UEFA Group 7
The most open group in the European qualification zone? Belgium (1st seed) had reached the semi-finals in the 1986 World Cup, and would be difficult to look beyond. They were however expected to face stiff competition from Portugal (2nd) and Czechoslovakia (3rd), although the former were only just recovering from the aftermath of the Saltillo affair in 1986 and the latter recently had seen two of their star players defecting to the West. Switzerland (4th) could also be expected to pose problems for any team, although few probably saw them as serious contenders for a qualification berth. Luxembourg (5th) were perennial whipping boys in the qualification campaigns, and teams would look to improve their goal difference against them. With question marks around both Portugal and Czechoslovakia, Belgium surely strengthened their status as favourites in this group. Perhaps Switzerland even could create a small upset by challenging Portugal and Czechoslovakia for the second qualifying berth to Italia’90?
Match 1: Luxembourg 1-4 Switzerland
21 September 1988, Stade Municipal (Luxembourg)
A solid win to open the qualification for Jeandupeux’s new-look Swiss team. Luxembourg had not managed to collectively put in a good enough performance to worry the visitors, and though their two stars, midfielder Hellers and striker Langers, had shown that they were fine players, the Swiss were not duly worried. They had Favre bossing the midfield, and up top young forward Türkyılmaz broke his international goal duck with two goals, a penalty included. The margin of win would’ve pleased the visitors’ manager.
Match 2: Luxembourg 0-2 Czechoslovakia
18 October 1988, Stade de la Frontière (Esch-sur Alzette)
Czechoslovakia would have been expecting to return home with both points, and they duly did after two first half goals in order to get their campaign up and running with a necessary win. They had travelled without some big names: Straka, Kocian, Kubík and Knoflíček, the latter two had recently defected, whilst the two former had already joined West German Bundesliga clubs. Still, they had had too much power for a Luxembourg side expected to struggle to obtain even a single point. Hašek and Chovanec with the goals.
Match 3: Belgium 1-0 Switzerland
19 October 1988, Stade du Heysel (Brussels)
Wasteful Belgium sweep past dire guests
Match 4: Czechoslovakia 0-0 Belgium
16 November 1988, Tehelné Pole (Bratislava)
Belgium weather off the storm in Bratislava.
Match 5: Portugal 1-0 Luxembourg
16 November 1988, Estádio do Bessa (Porto)
Since Luxembourg had already begun their qualification with two defeats, and thus revealing that they were still languishing towards the very bottom of the continent’s nations in rank, a resounding home win for a Portugal expected to chase for World Cup qualification was what the spectators had come to see in Porto. However, a somewhat unbalanced host line-up ensured that they struggled to find their rhythm, and a plucky Luxembourg kept them at bay for large parts, even if the hosts had enjoyed the lion’s share of possession (very much as expected). The only goal of the game had come on the half hour, and it was a terrific strike from veteran forward Gomes to win it. The Portuguese had looked better when they’d taken off 36 year old striker Jordão for midfielder Magalhães, with young playmaker Paneira coming into the centre.
Match 6: Portugal 1-1 Belgium
15 February 1989, Estádio da Luz (Lisbon)
Silvino’s howler gifts Belgium a point.
Match 7: Portugal 3-1 Switzerland
26 April 1989, Estádio da Luz (Lisbon)
After conceding a late leveller in their previous match, this was the Portuguese’s third successive home tie, and should they be considered for a place in next year’s tournament in Italy, they could not afford to drop points to a Swiss side which had both won and lost so far away from home. There’s plenty of midfield balance in this host select; perhaps too much. They fail to get going during a dull opening half. The Swiss have Marini following Barros around, though they can’t quite replicate their performance after the break, conceding three times in the space of 20 minutes, despite getting a goal back from Zuffi in the process. This is the Swiss’ campaign all but over, whilst Portugal must now look and see what their away form is going to be like, as they face four straight journeys later in the qualification.
Match 8: Belgium 2-1 Czechoslovakia
29 April 1989, Stade du Heysel (Brussels)
A big clash in Brussels, where the hosts took on a Czechoslovakia which had yet to concede. They had perhaps been unfortunate not to win against the Belgians at home in Bratislava, but Heysel was always going to prove tricky. The afternoon’s hosts had collected important away points against fierce qualification rivals, and they would ultimately go one better in front of their own, notching a 2-1 win thanks to a brace from attacking ace Mark Degryse. Czechoslovakia saw the return to telling international action for ‘West Germans’ Kocian and Straka, and though they never made it easy on the hosts, they didn’t have sufficient quality in their ranks to add to their late first half goal from Luhový.
Match 9: Czechoslovakia 4-0 Luxembourg
9 May 1989, Stadion Letná (Prague)
After that recent defeat in the Belgian capital, Czechoslovakia could not afford a slip-up against the group minnows. They were dominated by Sparta Prague players: No less than eight of them were in the squad, with six starting. One of them, bustling striker Griga, gave them an early lead to settle their nerves, though they couldn’t build on that in a scrappy first half. The hosts were improved after the break, even if it took them until a quarter of an hour from time to score their second. Luxembourg, without ace striker Langers, had put Belgium based Hellers up front, but as an attacking threat they had next to nothing to offer. Czechoslovakia eventually made their class tell, and they left happy enough with four goals to their name.
Match 10: Luxembourg 0-5 Belgium
1 June 1989, Stade Grimonprez-Jooris (Lille, France)
Due to ongoing construction of Luxembourg’s prefered choice of home stadium, the game had been switched to Lille in France, where the Belgians never made hard work of overcoming the underdogs. The hosts were without their manager Philipp on the sidelines, as he had been sent to the stands during the loss in Prague. Not that it would’ve made a difference had he been there. Belgium were far too good. Marc Van Der Linden, the only Antwerp player in their squad, had his big international night with no less than four goals, and not just through points but also goals, the Belgians were consolidating at the top of the table. The Ceulemans/Van Der Linden tandem had worked well, and with Degryse feeding just off the pair, the ‘Red Devils’ had looked very swift going forward.
Match 11: Switzerland 0-1 Czechoslovakia
7 June 1989, Stadion Wankdorf (Bern)
Interesting Swiss line-up, but they can’t match physical Czechoslovakians.
Match 12: Belgium 3-0 Portugal
6 September 1989, Stade Heysel (Brussels)
Two attacking-minded teams, but Portugal’s defence thoroughly exposed.
Match 13: Switzerland 1-2 Portugal
20 September 1989, Stade de la Maladière (Neuchâtel)
Having lost heavily in Belgium two weeks earlier, Portugal once again were in need of a win against the Swiss in order to not lose ground to the top two. This was new Swiss manager Stielike’s first qualifier in charge, and after the fine, if not entirely convincing (performance wise), friendly win against the Brazil Olympic select earlier in the summer, they moved ahead through that man Türkyılmaz (penalty) again. Portugal reshaped just before the break, though, taking off ineffective winger Magalhães for striker Águas. This saw them switch from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, and they would ultimately score twice in the space of four second half minutes to take home two precious points. Águas had netted their second, and he was possibly the best player on the pitch.
Match 14: Czechoslovakia 2-1 Portugal
6 October 1989, Stadion Letná (Prague)
Ten man Czechoslovakia with crucial win thanks to two Bílek goals.
Match 15: Luxembourg 0-3 Portugal
11 October 1989, Ludwigspark Stadion (Saarbrücken)
Since they had not managed to score more than once in their home tie against the Luxembourg side, Portugal were struggling to maintain an impressive enough goal difference. This could prove disastrous in their chase of a qualification berth, so a big haul on West German soil against the same side which had nearly come away unstuck in Porto early in the qualification, would do them a world of good. Ultimately, they had to settle for three, which is no mean feat away from home in international football nevertheless. Águas, a starter this time, had scored their first two, with Barros completing the rout 20 minutes from time.
Match 16: Switzerland 2-2 Belgium
11 October 1989, St. Jakob Stadion (Basel)
Against an injury-hit Swiss team, the Belgians were looking for another qualification win to ensure their World Cup participation. However, in life after the legendary Guy Thys, they would fail to make the most of this opportunity. Switzerland’s Stielike had brought in several young players, and they appeared to be playing with greater desire than some of those who had featured until now in the qualification. After a goalless first 45, the second half would contain four goals. The hosts were playing with debutant striker Adrian Knup alongside Kubilay Türkyılmaz in the second half, and with further attacking power from the exciting Stéphane Chapuisat to the left in their attack. Both strikers scored, but another Degryse strike and an own goal from experienced defender Geiger saw the Belgians get the point which more or less secured their qualification.
Match 17: Czechoslovakia 3-0 Switzerland
25 October 1989, Letná Stadion (Prague)
Unimpressive hosts notch all-important win
Match 18: Belgium 1-1 Luxembourg
25 October 1989, Heysel Stadion (Brussels)
A win would all but ensure group victory for the Belgians, as they were already qualified for the World Cup, thanks to the fact that Portugal and Czechoslovakia were meeting each other. Relatively new manager Walter Meeuws had to make do without suspended striker Van Der Linden, and they had drafted in Nico Claesen (Antwerp) for the still only 27 year old to provide an option for Ceulemans/Degryse up front. They had named just about their strongest starting line-up, but they could not quite get going on a disappointing evening for them. They thought they’d won it late on, when Versavel scored with four minutes remaining. However, and to their great credit, Luxembourg came back with a goal from their Belgium based star Hellers (Standard Liège) a minute from time to claim a famous draw.
Match 19: Portugal 0-0 Czechoslovakia
15 November 1989, Estádio da Luz (Lisbon)
The hosts were in need of victory by four clear goals or more in order to advance through to the World Cup on the visitors’ behalf. They did give it a go from the first kick, although one never quite felt that the strong visitors were duly worrid. Still, Czechoslovakia had fine ‘keeper Stejskal to thank for keeping the half-time scoreline at 0-0. By then one knew that it wasn’t to be for the hosts, as the visitors grew in confidence on an evening of ‘safety first’ in Lisbon. They could even have snatched it late on through substitute Weiss, but an away win would’ve been unjust on the Portuguese. There were some scenes of utter joy among the travelling contingent, players and fans alike, and who could blame them? Italia ’90, here come the Czechoslovaks!
Match 20: Switzerland 2-1 Luxembourg
15 November 1989, Espenmoos (St. Gallen)
In a game of meagre significance, the Swiss at least made sure to nick their second win of the qualification, and they would do it at the expense of the only team they managed to put to the sword during the eight matches long campaign. However, Luxembourg, well motivated after that quite astonishing point in Brussels last time around, put up a very brave fight, and in a relatively low-tempo first half, they even deservedly went in at the break in front, courtesy of Malget’s strike on 14 minutes. A desperately disappointing Alain Sutter was replaced at half-time by Christoph Bonvin, and the substitute takes the plaudits with his equalizer. Türkyılmaz got the winner just after the hour mark, taking his tally to five for the qualification, something which leaves him second only behind Van Der Linden in Group 7.
Thanks to an impressive run of four straight wins leading up to the final day, Czechoslovakia were still in with a shout for group victory as they headed out to Portugal. However, Portugal themselves still had a hope of qualifying, no matter how vague, at the expense of Czechoslovakia: The hosts needed to win by four clear goals. Belgium had looked certain group winners until their last couple of matches, when they could only draw in Switzerland and, stunningly, at home to Luxembourg. As it were, neither of Portugal and Czechoslovakia could put the ball in the back of the net, and so Belgium did win. It is fair to say it had been deserved, as they had been the team with the highest top level.
Belgium had produced some of Europe’s finest displays of counter-attacking football along their way to group victory. They had a large number of players capable of breaking with pace, power and precision, although it has to be said that they were also able to compete with sides equipped with a lot of physique, like Czechoslovakia. Some of the Belgian players had given displays of the highest order, and they were solid in every department; finding a weak link was almost impossible. With legendary coach Thys handing over the reigns to his understudy Meeuws towards the end of the qualification, it would be interesting to see how they would fare. The signs had perhaps not been the greatest with those two draws late on, but it could also be argued that Belgium had all but qualified already.
Czechoslovakia had been a dark horse for the group win, and they had carried high hopes of qualifying. They had needed a fine run towards the last round of fixtures to keep Portugal at an armlength’s distance, yet there was this solidity about them throughout that made them look comfortable enough. In contrast to Belgium, Czechoslovakia were not capable of turning teams over on the counter. Instead, they would grind out results through the sheer volume of their play. They were one of the physically best equipped teams around. They had also been boosted by the return to national team colours for Straka and Kocian after the turn of the year.
Portugal had been something of an unknown quantity heading into the qualification. At home, they were able to compete with the best, though only drawing against both Belgium and eventually Czechoslovakia would be their undoing. They had only really been humbled in the heavy defeat in Brussels, and they had taken the expected eight points off the two lesser sides in the group. However, they did seem to be lacking in creativity from midfield, especially in the centre and towards the left. A proven goalscorer at international level was also missing, even if Rui Águas emerged with four goals. They did seem to be lacking in quality in a couple of positions in every match, so while they may have had seven or eight players at a reasonably high level, the team as a whole was uneven.
Switzerland had been looking to take points off the group favourites, especially at home, but would eventually only take one of a possible six points from these matches. This had been a huge disappointment, and their only wins had come against Luxembourg. Their team had looked somewhat unbalanced, as they’d often had a high number of left-footed players in central roles. Hermann had been unable to lift them, though they had done well to draw at home to Belgium in their penultimate home game, where manager Stielike had fielded a couple of exciting young players (Chapuisat, Knup, as well as Türkyılmaz, who was already a regular). Perhaps the future will have something in store for the Swiss.
Luxembourg were perennial strugglers, and they lived up to their billing. It must be said, though, that they had sometimes been unfortunate, and so it was probably just that they got one of the more remarkable single results during the entire World Cup qualification for Italia ’90 by drawing 1-1 in Belgium. They also came close to following that up with another point in Switzerland, and so they could look back at their final couple of matches with a certain level of pride. Being part-timers on the international scene is a big ask, and at times they had been run in rings around, and a couple of their defeats had been of a heavy scoreline. And few younger players seem to have made the necessary step up to the required level.
Total number of players used: 127
Total number of players including unused substitutes: 153
Ever-presents (720 mins): 7 (Silvino, Barros, Stejskal, Hašek, Hermann, van Rijswijck, Bossi)
Leading goalscorer: Marc Van Der Linden (Belgium) 7
Yellow/red cards: 40/1
Mark Van Der Linden (Belgium)
Kubilay Türkyılmaz (2 pens) (Switzerland)
Michal Bílek (1 pen), Tomáš Skuhravý (Czechoslovakia), Rui Águas (Portugal)
Marc Degryse (Belgium)
Vítor Paneira (Portugal), Patrick Vervoort (Belgium)
Alain Sutter, Beat Sutter, Dario Zuffi, Christophe Bonvin, Adrian Knup (Switzerland), Fernando Gomes, Frederico Rosa, João Pinto, Paulo Futre (pen), Rui Barros (Portugal), Jozef Chovanec, Stanislav Griga, Ľubomír Moravčík, Ivan Hašek, Milan Luhový (Czechoslovakia), Guy Hellers, Théo Malget, Robby Langers (Luxembourg), Bruno Versavel, Jan Ceulemans (Belgium)
1 own goal
Alain Geiger (Switzerland) v Belgium
Top 20 rating list
1 Marc Degryse (Belgium) 7,36 (6 apps)
2 Paulo Futre (Portugal) 7,28 (5)
3 Ivan Hašek (Czechoslovakia) 7,12 (7)
4 Franky Van der Elst (Belgium) 7,06 (8)
5 Jan Kocian (Czechoslovakia) and Éric Gerets (Belgium) 7,06 (6)
7 João Pinto (Portugal) 7,05 (6)
8 Vítor Paneira (Portugal) 7,01 (7)
9 Georges Grün (Belgium) 7,01 (6)
10 Tomáš Skuhravý (Czechoslovakia) 7,00 (5)
11 Stanislav Griga (Czechoslovakia) 7,00 (4)
12 Alain Geiger (Switzerland) 6,98 (7)
13 Enzo Scifo (Belgium) 6,98 (5)
14 Michal Bílek (Czechoslovakia), Jan Ceulemans and Bruno Versavel (both Belgium) 6,97 (7)
17 Kubilay Türkyılmaz (Switzerland) 6,96 (8)
18 Ľubomír Moravčík (Czechoslovakia) 6,95 (6)
19 Michel Preud’homme (Belgium) 6,92 (7)
20 Marc Emmers (Belgium) 6,91 (8)