De Rode Duivels cope with long-ball Czechoslovakia
A chilly November night in Bratislava. Belgium had got off to a good start to their 1990 World Cup qualification, with a 1-0 win against Switzerland, although they probably should have won by a larger margin. Czechoslovakia likewise had one win to their record, a 2-0 win in Esch-sur-Alzette over whipping boys Luxembourg.
Czechoslovakia team news
Dr. Jozef Vengloš had all autumn been rebuilding his side after Kubík and Knoflíček had defected to the West. How to replace their flair and creativity? His team had seemingly done well in Luxembourg (italia1990.com regrettably don’t have the full 90 minutes of this match), but would it work against a team of Belgium’s standard? Two changes in the Czechoslovakian line-up compared to the team that won in Luxembourg: Skuhravý looks to have been injured, and was replaced by Milan Luhový of Dukla Praha (Daněk must have been in the discussion as well, but had to be content with a place on the bench). Left back Fieber was also replaced, by Lubomír Vlk (Vítkovice). Difficult to say how Vengloš reasoned about his left backs at the time, but italia1990.com think Vlk is a slightly better option in this position.
Belgium team news
Belgium welcomed back the world leading goalkeeper Preud’homme (broken nose), but crucially missed Jan Ceulemans, who had suffered an injury. This was perhaps a greater loss to Belgium than Preud’homme had been in the previous match, since there was no proper replacement for Big Jan (Gilbert Bodart is after all a very competent goalkeeper stand-in).
Belgium’s unusual striker duo for this match would be Hans Christiaens and Daniel Veyt. Veyt would hopefully bring some of the smartness and experience of Ceulemans, Christiaens was there to make runs and outpace the Czechoslovakian defenders. Christiaens had not been part of the original squad, but was called up as also Francis Severeyns had to withdraw with injury. (The status of Luc Nilis is unknown.)
Thys also changed to a 5-3-2 formation, underlining his defensive approach in Bratislava. An injury to Lei Clijsters (out for a few weeks) was a major blow for the defensive cause, and Stéphane Demol had to play despite having taken up a knock (ribs). Thys drafted in youngster Philippe Albert to help the defence win the headers against the powerful Czechoslovakian strikers. But Thys must have seen that experience also was needed: Michel De Wolf was picked as left back and Éric Gerets returned to the right back after being a reserve only in the opener against Switzerland. Bruno Versavel was however also missing, and it might be that he had been in the line-up if it wasn’t for his injury.
|1 Jan Stejskal||26||Sparta Praha|
|2 Július Bielik||26||Sparta Praha|
|3 Miroslav Kadlec||25||Vítkovice|
|4 Ivan Hašek||25||Sparta Praha|
|5 Lubomír Vlk||23||Vítkovice|
|6 Michal Bílek||23||Sparta Praha|
|7 Václav Němeček||sub 87′||21||Sparta Praha|
|8 Jozef Chovanec (c)||28||Sparta Praha|
|9 Stanislav Griga||27||Sparta Praha|
|10 Milan Luhový||25||Dukla Praha|
|11 Vladimír Weiss||sub 79′||24||Inter Bratislava|
|12 Vladimír Kinier||30||Slovan Bratislava|
|13 Viliam Hýravý||25||Baník Ostrava|
|14 Ľubomír Moravčík||on 79′||23||Plastika Nitra|
|15 Václav Daněk||on 87′||27||Baník Ostrava|
|16 Luděk Mikloško||26||Baník Ostrava|
|1 Michel Preud’homme||29||KV Mechelen|
|2 Éric Gerets (c)||34||PSV Eindhoven|
|3 Georges Grün||26||Anderlecht|
|4 Philippe Albert||21||Charleroi|
|5 Michel De Wolf||30||Kortrijk|
|6 Marc Emmers||22||KV Mechelen|
|7 Stéphane Demol||22||Bologna|
|8 Franky Van Der Elst||27||Club Brugge|
|9 Daniel Veyt||31||RFC Liège|
|10 Enzo Scifo||sub 75′||22||Bordeaux|
|11 Hans Christiaens||sub 79′||24||Waregem|
|12 Gilbert Bodart||26||Standard|
|13 Patrick Vervoort||23||Anderlecht|
|14 Franky Vercauteren||32||Nantes|
|15 Marc Van Der Linden||on 75′, 85′||24||Royal Antwerp|
|16 Luc Nilis||on 79′||21||Anderlecht|
Match Report – 1st half
When Mr. Midgley called the two captains to the mid-circle for the coin-toss, it was the opportunity for two future team mates to greet each other. Chovanec would later that winter embark on a career abroad joining Éric Gerets in PSV Eindhoven.
New Czechoslovakian tactics
Czechoslovakia’s situation before the 1990 World Cup campaign was well-known. With Kubík and Knoflíček made ineligible by the national federation (after defecting to the West in summer 1988), Dr. Vengloš needed to think anew when preparing his team tactics for the 1990 qualifiers.
Missing the two players with most flair (Knoflíček) and vision (Kubík) in his squad, Dr. Vengloš changed his team’s style of play to a more direct approach. From now on, Czechoslovakia would generally target their strikers with long balls, hitting the ball from the deep in their direction and largely bypass the midfielders in the process. You would think that this change of tactics is suitable to Czechoslovakia’s crop of players: Dr. Vengloš has a squad consisting of tall, strong strikers and industrious midfielders that willingly shuttle forward to chase their knock-ons. Tomáš Skuhravý (absent this evening) is the prime exponent of the first kind, Ivan Hašek of the second.
To knock the ball forward, Dr. Vengloš had the luxury of Jozef Chovanec’s services in defence. The Sparta Prague man is a brilliant choice for this task – the range and accuracy of his passing is second to none in this period. Chovanec is perhaps better known as a midfielder, but was used as a libero in the current team set-up (note that also libero Jan Kocian was ineligible, and only due to return in 1989). From his deep position, he was in an excellent position to pinpoint his passes, either targeting a striker’s head or chip a pass into the channels.
Czechoslovakia’s tactics appears to be a success
The opening phase of this match suggested that Dr. Vengloš’ “new” Czechoslovakia was nicely taking shape – that is, without Knoflíček and Kubík. Chovanec introduced himself early on with his sweeping passes to the two front men. It is rare to see a man of Chovanec’s ability to pass the ball in defence, and his team mates would often knock the ball around until he had a good angle from which to hoist the ball forward. His distribution proved perfect for Dr. Vengloš’ direct approach.
Belgium were on their back heels from the very first minute, pushed back by an energetic home side that pressed high up the pitch and continuously hoisted the ball upwards to their front men. With the two target men making their physical presence felt for Czechoslovakia and the rest of the team pushing forward, the ball seemed to be firmly rooted to the Belgian half. The long balls in the direction of Griga and Luhový were often aimed into the channels, perhaps in order to open up the central areas for Czechoslovakia’s midfielders chasing the knock-downs.
Czechoslovakia had three decent goal scoring opportunities already within the first 10 minutes of the game. The first was a terrific long shot by Weiss from over 30 yards which Preud’homme did ever so well to tip over the bar. The two others followed from Chovanec’s corner kicks: of which one was an attempt to re-create his goal against Luxembourg (scoring directly from the corner), the second a cutback to Bílek lurking outside the penalty area that Preud’homme saved – a ploy which would be successful much later in these qualifiers…
Belgium in possession
Belgium had a rather cautious approach to this encounter, and tended to build up their attacks very patiently. Based on other performances, it is safe to claim that there are few teams at all that are able to show more patience when in possession than the Belgians – true, they are great on the counter, but when the opponents already have enough men behind the ball, they are happy to patiently knock the ball around for as long as it takes, it seems. They’re a Janus-faced team in that matter. And as Czechoslovakia were piling on the pressure, Belgium also needed to slow down the tempo of the game by keeping the ball within the team.
We remember that Belgium’s right hand side had been quite prolific against Switzerland, as they happened to discover spaces there to exploit against a poorly organized opponent. This time, it seems, they were intentionally focusing their play to that right hand side: Scifo and Gerets (left image) were playing in that wide position, but were also assisted by Emmers and even Grün, who often used the licence of the free defender (which strictly speaking is the less cultured Demol) to go forward. Thys had seemingly instructed his players to attack down the right hand side, leaving the left hand side almost unused – it is in fact rare to see such a onesided focus as Belgium had in this match.
That plan did however not work very well. Belgium soon discovered that Czechoslovakia were very compact. With Belgium being so open about their intentions to attack down the right, it was an easy job for the home side to be compact, as that part of the pitch soon became congested. The two wide players on the left for the home side, Vlk and Bílek, worked expertly in tandem to prevent the guests from carving out openings. All in all, this was a very different experience for Belgium than the easy task they had been given against Switzerland.
Toothless Christiaens and Veyt
With Ceulemans ruled out and Nilis on the bench, Belgium had a new pair of strikers to face Czechoslovakia. How did the change turn out? Quite terrible, to be honest. The two were forced to play with their backs towards their goal and were easy matches for the Czechoslovakian man markers. Veyt was not given time on the ball and Christiaens is a player who is better at running behind the defence. The conditions were too physical for them, and Belgium could without doubt have made good use of Ceulemans’ physical presence to make way up front.
Their most positive player in the first half was Emmers, who (as against Switzerland) was a real live wire. He is an expert in finding spaces and his speed makes him difficult to track. There were some examples of combination play between Emmers and Veyt that showed some promise, although it did not produce any clear goal scoring opportunities. In stark contrast to the last game, Scifo was closed down (in that congested right sided zone of his) and never managed to create anything for the Belgians, whose passing unfortunately mostly moved sideways.
There were long spells in the 1st half when Belgium had a plenty of possession, but it didn’t come to anything at all.
Griga and Hašek
The two players who epitomized Czechoslovakia’s style of play was striker Stanislav Griga and midfielder Ivan Hašek. Both Griga and his partner Luhový were targets for the home side’s direct play, but the former was arguably the one who made his presence more felt. Despite being closely attended by one of Belgium’s man-markers at all times, he was always strong, surprisingly often coming out the situations with the ball under his control. An admirable display, really. He would regularly show up in the right or left channel, stretching the opponent’s defensive line.
The idea was for the midfielders to shuttle forward and pick up the knock-downs from the strikers. The two wide midfielders Bílek and Weiss would regularly drift inside and chase these balls, together with Hašek. Initially, Nemecek was the one of the two central midfielders with the licence to go forward, but halfway through a change took place, with Hašek now shuttling forward and Němeček staying behind (the change was nicely illustrated by the producer capturing Dr. Vengloš instructing them). The latter seems the more sensible option: Hašek is an expert at arriving late in the penalty area and a proven finisher. Němeček in fact has attacking qualities as well, for example in making determined runs, but doesn’t have the class of Hašek.
Czechoslovakia were in full control, creating the occasional opportunity. One of the best chances took place just before half-time, and was a strange inversion of the usual tactical ploy: A long ball hoisted forward was headed down by Hašek, who neatly laid the ball off to Luhový to strike from just inside the penalty area with a clear view on goal (you would more easily imagine them in the opposite roles) – but unluckily the ball hit the back of Griga, and deflected wide of the post.
Match report – 2nd half
Scifo and Christiaens kicked off the second half, with no changes on either side.
The teams pick up where they left
Belgium had been pegged back for most of the first 45 minutes. Could they possibly break free in the second half? There had been no changes in personnel, and it soon became clear that there was no change in the pattern of the game. If anything, Czechoslovakia were even more firmly in control after the break, with the ball only exceptionally crossing the midway line. The siege was now total.
In fact, the analysis of the first half holds for much of what happened in the second as well. With 0-0 being the score and no big changes being made by the two managers, we had a rather monotonous game at our hands. Czechoslovakia hoisted the ball forward, put Belgium under pressure, while the hosts defended bravely and made some futile attempts to launch counter-attacks.
The change that took place midstream in the first half in Czechoslovakia’s team, with Němeček staying behind and Hašek shuttling forward, was maintained after the break. Němeček would in fact at times look more like a third central defender when Czechoslovakia had the ball, positioning himself together with Kadlec and Chovanec, ready to sweep up the ball if it returned from Belgium’s defenders, but also allowing the two full backs to feel free to go forward, making Czechoslovakia attack in something like a 3-2-3-2 formation.
Narrow midfield formation for Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia’s midfield was quite narrow in this match. Bílek is a right-footed player who prefers to cut inside from the left, and he would as a rule move away from the chalk as soon as his team crossed the midway line. He shuttled forward in a support role for the attackers, joining Hašek in chasing the knock-downs, or even crossed the pitch to suddenly emerge on the opposite flank (but never on “his” left hand side). And neither did Weiss, who is a more regular winger, keep himself in a wide position, instead drifting into the central areas, constituting a central trio together with Hašek and Bílek behind the two strikers.
Czechoslovakia’s wide play was for the most part provided by the strikers chasing in the channels and the full-backs motoring down the side line. Regarding the latter, they often found space to run into as their wide midfielders drifted inside. Julius Bielik was quite active in this department in the first half, but strangely faded off after the break. Lubomir Vlk on the opposite enjoyed the same conditions, but continued to motor down his flank also in the second half. Vlk cut a somewhat strange figure in Czechoslovakia’s team, as he perhaps was the most isolated player on the pitch. He has little flair and technique in his efforts to go forward with the ball, but is able to accelarate and is a powerful runner.
Heavy pressure, few chances
Despite the home side’s pressure, they didn’t see a lot of chances during the second half. Probably fewer than in the first half. They were successful in keeping a high tempo of the ball and were good at committing men forward, but found it hard to break down the Belgian defensive line when they reached Preud’homme’s goal area. Demol, Grün and Albert didn’t always have an easy time, but together they formed a solid wall that Czechoslovakia had trouble to penetrate. Could Czechoslovakia for example have been even more extreme in playing the long ball? Perhaps too often the two strikers came deep to collect the ball, receiving the ball in their feet, when they seemed to create more havoc when the ball was hoisted forward with their heads as target. Some more wide play could also have stretched Belgium more than what was the case – there were very few crosses during these 90 minutes.
Still, some of Czechoslovakia’s best opportunities in this half were created on their right hand side, usually involving some intelligent running by Vladimír Weiss and/or Ivan Hašek after the home side had rewon possession. There seems to have been a problem for Belgium in organizing their defensive lines to the left, in the area covered by De Wolf and Van Der Elst, as the home side on occasions found spaces to run into there – a phenomenon otherwise non-existent in this Belgian side. With the Belgian players intent on man-marking, they were always vulnerable if the right runs were made. Two of the chances saw Weiss bearing down on goal, albeit from a narrow angle – the first was the better chance, a shot that went just outside of the post. The second was a penalty claim that Mr. Midgley waved away. The third chance was created by Hašek, who ran into large swaths of space behind De Wolf , went down to the byline and played a cutback into the box – Griga couldn’t connect and Luhový made a heavy touch and ended up with a disappointing finish (above image).
Belgium’s counter attacking fails
There was hardly an attacking move worth mentioning by Belgium in the second half. There are several reasons for this. When their defence rewon possession, they would often have no other option than to hoist it forward with no other aim than to get rid of it. The midfielders were also strongly needed in the defensive lines, meaning that these players found themselves in unfavourable positions for turnovers – the distance towards the opposite goal became long. And thirdly, their two strikers were having a very hard time to assert themselves against Czechoslovakia’s strong defenders, with especially Kadlec clearly outperforming them in the duels.
Scifo had been seen on the right hand side for most of the first half, but appeared to explore the opposite side to a larger degree after the break. It didn’t yield any positive result, however, as Belgium hardly saw the ball. In the end, Scifo hurt himself in a tussle with Němeček, sustaining an injury in his shoulder. He had to be escorted off the pitch by the Belgian medical apparatus. Thys’ replacement for the injured Scifo was a curious one: on came Marc Van Der Linden, a striker, whereas he both had Vercauteren and Vervoort to choose from. It appeared to be a straight swap, however, as Van Der Linden soon joined the mix of Belgian midfielders trying to stop Czechoslovakia’s waves of attack.
Belgian heroism sustains the pressure
Guy Thys could thank the heroism of his defensive players for the fact that Belgium didn’t concede any goal for these difficult 90 minutes. There seemed always to be a last minute intervention, for example a towering header by Albert or a long toe from Demol.
Perhaps surprising that Czechoslovakia didn’t manage to create more possibilities when they had Belgium on their knees during most of this game. Did they still lack some flair in last third of the pitch? There were of course chances, and both Luhový and Weiss missed big chances to give the home side 1-0. But the goal that looked like coming, never manifested. Instead, the Belgian defence withstood pressure and salvaged a draw.
This was a surprisingly one-sided game, with Czechoslovakia in full control from the word ‘go’. The direct style of play appeared to fit the home side very well, with powerful attackers and an industrious midfield. Still, it is worth asking why they couldn’t capitalize on their long spells of pressure. Was there too little quality in the final third of the pitch? Still, Czechoslovakia could take a lot of positives from their performance: It is rare to see a team able to keep up pressure for such long spells as they did this evening against an opponent of Belgium’s standard. The team looked to be taking shape with their new tactics. Thys will have been very content with the one point, but perhaps disappinted to see his team unable to impose themselves, to the degree that they found themselves under a siege for large periods of the match. They had had very little to offer attacking-wise, with their turnovers being of a sub-standard quality.
Practically unworked during these 90 minutes. Hence 6.6.
Very little do to defensively. Helpful in building up attacks and puts in some good crosses.
Excels as Vorstopper, making innumerable interceptions.
Never stops running, and makes some intelligent movement off the ball.
The power left back is surprisingly active down the left hand side, venturing on powerful runs on his own.
Good contributions in tandem with Vlk defensively. Tigerish and eager to push forward.
Solid if unspectacular. Initially the one central midfielder pushing forwards, but gives way to Hašek and stays behind halfway through the first half.
Shows great stature and a sweet passing foot (with a few exceptions).
Brilliant first half, doing a tremendous job with the Belgian centre halves in his back. Disappears a bit after the break, and perhaps disappointingly does not get to finish an attack all evening.
Less prominent than Griga, but manages to win a few battles with his Belgian man-markers.
Involved in some of Czechoslovakia’s best opportunities. But one of the more quiet in this team. Not always sure what to do with the ball.
Makes some brilliant saves. A bit troubled by two bouncing shots that he couldn’t clutch.
Back in the team and is leading by example. Lots of tenacity.
De Wolf 6.6
Sometimes having trouble with his positioning.
Struggling with Griga at times, but grows in stature. Mostly good distribution, but uninexplicably tries the long ball at times.
Useful against this kind of opponent, makes some towering headers.
Positions himself well to make some good interventions, especially when covering for the full backs.
Perhaps the only Belgian player looking to create something for them when going forward.
Van Der Elst 6.7
Plays to the left in midfield, and seems a bit impaired in this position.
Ineffectual, too much involved in defensive work to his liking.
A quick and nimble player, standing little chance against a very compact Czechoslovakian defence.