoljub Brnović did in the 1st half here in Zagreb. Brnović might be a better option for Yugoslavia in games where they intend to attack the opponents, while Zoran Vujovic likely is the better candidate when Osim needs to think more defensively/balance.
Gillespie’s tendency to tuck inside meant that there were large areas to be exploited for Brnović, and Steve Nicol made surprisingly few efforts to track him down. Stojković again and again managed to thread the ball between Nicol and Gillespie, to release Brnović who was darting forward. Brnović thus managed to put in a large number of crosses, usually of good quality. Roxburgh was however correct to assume that the Scottish defenders mostly would manage to deal with these situations, and not even Jakovljević managed to connect to these crosses. Perhaps Brnović should have considered a low cutback now and then instead of just whipping them in?
McCoist connecting midfield and attack
Scotland’s approach was cautious, and they had not a lot to offer going forward.
One of the best attacking instruments for Scotland was whenever McCoist came short to lay the ball off to a teammate shuttling forward. This is an aspect of McCoist’s game that has been important also previously in the qualification in order for Scotland to advance up the field (cf. Scotland v France), as McCoist both works unselfishly and is able to spot spaces for his teammates to run into. In this way, Scotland hoped to connect the forwards with rest of the team.
Durie was less involved than McCoist, but generally did look sharp when in action. His movement was generally good, but there was just too little support from midfield. McCoist did well to make transitions between midfield and attack, but Scotland were reluctant to commit men forward and most collective movements soon came to a halt.
With reference to Scotland’s possession of the ball, they were more eager here to retain the ball than we have been used to so far in the qualification. They could be seen stroking the ball around a bit in an attempt to cool the tempo of the game. This no doubt contributed to decrease the tempo, but there were also a big amount of sloppy passes that simply handed the ball over to Yugoslavia. More than ever, McStay was much needed due to the invention of his play and the quality of his passing.
0-1 (43′) Durie!
Despite Yugoslavia’s domination, it was Scotland who took the lead in the 43rd minute of the game.
Scotland had been awarded a free kick and duly moved players forward. Instead of hoisting the ball into the box, which is standard for Scotland, MacLeod and McStay played a short free kick that set up McCoist against Spasić on the edge of the penalty area. The tireless Rangers striker made a quick turn to escape Spasić and crossed the ball toward the far post, above backtracking Yugoslavians who misjudged the bend of the cross – just perfect for Durie to steer into the net. 0-1!
In fact, this was quite possibly Scotland’s second good goal of the game, as McCoist had scored an early goal that had been disallowed on dubious grounds. That “goal” too had followed from a free-kick, albeit one pumped into the box, where McCoist had latched on to a knock-down from Gary Gillespie. The referee quickly ruled it out, but why? Offside? Free kick against Gillespie? Video recordings provide no conclusive answer, and even cast doubts on the referee’s decision.
Thus, 0-1 at HT.
2nd half: Match report and analysis
Concern for Osim as they had been unable to capitalise on their dominance, and seen a goal (or possibly two) against. Still, Yugoslavia came right out after the break piling on the pressure according to the pattern of the 1st half – before scoring 3 goals in quick succession.
Six mad minutes: 1-1, 2-1 and 3-1
1-1 (54′): Baljić had found space to receive the ball down the right flank, as he exploited the notorious gap in that part of the pitch (see above). MacLeod quickly spotted his run to close him down, but was deceived into making a tackle by a dummy, which gave Baljić plenty of time to deliver the ball into the box. Towering above Jim Leighton (as well as Vujović and Jakovljević), was Srecko Katanec, who arrived late in the area to crash the ball in with a powerful header. 1-1.
Katanec had been reluctant to join attack in just the last couple of games, but here fully demonstrated what a very capable player he is for Yugoslavia at crosses. Leighton and Scotland’s central defenders were well beaten in the air and Aitken, who indeed had noticed Katanec running behind his back, did nothing to track him.
2-1 (58′): Own goal by Steve Nicol, in an ill-fated attempt to clear a free-kick swung in by Stojković. Perhaps unlucky, but it was nonetheless a risky decision by Nicol to head the ball in the direction of his own goal. Leighton was outmanoeuvred.
3-1 (59′): At this point Scotland’s players were in a state of complete disarray. First, Sušić with style evaded a couple of tackling attempts in the midfield area, before spotting that Scotland were out of balance and that Vujović was angling a run outside of right back Gillespie. Second, Sušić’s perfect pass set up Vujović one on one with Gillespie; Vujović’s attempted cross took a wicked deflection on Gillespie which entirely deceived Leighton. 3-1!
Scotland had been ripped to shreds within the space of six minutes.
Yugoslavia in full control
The understandable priority of the Scottish players after the third goal was damage control. Three goals in less than six minutes killed any belief they might have had of getting a result from this match. There were no signs of any immediate attempt to stage a comeback, as Scotland focussed on saving what was left.
Yugoslavia, on their part, were understandably happy with the score and not too interested in attacking. The rest of the game was therefore largely an uneventful affair, only mixed with a few ill-tempered spats.
Roxburgh made one change to his personell, as he brought on Alan McInally for Gordon Durie (75′).
Jakovljević vs Savicevic
How did Jakovljević perform in this match? Osim had eventually opted for Jakovljević in his line-up instead of Dejan Savićević, which meant a very different kind of player upfront together with Zlatko Vujović: a more static player who is good in the air, versus an erratic dribbler with better movement off the ball.
Jakovljević was predictably also a lot more static than Vujović, who was running the channels all evening. The Nantes man would usually try to make himself available for hold-up play or position himself before crosses. His impact remained low throughout the game, however.
In the 74th minute, Osim introduced Savićević for Jakovljević. The swap did look an improvement, as the fresh legs of Savićević were able to find spaces in the tiring Scotland side. He looked determined to prove his worth, and probably had more positive involvements than Jakovljević maanged the entire game, although he also failed to deliver much end product and after a few failures left a somewhat frustrated impression.
If there were any benefits in playing Jakovljević instead of Savićević, it might be because the latter is a more erratic player that potentially could frustrate Yugoslavia’s pattern of play. There is already more than enough flair and creativity in the team (Sušić, Stojković…), making the demand for Savićević’s talents less. Playing an extra striker also contributes to overload the central defence, which might be beneficial for Yugoslavia with their intent to play through the middle.
1 Ivković 6.4
2 Spasić 6.7
3 Baljić 7.0
4 Katanec 7.4
5 Hadžibegić 6.7
6 Brnovic 7.0
7 Sušić 7.3
8 Baždarević 6.9
9 Jakovljević 6.5
(15 Savićević –)
10 Stojkovic 7.9
11 Zl. Vujović 7.4
1 Leighton 6.5
2 Gillespie 6.5
3 Malpas 6.7
4 Aitken 6.0
5 McLeish 6.6
6 Miller 6.5
7 Nicol 6.3
8 McStay 6.9
9 McCoist 7.2
10 MacLeod 6.7
11 Durie 6.7
(16 McInally –)