Belgium – Luxembourg: Stunning result for minnows Luxembourg in game with two late goals
Czechoslovakia and Switzerland had already finished their Prague encounter by the time kick-off took place in Brussels, and with the Czechoslovakians romping to an impressive 3-0 win, they were all of a sudden equal with the Belgians both on points and on goal difference. However, Belgium still had the advantage of having scored a goal more, so they were ahead not only through having gained three out of four points in their internal match-ups (something which did not count for much, as, rightly, goal difference was the second criteria after points tally for keeping teams apart in the table) or the fact that the letter B came before the letter C in the alphabet. Czechoslovakia still had to travel to Portugal three weeks later to complete their qualification, and so Belgium knew that if they wanted to finish top of the group, they could ill afford to slip up against tonight’s lowly opposition. Surely, they would get their victory by a relatively clear margin to make Czechoslovakia’s match in Portugal insignificant in the race for finishing top. Portugal would still stand a theoretical chance of overtaking the Czechoslovakians, but they would need to defeat them by a margin of four goals.
With top scorer Marc Van Der Linden out through suspension for accumulating two yellow cards during the qualification, Walter Meeuws would have to rely on other players stepping up. Just like any national team manager would tell you, they would be particularly nervous for matches against the so-called minnows, where you had everything to lose. The public would demand a win by a cricket score, and the fact that Belgium had won 5-0 in the opposite fixture did not make it any easier on the current boss. However, with Belgium considered one of the top sides in Europe, there was no one from a neutral perspective who could predict Luxembourg to cause much in ways of trouble.
Anderlecht midfielder Patrick Vervoort had been dropped from the squad of 16 for the match. There was also no Stéphane Demol, as he, like Van Der Linden, had got his second booking of the campaign in the 2-2 draw in Switzerland and subsequently served a suspension. Regular right-back, veteran Éric Gerets, had been dropped to the bench, with Georges Grün recalled to the starting eleven after having not been selected in the squad for the match against the Swiss. Other than that Belgium were at full strength, and there had even been a surprise call-up to the squad for Antwerp striker Nico Claesen, who had been Belgium’s top goalscorer in the qualification for the 1988 European Championships. He had not featured in the national team for almost two years, but had started the domestic season well with six goals in all competitions to his name. Manager Meeuws would give starts to two players who had so far not featured in the qualification: central defender Nico Broeckaert from Antwerp and midfielder Danny Boffin from RFC, the smaller of the two Liège top flight clubs. Among the players on the bench was defender Rudi Smidts from Antwerp, a player yet to make his debut for the national team.
Luxembourg arrived in Brussels on the back of six straight qualification defeats, and they had not played a friendly since before the first qualifier. They had lost by a big margin in the home tie against the Belgians, and their hopes of achieving any kind of miracle here will probably not have been great. They had suffered a 3-0 reverse at home to Portugal in their most recent outing, in a game where boss Paul Philipp had tested out a new formation, switching away from their traditional 4-4-2 and into a 3-5-2. He would continue with the latter formation at Heysel, and they were still without two of their trusted defenders in captain Hubert Meunier and libero Pierre Petry. For the second match running there was also no Armin Krings as an alternative up front, but they would fortunately have Standard Liège player Guy Hellers available to them. He was a regular in the Belgian top flight, and was an invaluable member to the Luxembourg team. After dropping rugged defender René Scheuer to the bench for the visit of Portugal, manager Philipp reinstalled the Red Boys Differdange man here, leaving big forward Théo Malget, who had been deputising at centre half against Portugal, to go back up front alongside the speedy Robby Langers, the Nice striker, and the other big Luxembourg football star alongside Hellers. Nice would be facing a fight to avoid the drop from the French top flight by the end of the 1989/90 season. At left flank, youngster Joël Groff would continue at the expense of former regular Théo Scholten, with Philipp possibly seeing the Union Luxembourg player a better alternative in 3-5-2 than Scholten.
There was a 44 year old referee from Iceland leading the way: Guðmundur Haraldsson. Despite his country’s fledgling status on the international football scene, Haraldsson was an experienced referee at international level, this being his ninth appearance since his debut all the way back in 1981. All of his matches bar one had been qualifiers, so he will have been a trusted name among the UEFA board.
Belgium and Luxembourg had also come head to head in the previous qualification, with the favourites winning the away fixture 6-0, the home tie 3-0. As Belgium had already won 5-0 ‘away’ in (French) Lille earlier during these qualifiers, the Red Devils were big favourites for a reason. The total record read 11-0-1 in favour of tonight’s hosts, and the surprise defeat had come as far back as 1945, with the Second World War still not over.
Belgium’s long-serving Prime Minister Wilfried Martens was seen in the executive suite by the time of kick-off. Martens was well-known for his desire to tie Europe closer together, and just like it had been mentioned in our report from the Belgians’ 3-0 win against Portugal, there was a lot of promotion on display in favour of the European Union also here against Luxembourg, obviously another of its founder members: The ball boys and ball girls were clad in sweaters and caps with the organization’s logo, as well as a number of advertising hoardings displaying similar propaganda.
|1 Michel Preud’homme||30||Mechelen|
|2 Georges Grün||27||Anderlecht|
|3 Lei Clijsters||41′||32||Mechelen|
|4 Nico Broeckaert||28||Antwerp|
|5 Bruno Versavel||22||Mechelen|
|6 Marc Emmers||sub 76′||23||Mechelen|
|7 Franky Van der Elst||28||Club Brugge|
|8 Danny Boffin||sub 75′||24||RFC Liège|
|9 Marc Degryse||24||Anderlecht|
|10 Enzo Scifo||23||Auxerre|
|11 Jan Ceulemans (c)||32||Club Brugge|
|12 Gilbert Bodart||27||Standard Liège|
|13 Rudi Smidts||26||Antwerp|
|14 Éric Gerets||35||PSV Eindhoven|
|15 Luc Nilis||on 76′||22||Anderlecht|
|16 Nico Claesen||on 75′||27||Antwerp|
|1 John van Rijswijck||27||Union Luxembourg|
|2 Marcel Bossi||29||Jeunesse d’Esch|
|3 René Scheuer||sub 83′||27||Red Boys Differdange|
|4 Carlo Weis (c)||30||Avenir Beggen|
|5 Marc Birsens||23||Union Luxembourg|
|6 Jean-Paul Girres||28||Avenir Beggen|
|7 Guy Hellers||26′||25||Standard Liège|
|8 Jeff Saibene||sub 75′||21||Aarau|
|9 Joël Groff||21||Union Luxembourg|
|10 Robby Langers||29||Nice|
|11 Théo Malget||28||Avenir Beggen|
|12 Paul Koch||23||Red Boys Differdange|
|13 Gérard Jeitz||on 75′||28||Union Luxembourg|
|14 Marc Thomé||25||Jeunesse d’Esch|
|15 Théo Scholten||on 83′||26||Jeunesse d’Esch|
|16 Jeannot Reiter||31||Spora Luxembourg|
Belgium lined up in their 4-4-2 diamond, which had not served them too well during the first half in their previous qualifier, the 2-2 draw in Switzerland. Meeuws had abandoned this formation at half time back then. Here there was no Vervoort; there was Boffin in his place. Boffin would at times come inside and help out with distribution, and he was not locked to the left hand side. This will have been to accomodate for Versavel’s energic runs from the full-back position. However, Versavel did not have it all his way in this fixture, as the visitors packed their own half tight and relied on break-aways. On the right hand side Emmers had been poor during the opening 45 against the Swiss, and he did not look his usual confident self here too. Behind him there was Grün, a less attacking full-back than Versavel, but he saw no need to be pinned back inside his own half all of the time, as the Belgians would often be found inside Luxembourg’s half. At the heart of the home team’s defence it was Clijsters who took over as libero for the suspended Demol, with Broeckaert the central defender. According to classic Belgian dynamism, both central defenders would also venture across the halfway line at various times, though Broeckaert was less prone to doing so than other Belgian central defenders who had featured throughout these qualifiers. Up front there was Ceulemans, rather stationary, and there was the more agile Degryse, who would often seek towards the right hand side of attack, trying to stretch the visitors’ defence, as he was more or less being followed around by Bossi.
For the visitors, manager Philipp had discovered 3-5-2. He used his captain Weis as libero, and had employed Bossi and Scheuer as man-markers. Scheuer had shadowed Ceulemans also in the Belgians’ 5-0 win in France (where Luxembourg had arranged for their ‘home’ fixture with the Belgians to be played), and he seemed to do so to even better effect this time around. Bossi, a sluggish centre-back, would struggle once Degryse turned on the pace, but if he got a sniff of his opponent, he would relish putting a tackle in. Their central midfield three consisted of Birsens behind Saibene and Hellers. Their work was invaluable to the team, as they worked hard to dent Belgian progress through midfield, and stifling the creative outlet that is Scifo had been one of Birsens’ main priorities. On the right hand side you would find the experienced Girres, who had less forward-thinking instincts than Groff, his counterpart down the left. The latter was lively and full of energy, and seemed to enjoy the occasion on the big stage. Up front you would see both Langers and Malget putting shifts in, as they worked hard to close down Belgian supply routs from defence. Malget had hardly impressed earlier in the qualification when given the chance, but his performance here in Brussels probably outshone anything Krings, Langers’ more familiar attacking partner, had delievered. The opportunistic Langers would always search for an error from the opposition, ready to strike at any time, from any angle.
The visitors had no reason for altering their tactics during the half-time break, and they reappeared for the second half just like they had been during the first half. The home team, on the other hand, whilst still keeping patience with the same eleven which had taken to the field from kick-off, had adjusted their tactics. In their most recent qualifier, they had abandoned their midfield diamond at half time after being scoreless in Switzerland. 0-0 after 45 minutes at home to underdogs Luxembourg will have hit them harder, so a change, any change, from Meeuws will have been welcome. What he had done was to bring Emmers a bit further in from his right-handed midfield role, knowing well that Emmers can make strong runs into the penalty area, leaving the right hand side for Grün to deal with. They had been no major threat down this side in the opening half, the visitors, and so Meeuws will have felt it appropriate to tweak his tactics in this area. Emmers had, again, been anonymous out on the flank, so the manager will have hoped to bring him back to life by giving him greater responsibility to the right of Scifo. The Belgians would look something akin to this from kick-off in the second half:
Degryse was still slightly wide to the right of centre.
Inside the final few minutes, Meeuws threw caution to the wind and went gung-ho:
He was desperately looking for a winning goal. He had taken midfielders Emmers and Boffin off for strikers Claesen and Nilis, which saw Ceulemans take a slightly deeper role behind them, and with Degryse pulling out into a wide right position. Not long after the substitutions, Meeuws also brought Versavel further forward from his left-back role to prove an outlet on the left flank, and with Scifo and Van der Elst directing traffic from the centre of the pitch, leaving Grün, Broeckaert and Clijsters to single-handedly deal with the twin threat of Langers and Malget. It would eventually pay off as they got their elusive goal some four minutes from time. Having gone a goal up, Meeuws saw to that Versavel went back into defence again, but they were still a bit thin in the central midfield department. However, they might have underestimated the visitors and been thinking to themselves that they had done enough to win the game.
Luxembourg’s first substitution was the straight swap between the tiring Saibene and Jeitz. Their second substitution was forced upon them, as Scheuer went down with injury after a challenge. He did play on for a couple of minutes, but had to be replaced. Wide midfielder Scholten came on, something which saw defensive midfielder Birsens drop back into defence for Scheuer, with Jeitz taking over Birsens’ role as the deep-lying midfielder. Scholten came into the left of the two central midfield roles, with Hellers switching over from his original central left and into central right.
Conditions appeared to be just about right as a tone-setter for Belgium’s final qualification match ahead of ‘Italia novanta’. They took to the pitch already knowing that Czechoslovakia had comprehensively beaten the Swiss in the earlier kick-off, and so realized that they needed to win in order to make sure that the top spot was their’s to keep. However, Czechoslovakia were equal not just on points but also on goal difference, so the necessary clear margin win was expected from the hosts.
What had manager Walter Meeuws learnt from the somewhat disappointing 2-2 draw in Switzerland earlier in the month? Surely that he should not set his team up with a midfield diamond? No. Forget that. The home side came out sporting the same centre pitch shape which had brought that dull and flat first half in Basle, however with some changes in personnel. Rather than Vervoort to the left there was Danny Boffin, whilst Scifo came into Degryse’s role at the head of the diamond. Degryse himself had been moved into attack where he would partner the captain. And wasn’t there just something a tad heavy about Ceulemans? Did he look as fit as he should?
The visitors had lost 3-0 at home to Portugal on the same evening as the Belgians’ draw in Switzerland, and manager Philipp had kept faith with the 3-5-2 which he had introduced there. Up until the Portugal match, the former national team captain with 55 caps to his name, had been a 4-4-2 man. With reliable defender Petry sidelined, Carlo Weis was Philipp’s natural choice for the libero role. The manager would also be pleased to have both of Guy Hellers and Robby Langers available to him. That had not always been the case so far in the qualification.
It is the visitors who kick the game into action through their forward duo of Malget and Langers.
Luxembourg do not start the match like a team bereft of confidence from six straight defeats. They knock the ball between themselves and even keep possession inside the Belgian half. In central midfield man Guy Hellers they have a quality player who would be in or around the Belgian squad had he been born a few miles to the west. He is a player capable of holding on to the ball even in rough seas, and it is also interesting to see how his calmness affects those immediately around him. Jeff Saibene had only been a bit part player for Luxembourg so far during the qualification until he was given a starting berth at home to Portugal. He too tries to impose himself on the game early on; he succeeds by keeping things simple. It is a decent recipe for installing confidence into the team when your passes reach their destination and you are able to keep possession of the ball. There does not appear to be a whole lot of aggression in the Belgian midfield early on. Indeed, the speedy and mobile Robby Langers up front decides to let his opportunism take Michel Preud’homme by surprise: From the edge of the penalty area he swings his boot and makes the ‘keeper work. The Mechelen stopper, ‘Player of the year’ twice in Belgian football in the last three years, has to palm the ball away. The move and strike carried the hallmarks of Langers’ typical enthusiasm, but any goalkeeper of international stature would have made the save. It was more about the timing and angle of the shot, which also left Langers’ marker Nico Broeckaert stunned.
Belgium are an impressive side when they can get their central line going. They were without influental libero Demol through suspension, but against opposition such as Luxembourg that should not have been a major problem. There were capable replacements available to Meeuws, who had given Demol’s role to Clijsters, the experienced Mechelen defender. Clijsters was accompanied by Antwerp’s Broeckaert in the centre of the Belgian defence, the latter a 28 year old who had made his debut in the 3-0 friendly win against Denmark in August. This was his first international of significance, and he did seem a tad nervous to begin with. Luxembourg had realized that in denying the Belgian central line space and time, they would be able to make the home side look pedestrian. Their forwards chased and harried Clijsters and defensive midfielder Van der Elst, who likes to conduct play from the centre circle, and Birsens kept a watchful eye on Scifo. Without neither Van der Elst nor Scifo to distribute, the home team seemed a bit lost for ideas. And it had seemed more of a fluke how they came close when Degryse on four minutes put a cross in from the right and found Ceulemans’ head on the opposite edge of the six yard box. His header via the ground was punched over by van Rijswijck, but it proved to be a false dawn.
A prefered move of the Belgians is to aim passes from central midfield out towards the right hand side for either forward to stretch the opposition’s defence. Van der Elst is often looking for this option, and with Ceulemans rather stationary and off the pace, it is predominantly Degryse who is his aim. Degryse, far from unfamiliar with a more right-sided attacking midfield role with the Red Devils, tries to take his marker, the unkempt Bossi, for little runs out into this territory. And whenever they succeed, there’s grounds for concern among the visiting defenders. However, Van der Elst can not liberate himself often enough to hit these angled passes out towards the right. In cutting off this major source of Belgian creativity, the visitors have come a long way in keeping the normally so speedy hosts quiet.
René Scheuer is a trusted member of the Luxembourg back line. He had so far only missed two of their seven qualifiers, but he did not have the best memories from his tussles with Belgium captain Ceulemans last time out. ‘Big Jan’ had often tormented Scheuer in the air, and the home side’s number 11 had been on song that night. Here, however, he is kept well in tow by the rugged Differdange man, and it was perhaps appropriate to ask the daring question of what Ceulemans actually brought to the team on his current form. He had been slow against the Swiss in their last outing, and he did not at all look any sharper here. Jan Ceulemans, though, was an icon in Belgian football, and it would take a bold manager to leave him on the bench.
Attacking with pace along both flanks is another typical Belgian weapon. This time around they had Grün on the right to assist the normally so eager Emmers, whilst on the left there was, as usual, attack-minded Mechelen left-back Versavel, with Boffin just ahead of him. The latter, however, often orientated himself towards more central areas, and again Luxembourg had done their home work, as they shut Versavel out through the use of right-sided stalwart Girres, whilst Grof was doing a similar job opposite on Emmers. The latter had not been at the top of his game against the Swiss, and again he seemed a bit out of sorts. As it were, Grün would more often than Emmers make it to the right hand byline.
With just over nine minutes gone, there’s another bit of sloppiness on Belgian part, when they concede possession to the visitors just outside the penalty area. The alert Langers nicks the ball off Broeckaert and advances on Clijsters, but he can not get proper control of the ball and scuffs his shot wide to the left of Preud’homme’s goal. Had he elected to take another touch, he could have worked himself into a better angle, and his left-foot shot could have spelled trouble. Already, the crowd are beginning to sound a few boos, something which appears unreasonable, judging by the fact that less than ten minutes of the match have passed by.
The Heysel is relatively sparsely populated for the occasion, but those who have turned up decide to vent their increasing frustration when Versavel midway through the first half finishes a Belgian move by firing a right-foot (!) shot from 20 yards way over and wide of van Rijswijck’s goal. The Belgians can not find any pace or rhythm, and the visitors are more than pleased to keep the hosts at bay rather than try and attack themselves. Their rigid ways of denying the home team openings comes at a cost: When in possession, neither flank player is able to contribute much inside the opposition’s half as they have been working extremely hard off the ball. So even though not a lot is expected from them, whatever happens inside the Belgian half is typically results of individual craftsmanship or moves involving two or, at most, three players. Malget seems to be a good partner for Langers, as his physical presence takes a bit of attention away from the Nice man.
They are not mean, Luxembourg, but they do at times stretch the imagination of fair play right onto its borders. Scheuer is seen bringing Ceulemans down from behind, and the home captain is not interested in the defender’s attempted handshake to help him back onto his feet, whereas Birsens has a rather mean looking challenge on Scifo which also sees the home player look displeased. With just over 25 minutes gone, the game all pedestrian and without a lot of incidents, Emmers suddenly decides to stretch his feet, advancing diagonally towards the centre from the halfway line. He has Hellers tracking his run, and it seems more an act of misfortune than something intentional when Emmers goes to the ground clutching his left thigh after Hellers had brought him down from behind. The stylish Hellers had committed a rather untypical challenge, and he had his name taken by the referee as a result.
Approaching the half hour mark, the crowd have begun to turn against their own. There’s a few passes strung together among the visitors, most of them inside their own half, and the spectators ironically cheer Luxembourg on to make it known to the Red Devils that this is not what they have come to see. A player like Scifo, who has not had it all his way throughout the qualification, at times looks carefree, and it beggars belief how this team could dish out such performances as had been seen against Czechoslovakia and Portugal. Against what is possibly the worst national team in Europe, Belgium are unable to pose any kind of threat towards the visiting goal. Luxembourg ‘keeper van Rijswijck, an electrician when he does not wear the national team jersey, could have fitted a large number of electrical wires by the time he next touches the ball, which is when he places the ball on the six yard line for a goal kick after Versavel’s hit a left-foot shot well wide from 25 yards.
The two managers are acting distinctly differently on the touchline: Walter Meeuws just sits quietly in the home side’s dug-out, whilst Paul Philipp is always on his feet shouting instructions to his players, and indeed making himself known to the officials as he demonstrates against every decision given in his team’s disfavour.
Ten minutes from half time Girres delievers a fine corner from the right, and Birsens makes a good jump to get up above Ceulemans. Unfortunately for the visitors, he can not get his attempt on goal; it goes well over. However, it is another warning sign for the home team, if they needed one. Time to wake up from their sleep. Another three minutes into the future, though, it is Langers who goes on a mazy run which sees him advance past Clijsters and Van der Elst on the halfway line. As he darts towards Preud’homme’s goal, he has Hellers to his left, but he gets too excited and tries to foil the recovering Clijsters a second time, only to see the defender take the ball off him and play it back to the ‘keeper. Hellers is displeased with his team mate, who had had a similar kind of counter-attacking opportunity right before half time in the home leg against the Belgians. In the wake, there’s loud boos reverberating around the stadium. It all just plays into the favour of the visitors, who are brimming with confidence as the game approaches half time.
Another Luxembourg break four minutes from the end of the first period sees Langers take the ball towards the left side of the home side’s penalty area. Before he can get there, though, Clijsters has taken matters into his own hands, or his feet, and brought the quick striker down. Yellow card. Langers accepts the libero’s handshake. Weis plays the resulting free-kick, 25 yards from goal, inside for Hellers to have a go, but the midfielder’s shot is rushed and wayward.
Before the solid Icelandic referee signals an end to the half, Van der Elst had found Degryse inside the penalty area, and the forward seemed to have a rare bit of space. He needed to make a 180 degrees turn to fire at goal, though, and this gave Scheuer the necessary amount of time to get in front and block the Anderlecht forward’s effort. The teams walk off for their half-time tea to a chorus of boos, obviously directed at the home side.
Neither manager has rung the changes at half time, but surely Meeuws has had the hair dryer out. They had been so slow and quite unrecognizeable in the opening 45 minutes, and the least one could expect was a bit of urgency. Degryse and Ceulemans brought the match back into action, and it did seem as if they were eager to up the ante, with both Versavel and Scifo seen early on running when retrieving the ball for set-pieces. However, it is another false dawn, and the game soon slows down into the same pattern that had been evident for much of the first half. Belgium just could not be bothered. Where was the desire to win? They were risking that they finish second in a group which they had lead almost from the outset, although it would take a Czechoslovakia win in Portugal, far from an easy task.
In possession, Belgium at the start of the second half appeared to want Emmers in a more central role, so he would be seen closer to Scifo in an attempt to bring back the midfielder that so often in the past had made havoc in opposing defences through his strong runs off the ball. Some eight minutes into the half, Versavel tries to play Emmers through the centre, but he takes a poor touch, unsurprisingly in the circumstances, and the ball richochets off his knee and is an easy claim for van Rijswijck.
16 uneventful minutes into the second half, Belgium are passing the ball around inside the visitors’ half without much conviction, and to an increasing chorus of boos. There is almost an opening, though, when Boffin tries to tread Ceulemans through the middle, as the low ball in evades the sliding Scheuer, but the home captain can’t make a connection, and van Rijswijck can again pick the ball up and slow things down. The Luxembourg game plan of frustrating their hosts is working to perfection. Surely, Meeuws will need to produce some tricks from up his sleeve, if he’s got any?
As some of the home players are beginning to have little arguments between themselves, notably Versavel and Scifo after the latter had played a poor pass in the direction of the left-back, the diminutive Groff decides to release the handbreak and advance across the halfway line. He finds Langers with his back to the goal around 30 yards out, but the forward makes an impressive turn and advances a few feet further before he releases his strike. It goes well over, but again it is the visitors who are able to produce an attempt. That is a lot more than the home side have been able to create so far in the second half. Again, the crowd applaude the visitors in what is just as much a taunt towards their own.
The game has so little pace about it that it is a relief when Degryse can finally accelerate down the right hand side, having freed himself away from his marker Bossi around the 65 minute mark. Instead he is challenged near the touchline by Hellers, who also goes through a fair amount of defensive work here. He does run a fine line, does Hellers, after his first half booking, but he avoids any further retribution from the referee than a free-kick against. As Degryse himself swings it into the box, he finds the head of the almost absent-minded Ceulemans, whose header is tame and an easy catch for van Rijswijck. This promptly releases a chorus from the crowd, who want to see Luc Nilis introduced. Prior to this match, the Anderlecht forward had only made two starts and two substitute appearances from seven qualifying matches, but he had been on the scoresheet for his club side at the weekend during a 3-0 win against Kortrijk.
Luxembourg become the first to make a change: Swiss based midfielder Saibene, who has done well in the centre of the park, but who appeared to have grown tired, and he had also recently taken a knock after a challenge with Versavel, came off to make space for the combative Gérard Jeitz. The Union Luxembourg midfielder had started their five first qualifiers, but would make a second straight substitute appearance tonight. Jeitz would just slot right into the position left vacant by Saibene. Immediately after, Belgium make both their substitutions, when Nico Claesen comes on for Boffin, before Luc Nilis replaces Emmers. In taking two midfielders off for two strikers, the crowd finally sound an opinion of encouragement for the home side, and perhaps also just as much a homeage in favour of crowd favourite Nilis. Next up is a Weis strike straight at Preud’homme from a free-kick 26 yards out. The Luxembourg libero, a carpenter by trade, has all night hammered discipline into his team mates from his role at the heart of their defence.
With both Nilis and Claesen on, the latter making his first appearance of the qualifiers, Belgium appear very much with an attacking formation. This is Meeuws’ way of letting the surroundings know he’s far from pleased at the game still being scoreless, and, perhaps almost as importantly, he’s displeased with the level of performance from his players. Both substitutes head for strikers’ roles, with Ceulemans dropping slightly deeper, just behind the two. Degryse will go into a wide right position, whilst Van der Elst and Scifo are left to run the midfield. Playing against semi-professionals, Belgium will have been expecting the visitors’ fitness levels to be inferior to their own, but the game had been played at a fairly slow pace throughout, so Luxembourg would most likely cope for the remaining quarter of an hour. Alarmingly, though, Scheuer goes down after a challenge with Ceulemans and is in need of treatment, and so if they need to make their final substitution with a certain amount of time left on the clock, there is precious little to go on at the death in case of emergency. Scheuer will limp around for a few minutes before finally succumbing to the knock, and he is replaced by Théo Scholten, a player usually operating wide left in midfield. This final Luxembourg substitution sees a bit of a shuffle, with Birsens going back into Scheuer’s berth in central defence, as he’s probably seen as the player best equipped for dealing with Ceulemans in the air. In for Birsens in the holding midfield role comes Jeitz, which means Hellers switches from his original role of central left and into central right, with the latest addition Scholten coming into Hellers’ berth.
They cause a bit of confusion inside the visitors’ penalty area with the introduction of the two strikers, do the home side, but it seems more through the sheer volume of players that they have thrown into the mix rather than through exuberance. Degryse finds Nilis on the back post, but the substitute can’t control the ball before he’s being closed down by Birsens, and van Rijswijck beats his strike away for a left wing corner. From this set-piece there’s an opportunity from Grün, who flicks Nilis’ flag kick wide to the right of the Luxembourg goal. Next Meeuws instructs Versavel to go into a left wing role, and they appear gung-ho in a desperate attempt to find that elusive goal. And it pays off! After almost an entire match without properly testing van Rijswijck, it is the much taunted Scifo who plays an exquisite pass over the head of Birsens to find Versavel with space inside the area, and the Mechelen defender fires a diagonal shot under the ‘keeper. It is a lead which the home side hardly merit, even if they have upped their efforts after the substitutions. Surely that’s it; both points in the bank.
In their state of excitement having scored late on, Belgium seem to forget how to defend. They allow the visitors to break, and in a rare foray it is right-sided player Girres who forces a right wing corner off Broeckaert. His cross is headed away by Ceulemans, but only as far as to Scifo, who can’t make proper connection to get it further away from inside the box. Malget sees the hesitancy and steals in, and as he brings the ball across the area, he tries to ride lunges from Van der Elst and Ceulemans, but is brought down. Penalty, surely! No. Before the referee has even had time to contemplate any action, the ball escapes and spins into the path of the unmarked Hellers, who side-foots expertly beyond Preud’homme’s reach. Luxembourg, the footballing dwarfs, have a late, late leveller in Brussels! Preud’homme is livid! He can’t believe how his team mates had failed to clear the ball.
A stunned home side are unable to muster further efforts. While Meeuws sits in disbelief at the home side’s bench, his counterpart Philipp is up on his feet waiving his arms and desperately trying to tell the officials that time is up. The game continues for an additional three and a half minutes, as there had been a couple of players in need of treatment during the second half. It is just academic, though, as nothing more will happen, and the visitors’ players can embrace each other and jump around like crazy at the sound of the final whistle. They had gained the most unlikely of points.
Belgium had been expected to gain a comfortable win, and this had most likely played into the minds of their players, as they never managed to exert prolongued spells of pressure against the lowly visitors. Luxembourg had done their home work, and they denied the hosts space, making sure to close down midfielders Van der Elst and Scifo so they couldn’t easily reach their attacking players. As the game turned into a frustrating event for the pedestrian home side, it did look like they had nicked an undeserved win late on through Versavel’s goal, but a minute from time the visitors would strike back through Belgium based midfielder Hellers. It was a sensational outcome, but nevertheless one that the visitors had deserved for their perseverance.
no chance for the goal. Did what could be expected of him. Always rushing to get the ball back into play
with Emmers ahead of him out of sorts, it was often left for Grün to take responsibility going forward, and he was active, though not as successful in his crossing as he would have wanted
the libero often came forward, but to little effect
struggled in the air with Malget, and had to shake off some early nerves. Never really got going
got what was thought to be the winning goal from a rare venture into the opposition penalty area. Often found his route towards the byline blocked
little would fall for the normally speedy, energetic outlet: Bleak on the flank in the first half, no improvement when in a more central position second half
(15 Nilis –
tried to get into positions after coming on, and did once on the far post, only to take too long with the ball. Hit a couple of decent corner kicks)
Van der Elst 6.7
unable to exert his usual centre-circle dominance, as the Luxembourg forwards do a solid job on him as first lines of defence
far from a bad performance, he would seek the ball and try to distribute as best he could from central positions, and also try to assist Versavel for overlaps. Brought off to add more attacking prowess
(16 Claesen –
mostly invisible after coming on)
one of the livelier home players, often on the move trying to stretch his marker Bossi’s legs
not as bad as the boo brigade would have it, but far from what you’d expect from a player of his talent. In Birsens’ pocket for large portions of the match, and poor in distribution
stationary. Could hardly win headers. Looked unfit and low on confidence
van Rijswijck 7.0
a fine, placid performance by the solid custodian, who perhaps could have tried to parry Versavel’s diagonal shot for the goal?
trying to keep with Degryse’s not the most enviable task, but stuck to him well. He managed to avoid the temptation of being lured out into wide areas
played to the peak of his ability. Kept Ceulemans tame, blocked a goal bound effort from Degryse in the first half. Came off with a late knock
(15 Scholten –
came on for a few minutes in a less familiar central midfield role, but helped out in defence)
by far his best performance during these qualifiers, as he marshalled his defence with surprising authority. Perhaps boosted by the wearing the captain’s armband?
did a terrific job on Scifo, and is a difficult player to meet in challenges with his physique. Not the quickest, but a good reader of the game. Slightly out of position on an occasion after dropping back when Scheuer had to come off, but also handled the aerial threat of Ceulemans
worked impeccably to shut down the threat of Versavel, but could not be much of an outlet in going forward
such a calming presence on those around him. Able to hold on to the ball with opponents in his proximity, goes through a lot of running, and of course scores that late, deserved equalizer
does a whole-hearted job in the centre with a lot of running, and is also assured on the ball. Drifted out of the match for periods in the second half, but a laudable performance until taking a knock in a challenge with Versavel, which would play its part in him coming off
(13 Jeitz –
a good player to bring on when you wish to calm things down, and he filled in well in the defensive midfield position at the end)
worked his socks off as he went through an awful lot of running, and his youthful enthusiasm saw him take part even in the opposition’s half. Made a couple of fine interceptions
always on the run, always on the chase. Kept the home team’s defenders on their toes throughout. Usual opportunism when he struck from the corner of the penalty area to work Preud’homme early on
really gave Broeckaert a difficult afternoon with his physical presence and his surprising mobility. Another one who went through an awful lot of work, and was probably the happiest of the lot at the final whistle when he could hardly stand on his feet