Portugal’s defence exposed in open contest

1-0 (35) Jan Ceulemans
2-0 (58) Marc Van Der Linden
3-0 (69) Marc Van Der Linden


1990 World Cup Qualification
UEFA Group 7
Video: Full game
Wed. 6 September 1989
Kick-off: 7.45pm (ca.)
Stade du Heysel, Brussels
Att.: 28,250
Ref.: Alexey Spirin (SOV)
L 1: Sergei Khussainov (SOV)
L 2: Piotr Kobytchik (SOV)


With a win against Portugal, Belgium would look destined to qualify for Italia’90, as they would they then would secure a gap down to their closest contenders, Czechoslovakia and Portugal, who were yet to meet one another, plus they had left to play Luxembourg (h). Portugal could have much use for a point, which would give them an advantage on Czechoslovakia before the two teams’ encounters later that autumn. The first match between these two teams had been a fairly even contest, with Portugal having the better chances and only having to settle for a draw because of a miserable howler by Silvino toward the end of the match.


Belgium team news
The most noteworthy change in the Belgian side was seen on the bench, where Walter Meeuws was leading his first qualifier as national coach, and his second in total (the first one being the 3-0 win against Denmark). Guy Thys has abdicated and Meeuws was simply going to finish the work of the master and take Belgium to the 1990 World Cup. Changes on the field as well: Thys had most recently opted for 5-3-2 against Czechoslovakia (h) and 4-3-3 against Luxembourg (a).

Meuuws chose a 4-4-2 formation, which Belgium so far only had used in their opening match against the Swiss. The experienced Leo Clijsters had returned from injury, but not been picked by Meeuws for his squad – much to Clijsters’ disappointment (Foot Magazine no. 96, Oct. 1989). It would this time be Georges Grün partnering libero Demol in the heart of the defence. Michel De Wolf had played the match in Lisbon, and was picked for this match as well, but this time as a left back. The inclusion of De Wolf did however not mean that Versavel was relegated to the substitute bench; the KV Mechelen man had become a first team member by now and for the first in this qualification he would be seen on the left side of the midfield – a position more similar to the one he had for his club.

Based on the events so far, it was perhaps no surprise to see Marc Degryse given the nod instead of Enzo Scifo in midfield, as the latter for a long time had struggled with the form.

Portugal team news
Juca fielded an attacking line-up, not dissimilar from the one that had ended the last game against Switzerland (h). But he welcomed back star player Futre, who went straight into the team as a forward. There was also a slight change of formation, as Vítor Paneira was drawn into a more central position, effectively constituting a midfield trio together with André and Carlos Xavier. We have been used to see Paneira as a winger so far in the qualifiers for the 1990 World Cup. Juca again fielded a lopsided formation, but while he so far often had used a right winger and a defensive-minded wide man on the left side, he now turned inverted the midfield. Paneira was given less attacking orders on his centre-right side of midfield, opening up for a left winger in César Brito, who had been in good form in the domestic league lately. There was also no Adelino Nunes this time. Juca has great beliefs in his qualities as defensive midfielder, but he was suspended after picking up two bookings, and it was André who took his role as ball winning midfielder.

It was hard not to notice the pro-EU aura at Stade de Heysel this evening. The EU flag was waving, there were posters behind the goals saying “Mon pays Europe”, Jacque Delors was in the attendance, and even the ball boys wore EU merchandise. The EU capital was evidently welcoming the guests, who were the newest members of the union (1986).

Referee? Mr. Alexey Spirin of the USSR.

Belgia (4–4–2)

1. Michel Preud’homme30KV Mechelen
2. Eric Gerets35PSV
3. Georges Grün27Anderlecht
4. Franky Van Der Elst28Club Brügge
5. Michel De Wolf31Kortrijk
6. Marc Emmers23KV Mechelen
7. Stéphane Demol23Porto
8. Bruno Versavel22KV Mechelen
9. Marc Degryse24Anderlecht
10. Marc Van Der Lindensub 87′25Anderlecht
11. Jan Ceulemans (c)32Club Brügge

12 Gilbert Bodart27Standard Liège
13 Nico Brockaert28Royal Antwerp
14 Patrick Vervoort24Anderlecht
15 Enzo Scifo23Auxerre
16 Luc Nilison 87′22Anderlecht
Manager: Walter Meeuws

Portugal (4–3–3)

1. Silvino30Benfica
2. João Pinto (c)27Porto
3. Sobrinho 59′28Racing Club Paris
4. Venâncio25Sporting Lisboa
5. Veloso32Benfica
6. Carlos Xavier27Sporting Lisboa
7. Vítor Paneirasub 61′23Benfica
8. Rui Barros23Juventus
9. César Brito24Benfica
10. Paulo Futre23Atlético Madrid
11. André31Porto

12 Neno27Vitória Guimarães
13 Miguel26Sporting Lisboa
14 Jorge Ferreira23Vitória Setúbal
15 Jaime Magalhães27Porto
16 Rui Águason 61′29Porto
Manager: Juca

Tactical line-ups

Match Report

First half:
The match started in a promising fashion, as both teams clearly were going for it.

But it was by far the visitors who got off to the better start. Portugal had four corners inside the first 7 minutes of the game, which amply indicates their dominance in the opening phase. Portugal overwhelmed the hosts by practicing a sort of kick-and-run tactics. As soon as they got hold of the ball, they would hoist it up in the direction of Futre, either finding him running in the channels or mysteriously alone in the gap between the Belgian defence and midfield (a job for Van Der Elst?). This simple ploy proved highly efficient. Throughout the game, Futre would in such situations show the  defenders a clean pair of heels, outpacing them every single time. Comparing to Futre, the Belgian defence looked slow, and anyone could have told that they would live dangerously if this was to be the pattern in the game, as Futre not only has great pace, but is unpredictable and has good dribbling skills. His exploitations of the still shaky Belgian defence did however not produce any goal scoring opportunities yet, and corner kicks are not really where Portugal are going to test the hosts.

Vítor Paneira had been a revelation in the qualification so far: he’s a skillful, hard-working winger. But for this encounter he had been drawn into the centre of the park by Juca, where he was part of the conventional midfield trio that Juca preferred to field. Juca’s standard formation allows only for one winger, and as César Brito had been in good form in the domestic league, he deserved the chance, and Juca could in this way also use the stamina of V. Paneira in midfield. It meant, however, that we wouldn’t see Paneira as often as we perhaps would have liked to down the right hand side in this match. The midfield trio was also unconventional in its constitution as Adelino Nunes, much trusted defensive midfielder by Juca, was missing. It is fair to say, however, that italia1990.com perhaps aren’t as big fans of Nunes’ qualities as Juca, and André did a more than satisfying job in his role. André is an even more gritty player, also possessing better vision in his play. As they were three, and often supported by Rui Barros, Portugal had a numerous advantage in the centre of the park, where Belgium often could look a bit stretched, as Van Der Elst lies deep and Degryse tries to go forward whenever possible.

The Belgians had a slightly nervous start, with a number of misplaced passes on their own half (once from Versavel, twice from Van Der Elst). As is standard, Belgium still relied on slow build-up play from the back. Belgium are by all means an excellent counter-attacking side, but they can usually be a bit picky about taking these opportunities.  With Belgium taking plenty of time and lacking some unpredictability, Portugal had an easier job to pick up the main creative forces, Ceulemans and Degryse.

Marc Van Der Linden had got the nod instead of Luc Nilis on top for Belgium, and many would have been eager to see what the top scorer could achieve when given a place in the XI against one of the tougher opponents. Could he continue his great form for the national side? Van Der Linden brings more athleticism up front for the Belgians, and the early stage saw Ceulemans cleverly trying to play him through behind the Portuguese defense. If it didn’t result in anything, there seemed to be a connection there between the two and also good movement off the ball from Van Der Linden. The first Belgian finish of the evening was also made by Van Der Linden, getting his head on a corner. The header went over the bar, but his jumping on the occasion showed the great athletic ability of the man. Promising.

One of the big headlines before this match was Meeuw’s decision to play Degryse in midfield and place Scifo on the bench. A good decision, given the two players’ recent form. We have so far in the qualifiers seen Degryse in a more advanced position, while he here at times went rather deep to pick up the ball (while trying to shuttle forward if the move looked promising). The midfielders of Portugal were reluctant to press high, meaning that Degryse would often get time on the ball in his attempts to orchestrate the attacks. The diminutive Rui Barros often had the task to close down both him and Van Der Elst, and there was a tendency that Degryse more and more was the driving force as Belgium settled in the game (ca. 15 minutes). The wide midfielders – the two KV Mechelen players, Emmers and Versavel – were rather quiet. Versavel tended to drift inwards, where he did show some neat touches, and didn’t seem interested in challenging João Pinto down the left hand side. One suspects that Meeuws wanted Versavel to help out as a balancing force in the centre of the park, given the aforementioned stretch in this department between Van Der Elst and Degryse. This seemed a wise ploy. Emmers is a player who won’t take on defenders, but excellent when combining; spaces were minimal, however, on his wide side and his main contributions came when finding the opportunity to make diagonal runs.

A particular feature in Belgium’s play in this half was the heavy involvement of De Wolf. Portugal had no particular right sided midfielder, and also Versavel drifted towards the centre, thus De Wolf could usually advance quite high up the pitch before being stopped. Perhaps Portugal were happy to allow him to do so, as De Wolf hardly is recognized as a very creative player. Gerets is usually the livelier fullback, but his attempts to advance were usually stopped well before posing any threat, with both César Brito and Carlos Xavier well alert. All in all, the Belgian right hand side was tamer than we have been used to so far in these qualifiers, and Juca had evidently taken his measures to counter it. While De Wolf as expected didn’t exactly scheme a number of attacks from his free space down his left side, he contributed with tireless running and aggression that pushed Belgium forward when needed.

Belgium took the lead in the 35th minute after recovering the ball high up the field. The gravitation of Vítor Paneira and Versavel towards the centre of the pitch has been mentioned, and these two had key roles in the situation that led to the goal: Paneira attempted what seemed an easy pass to André, but didn’t pay attention to Versavel lurking behind the intended recipient. Versavel intercepted the pass, set pace forward with the ball and played through Ceulemans, who showed great composure one-on-one with Silvino. 1-0. It was a nonchalant (and untypical) pass from Paneira, but also a headless decision from experienced fullback Veloso, who gambled on Ceulemans being offside, deciding not to follow the big Belgian striker advancing towards Silvino. Ceulemans was clearly onside, and Veloso’s gamble to trick the linesman didn’t pay off.

Belgium came close to double their lead a few minutes after, as Ceulemans exploited a situation in which Portugal’s defensive line completely lost shape, with some players backtracking and others pushing forward. Ceulemans threaded a well timed ball in behind Veloso for Gerets to attack onto, and the bearded full back’s cross into the goalmouth found Degryse completely alone on the far post. Degryse couldn’t connect cleanly and Silvino just managed to parry the ball. A nice move from Belgium and there were now signs showing that something might be rotten in Portugal’s defense.

Belgium were kicking the ball around confidently now in the closing stage of the half. It had been a half of two halves. Portugal came out with a real attacking intent and Futre looking completely unplayable. But gradually Belgium had made their way into the game, before Versavel sent Ceulemans through to score the opener, and they had even come close to double the lead.

Second half:
Despite their strong period just before the break, when pressing for a second goal and also coming close to add to their lead, Belgium came out for the second half with a more counter-attacking strategy. They would retreat a few meters into their own half, waiting for their opportunities (and we have seen previously in the qualifiers that they are excellent on the counter). 

Again Portugal made the better start to the half. The Portuguese right hand side had been disappointingly quiet this evening, given that it had been such a force so far in the qualification. But it was again right back João Pinto and V. Paneira who combined well – and deceptively easy – to get a cross from the byline into the goalmouth. The cross produced a real scramble in front of Preud’homme, and it was eventually Rui Barros who managed to get a shot in – that sailed over the crossbar. Still, a good opportunity created from what was a slowly built-up attack and produced through their productive right flank. We had seen a few Portuguese crosses also before the break, but they had always been cleared with ease by Belgium, who are superior in the aerial battles. These crosses needed to come from the byline and drilled in, like João Pinto had done on this occasion.

It was now a very open game, with both teams willing to commit men forward. Unfortunately for the Portuguese, Futre had turned somewhat off after the break, as he seemed unable to exploit the openings that presented themselves. Both André and Rui Barros did well to drive the team forward from midfield, but the attacking opportunities around them had little to offer. Both César Brito and Vítor Paneira could with advantage have offered more width. They in fact created their second good chance of the half from a corner (!), as Vítor Paneira impressed with a towering header: the ball went over the bar, but another good opportunity for the visitors. Belgium seemed to play with a bit more confidence than the visitors, and you could see players like Degryse, Emmers and Van Der Linden thrive (The latter was expected to finish attacks, but at times also dropped deep to the right hand side, acting as a sort of complete forward). Emmers had struggled in his position before the break, but as the game opened up, Belgium had a brilliant little player in him when breaking forward. Comparatively, there was less seen of Versavel (as Belgium now more focused play on the right hand side) and Ceulemans (who more and more acted as a lone striker). It is often said that an open game favors the side that is better in attacking, but in this department the two teams are quite equal. However, Belgium have the better defenders, and it was clear that Portugal were struggling more to defend against the waves of Belgians shuttling forward against them than the other way around. Portugal did after all look less organized than the hosts.

It didn’t take long before Belgium added to their lead, making it 2-0. The Portuguese defensive line had already been exposed in the first half, and it sure did again for Belgium’s second goal of the evening. Portugal had cleared a corner, but the Portuguese team split in two over the question of whether to push forward or stay back for the return of the ball. Belgium were clearly going to recover the ball after the clearance, and so Veloso and Venâncio could be justified in their decision not to push forward. However, the rest of the team did, effectively allowing no less than 5 Belgian players waiting for the return of the ball in the spaces between. As Belgium immediately controlled the cleared ball, Degryse was easily played through, having himself no difficult task in finding Van Der Linden unmarked in front of goal. 2-0. Easy goal, and the rotten state of Juca’s defence had been thoroughly exposed.

A very similar situation took place just a couple of minutes later, as Portugal’s back four again stood high and in anything but a line, giving Van Der Elst an easy job to play through Emmers, who had made a surging run from the deep, behind the defence and one on one with Silvino. This glorious chance was however ruled offside by the linesman Khussainov – clearly the wrong decision (Emmers must have been 2 meters onside), and a glorious opportunity to make it three was taken away from Belgium. But again, all of Portugal’s positive efforts in this game were being undone by a defence that had little clue how to co-operate.

Juca introduced the striker Rui Aguas for the disappointing Vítor Paneira. Juca kept his 4-3-3 formation, with Rui Barros taking Paneira’s place in midfield. It was expected that the change would give Portugal more of a physical presence up front. The change also meant that Futre would take Rui Barros’ position in the hole, and he did seem to come a bit to life again under these premises, as there were more spaces there for him to take advantage of, while he for some time now had wrestled in vain with the central defenders. Unfortunately for Portugal, though, he kept running into cul-de-sacs, unable to find his team mates.

At this point, one sensed that Belgium for some period would need to weather off an attempted revival from Portugal. Instead, the home side soon made their third (and final) goal of the match. Portugal were pressing high up the field and the Belgians were for a moment looking to lose the ball, before Gerets made what seemed to be a long, delivering clearance. It turned out to be a nearly perfect through ball for Van Der Linden behind the Portugese defence, which this time had moved forward as a collective, but had left vast spaces behind them. The chased Van Der Linden tried to set up Ceulemans running to his left hand side: Ceulemans got a heavy touch, but soon controlled the ball and drilled it back to Van Der Linden, who in the meantime had distanced his chasers. The Anderlecht striker made no mistake and scored his 7th goal of the campaign. 3-0! Portugal had yet again been exposed, and add to this some really poor marking by Venâncio, who for a second thought he had control of Van Der Linden, only to let him go free when the cross arrived.

Guy Thys was in the attendance together with his wife Christiane, and he was all smiles after that third goal. The team appeared to be in good hands. Perhaps their best attack all evening was soon to follow, a free flowing attack with a number of players (among them Demol) joining the movement after having foiled yet another Portuguese attack by Futre. The willingness to commit men forward when such opportunities are presented is one of the hallmarks of this Belgian team. The counter-attack was capped off by Emmers, but was relatively comfortably saved by Silvino. Portugal had been shaky at the back, but Belgium do by all means possess a lot of attacking quality, as shown in this example.

Game over for Portugal. They had came with an attacking intent, but their defence let them down. Still, on 3-0 to Belgium, they didn’t let their heads down, and seemed to have the belief that a goal was in the coming. After all, goal difference might be crucial on the final day of the group, as they likely would have a close battle with Czechoslovakia. Rui Aguas had come on and did of course offer some more physical presence on top, and it did seem the right tactical option for Juca at this point. But sadly neither he or his team mates were ever to come close to threaten Belgium’s goal in this match, even though they kept working hard for it. Again, special mention must go to Rui Barros and André.

The highlight of the game was yet to come. A few minutes before the end, Jan Ceulemans almost scored from dead angle near the corner flag. Silvino had anticipated a cross into the box, and could only just get back to the near post when Ceulemans decided to fire from an “impossible” angle and distance. The significance of this is of course the close resemblance between this attempt and Van Der Linden’s goal in the reverse fixture, where he (from a far better angle) had placed a shot in Silvino’s near post that somehow went in. Was Ceuleman’s shot was an allusion to that episode? Impossible to verify, but if there is one player that could try that, it’s Jan Ceulemans. Nevertheless, a moment of true brilliance by Big Jan!

In a match with two attacking-minded teams, the one with the worse defence lost. Juca’s team was built for sitting back and break with pace, fronted by the live-wire Futre, and they did for longer periods in the 1st half have the upper hand in the game. However, Belgium used their routine and cool heads to find their feet in the game, and would soon exploit the shaky Portuguese defensive line. Meewus stood his first test, picking a 4-4-2 formation that fitted Belgium well, although Portugal swarmed the midfield.



1 Preud’homme 6.9
2 Gerets 7.1
3 Grün 6.8
4 De Wolf 7.2
5 Van Der Elst 7.2
6 Emmers 6.9
7 Demol 6.7
8 Versavel 6.8
9 Degryse 7.5
10 Van Der Linden 7.3
(16 Nilis –)
11 Ceulemans 7.3

1 Silvino 6.7
2 João Pinto 6.7
3 Sobrinho 6.7
4 Venâncio 6.5
5 Veloso 6.4
6 Carlos Xavier 6.8
7 Vítor Paneira 6.4
(16 Rui Aguas 6.7)
8 Rui Barros 7.4
9 César Brito 6.7
10 Paulo Futre 7.2
11 André 7.1


Complete match (youtube)