Belgium – Switzerland: Wasteful Red Devils saved by Vervoort's goal
Belgium kicked off their campaign for the 1990 World Cup. Switzerland were early pace-setters in the group, but only thanks to a win in Luxembourg (which anyway was larger than that of Czechoslovakia).
Team news – Belgium
There were a few changes to the Belgian team that had lost to Brazil the week before. The world leading goalkeeper Michel Preud’homme had broken his nose in that encounter, and Guy Thys would have to look for a replacement. He didn’t need to worry, however, as regular understudy Gilbert Bodart is a more than able cover. Thys also replaced his wide midfielders: Franky Vercauteren gave way to Patrick Vervoort, Daniel Veyt to Marc Emmers. Both of these changes meant that more youth, energy and stamina was brought into the Belgian line-up – at the expense of experience and style. To partner the frontman Jan Ceulemans (who shrugged off a minor injury to get match fit in time), Thys opted for the stylish Luc Nilis ahead of another newcomer, Francis Severeyns. All in all it was a very young Belgian side that kicked off Belgium’s campaign for the 1990 World Cup.
Guy Thys was accompanied in the dugout by his assistant Michel Sablon, as well as the future national coach Walter Meeuws, who was poised to take over the reigns the following autumn. Preud’homme was present in the stands: The image below shows him during an interview with a domestic broadcaster ni the break.
Team news – Switzerland
Jeandupeux arranged a camp for his squad in Kriegstetten from 14th to 16th of October, preparing the team for the fixture in Brussels. There was a couple of new faces in that 16 man strong squad, which included defender Peter Schepull (Wettingen), recently impressing in the Swiss league, and young Christian Colombo (Lugano), who was more of a surprise. Colombo had however been man of the match for Switzerland U21 most recently, and Jeandupeux and his assistants felt he was ready for the next step. Schepull also received praise from the national coach: “Il va vite, il est bon de la tête et il commet peu de fautes.”
Two players withdrew from the squad before the match day: Jean-Paul Brigger (who originally had replaced the injured Hanspeter Zwicker) and Alain Sutter. They were replaced by three players: Christophe Bonvin, Marco Schällibaum and Dario Zuffi, all experienced heads in this context. (Other stand-by players had been Hans-Peter Burri, Blaise Piffaretti, and Robert Lei-Ravello.)
Switzerland continued in their attacking-looking 4-3-3 that had soundly beaten Luxembourg last month. There were two changes in Jeandupeux’s team compared to that line-up: Marco Schällibaum came in to play left back, pushing Patrice Mottiez over to the right side. If anything, this made Switzerland more adept in the attacking department, since Schällibaum is better at going forward than Thomas Tschuppert, the player who had to make way. Somewhat bizarre that Schällibaum was given the nod as a left back and not Urs Birrer: the former had only been a stand-by player while Jeandupeux already had Birrer in his original squad (Jeandupeux could of course also have continued using Mottiez on the left back and Tschuppoert on the right hand side, but no).
The Swiss had lost left winger Alain Sutter to injury shortly before the game, and in his place Jeandupeux fielded pacy forward Dario Zuffi. On the bench, it’s worth noting that as many as three of the five sitting there were considered defenders by category (Birrer, Tschuppert, Schepull). Attacking line-up, defensive safety on the bench! Young Colombo had been in the original squad that in the end counted 17 men, and was the only player left out of the match day squad.
The previous encounters between the two teams had taken place in the qualification for the 1984 Euros. Belgium had won the meeting in Brussels 3-0, with Ceulemans, Hermann and Favre the only players left from those teams (as well as Gerets and Vercauteren, currently among Belgium’s substitutes). Surprisingly, this meeting in October 1988 is to date the last encounter between the two teams on Belgian soil – in fact, they have only met twice since: the reverse fixture in Switzerland in 1989 and a friendly in 2016.
15 degrees in Brussels this evening and nice conditions, although the Heysel pitch was not in its best shape.
Referee? Mr Syme of Scotland, a very experienced official with a terrific pedigree.
|1 Gilbert Bodart||26||Standard Liège|
|2 Georges Grün||26||Anderlecht|
|3 Lei Clijsters||31||KV Mechelen|
|4 Franky Van Der Elst||87′||27||Club Brugge|
|5 Bruno Versavel||21||KV Mechelen|
|6 Patrick Vervoort||23||Anderlecht|
|7 Stéphane Demol||22||Bologna|
|8 Marc Emmers||22||KV Mechelen|
|9 Luc Nilis||sub 76′||21||Anderlecht|
|10 Enzo Scifo||22||Bordeaux|
|11 Jan Ceulemans (c)||31||Club Brugge|
|12 Philippe Vande Walle||26||Club Brugge|
|13 Éric Gerets||33||PSV Eindhoven|
|14 Franky Vercauteren||31||Nantes|
|15 Daniel Veyt||31||RFC Liège|
|16 Francis Severeyns||on 76′||29||Pisa|
|1 Joël Corminbœuf||24||Neuchâtel Xamax|
|2 Patrice Mottiez||16′||25||Neuchâtel Xamax|
|3 Marco Schällibaum||26||Servette|
|4 Martin Weber||30||Young Boys|
|5 Alain Geiger||27||Saint-Étienne|
|6 Lucien Favre||30||Servette|
|7 Beat Sutter||25||Neuchâtel Xamax|
|8 Heinz Hermann (c)||30||Neuchâtel Xamax|
|9 Kubilay Türkyilmaz||21||Bellinzona|
|10 Mario Andermatt||sub 76′||26||Grasshopper|
|11 Dario Zuffi||23||Young Boys|
|12 Urs Birrer||27||Luzern|
|13 Thomas Schuppert||28||Aarau|
|14 Peter Schepull||24||Wettingen|
|15 Christophe Bonvin||on 76′||23||Servette|
|16 Martin Brunner||25||Grasshopper|
First half – match report
Switzerland kicked the game off with a delightful ploy: Andermatt took a leap and hoisted the ball upwards and out of play, with his sole intent being to produce a throw-in deep inside the Belgians’ half, giving his side the possibility to push forward. A terrific little idea that gave a promise of Jeandupeux’s inventions – sadly, these were false expectations …
Swiss naïvity exposed
Jeandupeux had once again fielded a team ready to go forward. But what seems to have worked well against Luxembourg, wasn’t necessarily the appropriate strategy in order to get a result in Brussels. Had Jeandupeux done the unthinkable and underestimated the oceanic difference in quality between Luxembourg and Belgium? The number of chances created by Belgium almost from the word ‘go’ suggested this.
You have to question Jeandupeux’s wisdom of fielding an attacking-looking 4-3-3 away against Belgium when you’re arguably the weaker side. The two wingers had been instructed to position themselves high up the pitch, which is remarkable given their evident need to track the Belgian wide players. Zuffi and Beat Sutter were too often at a hopeless distance apart from Grün and Versavel when the Belgians won back possession and broke forward with pace, unable to provide any assistance to the defensive lines. Switzerland were eager to close down high up the field once they lost possession, which of course is a strategy that might bring very favourable situations if successful. However, you couldn’t possibly call Switzerland’s high pressing successful: it had too little intensity and a lack of cohesion, with Swiss players scattered all over the place. Hence, they frequently looked very vulnerable in these situations. Yes, even with most of their men well behind the ball and inside their own half, the Swiss team looked disorganized in their pressing – a recipe for a defensive catastrophe.
It didn’t work much better attacking-wise: The three attackers looked desparately isolated on top, with a huge gap separating them from the midfield. It looked like a broken team. The transition phase was a complete failure, and the top three hardly saw the ball during the entire half, with a few exceptions when they were set up in very difficult situations. (It was latter revealed that B. Sutter suffered a knock early in the game, and never quite recovered from that during the game – he didn’t ask to be substituted for the fear of being accused of lack of toughness.)
Hermann vs Scifo
With one team sweeping past the other, the anticipated duel between the two teams’ star players in midfield, Scifo and Hermann, was more or less cancelled. It was the former who without doubt ran the show in Brussels in the 1st half. While Hermann hardly found any time on the ball, Scifo was brilliant in his playmaker role. There had been times during the last year when people had questioned the development of the Belgian starlet, currently trying to find back his form in Bordeaux, but his performance in this half must have brought new hope to the critics.
Scifo seemed to be all over the pitch – he would often come deep to collect the ball and propel the team forward, easily knocking the ball beyond the naïve, shapeless Swiss lines and exploiting the acres of space left behind by Switzerland’s more or less defunct organizing.
But just as eye-catching was perhaps the performance of Franky Van Der Elst. He was not just an excellent cover for Scifo’s forward runs and a solid anchor that allowed Belgium to stand high up the pitch, but a creative force from his deep position. Together with Scifo he orchestred Belgium’s numerous and swift surges during the first half.
Belgium find a pathway down the right hand side
The Belgians looked particularly threatening down their right hand side. It would be wrong to say that they focused their play to the right – rather, their constant waves of attacks naturally found their release in that zone, due to a combination of their own forces and the opponents’ weaknesses. The Swiss midfield looked both thin and narrow, and with too little defensive assistance from the wingers (Zuffi in particular), they gave away a lot of space to the Belgian wide men.
Even though the Swiss had placed their most defensive minded midfielder, Martin Andermatt, on their left hand side, they were unable to pick up Georges Grün, who together with Marc Emmers formed a very mobile flank for Belgium. Zuffi also probably did less of a job in tracking back than what B. Sutter did on the opposite side, and taken into consideration the lack of defensive shape in the Swiss team, there was no wonder that such a proficient combination as Grün and Emmers could cause havoc. The latter had been given the nod ahead of the experienced Daniel Veyt and was really showing his worth – his movement off the ball and blistering pace makes him a player extremely difficult to pick up, and he had the tendency to show up all over the park, not only his designated right hand side.
All the five chances created by Belgium in the first half hour of the match came from crosses swung in from the right hand side. Grün and Emmers were often assisted in these situations, as the following overview of who delivered the crosses and who connected with it shows:
1 Scifo – Vervoort
2 Scifo – Nilis (via Vervoort)
3 Grun – Nilis
4 Nilis – Emmers
5 Grün – Vervoort
Most of these were glorious opportunities, as when Emmers got a free header but only could direct it in the grateful clutch of Corminboeuf. The latter opportunity made Thys put up a wretched face, rueing the wastefulness of his side. The fifth soon followed, however, and it finally gave Belgium their well-deserved goal. This was another deep cross from Grün, who once again was left unattended by Switzerland, with no closing down whatsoever: It’s a clever cross, targeted in the space between the goalkeeper and the defence, finding Vervoort to score with a diving header. Mottiez had completely lost his marking (as he had done on the very first chance), but you also need to question the utter inability of Switzerland to stop Belgium attacking down that flank.
Belgium also looked the side closest to score the second goal of the match. Ceulemans appeared to have given Belgium 2-0 after being played through on goal by Scifo, but the goal was disallowed.
Above: Georges Grün in acres of space, seconds before swinging his a cross into the box.
Swiss attacking deficiencies
The Swiss created nothing and frankly did not come close to threaten the final third of Belgium’s half. Their best chance came when Beat Sutter unexpectedly received the ball on 17-18 metres distance with only Clijsters standing between himself and Bodart. But B. Sutter is not the kind of player to take on defenders, and instead of trying to get past Clijsters, he fired a shot from distance – a shot that was an easy catch for Bodart to make.
If Switzerland caused any trouble , it was from Türkyilmaz’s powerful runs from the deep with the ball at feet, which at times could be difficult to track, but Belgium’s structure always ensured that he was stopped well before entering the danger areas of the pitch.
There was a gulf of class being displayed in this first half. The Swiss just looked dysfunctional in their 4-3-3 formation against a side of Belgium’s quality, with no coherence whatsoever between midfield and attack and very poor structure in their pressing. A vast improvement in the second half inwould be needed if they were to get something from this encounter.
Second half – match report
More cautious approach from Thys
After the break, Belgium took the foot off the pedal. Despite being overwhelmingly dominant in the first half, Thys decided to defend deeper and hand the initiative to their opponents. The defensive line was now more firmly fixed inside their own half. Was this realism, as he must have thought that Belgium not possibily could re-create their performance from the first half? Or was it too cautious, given the very safe and comfortable status that Belgium enjoyed before the break? Hard to tell, but you need to revere the wisdom of Thys.
Jeandupeux had also made some changes to his team: Beat Sutter and Türkyilmaz switched positions – more speed down the flanks and aerial power upfront? There was also a rotation in midfield, with Andermatt more clearly the central one, flanked by Favre to his left and Hermann to the right. Perhaps an attempt to bring Andermatt’s steel more into the middle of the action, although it arguably looked to be needed to his left before the break?
Belgium’s more cautious approach meant that Switzerland were invited back into the game. It soon became evident that players like Favre and Hermann would enjoy a lot more time on the ball than what had been the case in the first half, and suddenly you could see Switzerland knock the ball around with some confidence within Belgium’s half – unthinkable in the first 45 minutes.
And perhaps not surprisingly, 10 minutes into the 2nd half the guests created their first goal scoring opportunity, with Zuffi (who had his moments this everning) delivering a cross from his left flank after a clever turn on the ball. The cross was swung into the area between the goalkeeper and defence, and it was Favre who came close to get a foot (or a head? he couldn’t decide!) on the ball and steer it towards goal. This was a good chance after they had not been anywhere close in the first half. Had Belgium become too passive after letting the Swiss take over the initiative?
With especially Van Der Elst now dropping deeper, Favre and Hermann saw a lot more of the ball. A remarkable change of scenario, and interesting to see how Favre’s passing abilities and Hermann’s industry now put their mark on the game. Switzerland do actually have a capacity in that department, but where it had been efficiently torn apart in the first half, it was now tolerated by Belgium, and started to thrive.
Belgium break forward
We now had a quite open game on our hands. The Swiss appeared able to slowly build up their attacks and create some half-chances, while Belgium willingly burst forward on the counter-attacking opportunities that they were given. At this stage, you would still have to bet on Belgium as the side scoring the second goal of the match (even though they no longer created any big chances), but they did not look able any longer to completely contain the Swiss attack, which more and more saw Hermann coming to his right.
Still surprising to see Belgium defend that deep, with the back four positioning themselves just in front of the penalty area. It did minimize space for Türkyilmaz to run into behind the defence, but this had been no problem either in the first half. It did offer Belgium the opportunity to break forward when winning back possession, but they had arguably had those situations coming all the time in the first half also due to their high pressing being so efficient. All in all, Belgium looked less of a force after the break.
While musing on Thys’ tactical choices, there was still plenty of good football to appreciate. Good to see Jan Ceulemans in such a great shape, lining up with his legendary enthusiasm for another World Cup campaign. He was arguably one of the better players in the second half, always contributing with constructive play and his usual calmness and flawness technique. He was playing as an attacking midfielder this evening – switching between pairing with Nilis or with the midfield quartet when pressing.
A sign of what was to came in the 15 minuts occurred when Ceulemans set pace from midfield and penetrated a more and more desperate Switzerland’s rapidly disintegrating lines, racing in behind their defence accompanied by no less than two Belgian players (see image below). In his typically unselfish manner, Ceulemans passed the ball to Demol on his left, but the libero was flagged offside when tapping it into the empty net.
Above: Switzerland looking somewhat exposed at the back.
Frenetic end – and Switzerland nearly grad an equalizer…!
The best goal scoring opportunities for both teams were created the last 15 minutes of the match. Belgium had three of them, notably all of them saw substitute Francis Severeyns providing the finish and Jan Ceulemans acting as the creator. The Swiss defence was gradually collapsing in the team’s attempt to find an equalizer, and with Belgium not shy of committing men forward it seemed like the Red Devils would create a good opportunity whenever they won back possession.
Guy Thys must have seen that their finishing let them down, and replaced Nilis with the proven goalscorer Severeyns, formerly of Antwerpen, now based in Pisa. Within the space of five minutes he had squandered three brilliant opportunities, notably all of them set up by the vision of Ceulemans. You probably need to blame it a bit on bad luck, as one shot went inside the post and bounced out, while another was cleared off the line (by Favre, of all people). It was comedy hour, as Switzerland had disintegrated and Belgium couldn’t capitalize.
Comedy nearly turned to tragedy as Belgium survived a terrific scare in the dying minutes of the match, with Switzerland unexpectedly seeing their best opportunity all evening. A random clearance from Geiger (or is anything random when it’s him?!) proved to be a perfect through ball to Turkyilmaz who came one on one with Bodart. The stand-in goalkeeper did however parry the ball expertly with his foot work. Belgium had been saved – they had been ridiculously wasteful and almost let Switzerland, thanks to a bit of fluke, find the necessary goal.
Belgium were in full control in the first half and had plenty of chances to get more than the one goal they had. Thys’ team selection of a young and dynamic side looked an excellent one, with the team sweeping over Switzerland for the entire 45 minutes. But the complete dominance must to a large degree be explained by the guests’ tactical naïvity. Surprisingly, Switzerland staged a decent comeback after the break, with Guy Thys instructing his team to defend much lower, allowing Favre and Hermann to thrive. It may be discussed how wise this was, although Belgium created more than enough chances to add to their lead – but the unthinkable almost happened when Türkyilmaz came one on one with Bodart just before full time. All in all a good game by Belgium, although you must question the number of chances they squandered.
Makes a terrific save near the end to prevent Belgium from drawing. Not often called upon otherwise. One of his throws is somewhat without accuracy.
Enjoys a brilliant game, defensively as well as attacking-wise. Great crosses also.
Assured display, dispossessing the Swiss strikers with his usual ease.
Van Der Elst 7.4
Exceptionally industrious and instigates many a Belgian attack in tandem with Scifo.
Quite anonymous from his left back position. Not troubled at all, and not much involved going forward.
Created havoc with his excellent movement off the ball and blistering pace.
Quiet evening for the free defender. Joins attack a few times, but without much profit.
Scores a goal, and otherwise puts in a workmanlike performance.
Quite stylished, but maybe not as efficient as a few of his attacking team mates.
At times sweeping past Switzerland, and propelling his team from the back.
The creator of several Belgian goal scoring opportunities. Great vision and touch.
Quite busy evening between the posts. Not always the most difficult shots to save, but there were a few. Looks assured.
Struggled to man-mark Vervoort on crosses. Not a lot involved.
Run ragged in the first half, but without much help from his team mates.
Combative display from the Swiss man-marker.
A difficult evening in the Swiss defence, but maintains his dignity.
A bit lightweight in the defensive work. More to his right when having the ball at feet in the second half.
B. Sutter 6.0
This is a poor performance. Ineffectual as right winger, and disappointingly not better when played as a striker. Does some defensive work, which is a plus.
Sloppy and perturbed in the first half, as the rest of the team, but really asserts himself after the break, driving Switzerland forward for a much better half of football.
A good display, constantly threatening the Belgian defence, if not always successful.
Physical performance. Fails to stop the Belgian surges, but arguably could have needed more of an organizational structure around him..
Had his moments, but uninvolved for long periods. Could have given his left back better assistance.
What they said
“Un autre dispositif n’aurait pas changé grand chose. Dès l’instant où certains joueurs swuisses étaient incapables de fixer l’adversaire qu’ils étaient censés marquer dans leur zone, tout se compliquait. Les Belges parvenaient toujours à décaler un partenaire pour assurer la circulation de la balla et la projection offensive!”