Czechoslovakia – Portugal: Ten man Czechoslovakia with crucial win thanks to two Bílek goals
It had come to the point where Czechoslovakia and Portugal were to fight it out for the second qualification berth in group 7, as Belgium by now looked destined to go to Italia’90. They would first meet in Prague, and then in Lisbon later that autumn.
Dr. Vengloš had fielded different formations so far in the qualifiers (4-4-2 or 5-3-2), but always symmetrical ones. This time, however, he went for a lopsided 4-4-2, with three central defenders, no recognized right back but with Ivan Čabala as a wide midfielder with predominantly defensive responsibilities. Unusual, and also unusual to see a new face in this team, as Dr. Vengloš so far had been sticking with largely the same group of players. The omission of Bielik, the regular right back, suggests that he was injured. There was therefore some excitement about Venglos’ selections for this match. It was harder to tell the tactical thought behind the decision to play without a recognized right back – Portugal have often played with a very attacking left winger.
Vengloš faced a few old acquaintances in this Portugal team: Both Paulo Futre and Venâncio had been part of the Sporting team that he led in the 1983-84 season.
Mixed fortunes for Portugal away from home during the last month: They were first severely beaten by Belgium (0-3), before winning in Neuchâtel (2-1). Juca had utilized different formations in each game (4-3-3 and 4-4-2) and this time conjured up a third option: 5-3-2. He did perhaps have the game in Brussels in his mind, where the Portuguese defence had been thoroughly exposed, much more so than the encounter in Switzerland. The three man defence meant that Sobrinho was reintroduced to the team, as Juca had preferred Venâncio and Frederico last time around. Rui Águas (Porto) finally got the nod from start after a few good appearances as a substitute, and the Portuguese would hope his aerial prowess could help them out against a very physical Czechoslovakian side. More controversially, the wing prodigy Vítor Paneira was left out of the line-up. Truth is: He had a terrible game in Neuchâtel, so Juca was justified in this decision.
Referee? Mr. Aron Schmidhuber of West Germany.
|1. Jan Stejskal||26||Sparta Praha|
|2. František Straka||30||Bor. Mönchengladbach|
|3. Miroslav Kadlec||25||TJ Vítkovice|
|4. Ivan Hašek (c)||26||Sparta Praha|
|5. Ján Kocian||73′||30||St. Pauli|
|6. Ivan Čabala||Sub 70||29||Sparta Praha|
|7. Michal Bílek||24||Sparta Praha|
|8. Jozef Chovanec||39||PSV Eindhoven|
|9. Stanislav Griga||14′, 18′||27||Sparta Praha|
|10. Tomáš Skuhravý||24||Sparta Praha|
|11. Ľubomír Moravčík||sub 90+2||24||Plastika Nitra|
|12 Vladimír Kinier||on 90+2′||30||Slovan Bratislava|
|13 Milan Luhový||26||Dukla Praha|
|14 Vladimír Weiss||25||Inter Bratislava|
|15 Vaclav Němeček||on 70′||22||Sparta Praha|
|16 Luděk Mikloško||27||Baník Ostrava|
|2. João Pinto (c)||27||Porto|
|6. Nunes||sub 71′||28||Marítimo|
|7. Sobrinho||sub 27′||28||Racing Paris|
|8. Rui Barros||23||Juventus|
|9. Rui Águas||29||Porto|
|10. Paulo Futre||88′||23||Atlético Madrid|
|12 Neno||27||Vitória Guimarães|
|13 Jorge Ferreira||23||Vitória Setúbal|
|15 Vítor Paneira||on 27′||23||Benfica|
|16 Lima||on 71′||22||Sporting Lisboa|
(There are reports of a yellow card for Rui Barros in the 63th minute – these reports appear to be unfounded.)
No surprises from Vengloš: The home side came out with a traditional long ball approach, with the ball being kicked about with the aim of finding the best angle from which to hit the ball towards the bodies of Skuhravý and Griga. This had been Czechoslovakia’s style of play from the beginning of these qualifiers (as Vengloš had tweaked the tactics after losing Knoflíček and Kubík). Czechoslovakia started their dominance from the word “go”, as Portugal retreated to their own half with the intention of inviting their opponents onto them and breaking forward whenever they could. It looked to be a high-tempo game, fulfilling the expectations of neutral observers of the qualifiers for Italia’90.
Juca had opted for three central defenders in this match, which may come in handy when up against two powerful strikers like Skuhravý and Griga, who were the focal points in almost every attack for the Czechoslovakians. The beginning of the match suggested that the three would be useful and that we would see some good tussles between the five of them during these 90 minutes. A player like Frederico showed initially that he was fully able to compete with Skuhravý in the aerial challenges.
Portugal had created havoc in the opening stages against Belgium in Brussels, where they again and again broke free and showed their excellent abilities as a counter-attacking side. The Portuguese tactics here is mainly to find Paulo Futre – driving forward with the ball at feet, he is almost unstoppable. Straka had received the difficult task to stop Futre in this match, and while he in fact mostly did this admirably, you couldn’t expect Straka to always keep track when Futre received the ball in the wide, deep areas and could burst forward with pace. Futre presented himself in the 8th minute in one of these situations, as he swiftly made inroads into the Czechoslovakian penalty area and presented Rui Barros with a glorious chance one on one with Stejskal – the diminutive midfielder could righly despair as he saw his shot skied over the bar. Rui Barros is instrumental in much of what Portugal do when going forward, but his finishing has let him down a couple of times in these qualifiers.
The miss proved crucial, as Czechoslovakia almost immediately found the opening goal of the game. 1-0 (11′): It’s a stone wall penalty when Frederico fouls Chovanec being played through on goal. The situation had been created by Moravčík (such a disappointing figure against Switzerland), who had cut inside and made use of his technique to get into the danger area, before passing it to Chovanec arriving from the deep (a situation in which we’ve seen Hašek so many times, but Chovanec decisively less so). More of this, please, Moravčík. Mr. Schmidhuber could have no hesitation seeing Frederico illegally hindering Chovanec. The penalty was converted by Michal Bílek. Not the best penalty from that feared right peg of his, but it sufficed.
The frantic start to this match was capped when Czechoslovakia were reduced to 10 men in the 18th minute, as Stanislav Griga picked up his second yellow card. The first card had been issued when clipping down Veloso from behind, the second for a late, high challenge on goalkeeper Silvino. It’s not the first time we’ve seen Griga in such situations in these qualifiers, and this time he got his punishment. Czechoslovakia would now have to play with 10 men for 72 minutes, albeit with a 1-0 advantage.
One of the greatest limitations to this Czechoslovakian side, is their lack of threat when breaking forward. They have a few slow players and it is difficult to think of one succesful counter-attacking move they had during the qualifiers. Intuitively, they must have known that if they were to salvage anything from the current situation, their best chance would be to avoid letting in a goal, rather than finding a second. Therefore, Czechoslovakia’s strategy completely changed after Griga’s expulsion. There were fewer long balls hoisted forward and a minimum of risk taken. Instead, they would slow down tempo as much as they could for the remaining 70 minutes. This also resulted in a large number of free-kicks, as what had looked destined to be a free-flowing encounter, turned into a more cynical game.
Skuhravý proved highly efficient in getting Czechoslovakia these valuable free-kicks. He is good at holding up the ball, but more or less clueless about what to do with it, usually simply advancing with the ball until he is fouled – a highly familiar sight in these qualifiers.
After 26 minutes, Juca found out that he could afford to substitute a defender for a more attacking player. Sobrinho was deemed surplus to requirement, and in came Vítor Paneira. With that change, the formation was changed to a narrow 4-4-2 with a diamond in midfield: Nunes as a defensive midfielder, Rui Barros as the attacking one, André on the left hand side and V. Paneira on the right hand side (although the two latter were not acting as proper wide midfielders).
How did Portugal’s change of formation and personnel work? Perhaps not too well initially. Despite maintaining most of the possession after Griga’s expulsion, they didn’t create any real opportunities during the reminder of the first half. The home side also dropped quite deep, restricting spaces to a minimum. It largely became a frustrating spell for Portugal, as Czechoslovakia showed their more cynical side by causing and seeking free-kicks so as to slow down the tempo of the game, and the guests never managed to exert intenstive pressure. The Portuguese faithfully kicked the ball around from side to side attempting to find openings, but were admirably denied by the home side. You could however argue that precisely the wide aras should have been exploited better: There was little width in Portugal’s play, with a player like V. Paneira only seldom seen down the flank on the right hand side. Futre remained active, but Straka now had the advantage of challenging him with the back to his goal. Straka was very much alert to his opponent’s qualities and repeatedly intercepted in front of Futre, often going into tackles with much fervour.
Inbetween all this, there was also time to contemplate Ivan Čabala. Who is he? Here he was acting a midfielder on the right hand side, predominantly minding his defensive responsibilities. The guy has decent work rate, but far too often showing himself clueless of what to do with the ball – inevitably, he also lost the ball a few times when Czechoslovakia could need to keep it within the team. As a member of Sparta Praha, he should be well acquainted with most of the players in this side.
The half proceeded in quite an unremarkable manner after Griga’s expulsion, with no big chances to talk of. So far it seemed that the introduction of V. Paneira and reversion to a narrow 4-4-2 didn’t cause any positive effects also for Portugal. On the other hand, neutrals might at this point have started to regret Griga’s red card, as the game had lost much of its flow, and the home side had become distinctly uninterested in going forward. Czechoslovakia seemed to adapt better to the new situation, while Portugal had trouble to find their shape. It was as if Portugal’s comeback was put on hold and that they would have to wait for the 2nd half to stage their main offensive.
Those who had seen Czechoslovakia’s previous qualifier, up against Switzerland (a), would know their limitations when sitting back and defending a narrow lead: They poise very little threat when breaking forward, and given that they now were reduced to 10 men and only had the rather heavy Skuhravy up front, you wouldn’t expect any improvement in that department. The question wasn’t whether Czechoslovakia could find a second goal, but if they could hold on to their 1-0 lead.
Czechoslovakia had adjusted immediately after been reduced to 10 men by defending extremely deep. They would normally allow Portugal to establish play well into their own half before doing any intensive pressing. And it seemed to work rather ok: The two most creative Portuguese players, Futre and Rui Barros, were simply crowded out. By defending with a low line there was little space behind the Czechoslovakian defence, and they had little worries of crosses or long balls, which they expected the three central defenders to take care of. There is perhaps a lack of steel in this Czechoslovakian midfield. Against Belgium away, Venglos had had some success with Kocian as a defensive midfielder. Hašek, Chovanec and Moravčík as a trio feels somewhat light, although especially Hasek covers a lot of ground. Still, they had the discipline and stamina to do their work in front of the defence.
I noted in the first half that Portugal lacked width. Perhaps was Portugal’s play too congested in the centre of the pitch. The midfield diamond was rather narrow, as both André and V. Paneira both tended to drift inwards (the former isn’t a wide midfielder at all). Juca apparently did nothing to adjust this formation after the break, and I believe Portugal suffered from that. Both Veloso and João Pinto did admirably to shuttle forward at most times, but they don’t have the ability to take on defenders, of course. The Portuguese wide play was somewhat lacking, thus.
Portugal still didn’t create much, but some of the most promising attacks were initiated from the right hand side and João Pinto’s crosses. The Porto right back would time and again find himself in positions from which to swing or drive in crosses: both Rui Águas and Venâncio managed to connect to these crosses, showing that Portugal actually had the ability to assert themselves in combat with strong Czechoslovakian defenders. The home side looked somewhat more vulnerable on their left hand side: Bílek isn’t really comfortable in positioning himself as a left wing back (I argue he is a left sided midfielder) and Moravčík not always the best helper: he is committed to his duties, but has few defensive abilities. So why didn’t we more often see V. Paneira assisting on that right hand side to create something in tandem with João Pinto?
Portugal were piling up the pressure a bit during the first half hour of the second half. They knew that if they could maintain a consistent high tempo on the ball, they would sooner or later benefit from tiring and stretching their opponents. But did we see enough of Portugual’s most creative players, Rui Barros and Futre? Futre was at times dropping deeper to collect the ball and would normally create havoc when driving forward with the ball at his feet – he could probably have done this more often. Rui Barros is vital in linking midfield and attack, but he should have been more visible at this stage of the game. Instead, we too often we saw Nunes and André responsible for initiating Portugal’s attack, and especially the former isn’t apt for this task. André isn’t that bad, but nothing like Rui Barros after all… Changing Rui Barros’ position to deep-lying playmaker would have been an interesting idea, and he does in fact have the work rate and discipline to play in less advanced positions.
The best opportunity created by Portugal at this stage of the match came from one of the very rare counter-attacks that they were given: Futre broke free on the left hand side, distancing Kocian who may have thought he was in control, misjudging the striker’s pace, and found Rui Barros arriving late in the penalty area. This chance wasn’t just as big as the one he was presented in the first half, but his finishing came closer as the ball went agonizingly wide. It was another demonstration of Portugal’s superior qualities when breaking forward with pace, and an urgent lesson for Czechoslovakia to avoid these situations.
Czechoslovakia’s attacking efforts in this part of the game were minimal. Skuhravý was left all alone on top, in a terrible struggle to hunt the passes that were hoisted forward. He did this admirably, showing that although he is heavy and somewhat slow, he has the work rate that Czechoslovakia needed at this stage. Twice he even managed to break free from his opponents, firing shots at goal – but from impossible angles, giving Silvino no trouble at all. That’s all that Czechoslovakia could offer.
In the 70th minute, Venglos saw the need to bolster his midfield and substituted Čabala for Němeček. Čabala had put in an honest effort, in what would be his fourth and last cap for his country. It was a substitution like for like, but with Němeček adding perhaps more steel and experience at this level (not a bad move by the looks of it). You could argue, by the way, that Czechoslovakia’s formation, as they defended deeper and deeper, more resembled a 5-3-2, meaning that Čabala became right wing back, similar to Bílek on the opposite side.
Juca soon followed up (even though it was perhaps more warranted due to the score than as a reply to Vengloš’ substition) by taking out Nunes and replacing him with left winger Lima. Another attacking substitution. Nunes had had a quite good day in his defensive tasks, but had been very, very wasteful in his passing in the 2nd half, simply giving the ball away on more than one occasion. This was probably the right choice by Juca, changing the formation to a more orthodox 4-4-2 with Lima and V. Paneira as wide midfielders and André and Rui Barros in the centre. The introduction of Lima as a left winger didn’t exactly ignite the team, however. In fact, the winger lost the ball several times, almost copying the man he had replaced.
1-1 (74′): Portugal finally hit back, soon after the substitution, as Rui Águas capitalized on a mistake by Jan Stejskal. The guests had been awarded a free-kick outside the penalty area for a foul on Futre by Kocian – after another mazy run by the striker with the ball at feet. Stejskal first appeared to save the not too powerful free-kick from Paneira rather comfortably, but due to sloppy handling (via his back head!) the ball was presented to Rui Águas, who had small troubles in heading the ball home. What a howler by Stejskal, but credit to Rui Águas for his opportunism.
Apart from the goal, how succesful was Juca’s decision to start with Rui Águas as striker in this match? The tall striker did inevitably have a difficult task against the three giants in the Czechoslovakian defence, but at times imposed himself in tussles with Miroslav Kadlec, his usual man-marker. Notably, he managed to connect with a few crosses that were swung in. Rui Águas is able to compete in the air, but is also a quite mobile striker, now and then drifting to the sides and opening up central areas for the midfielders shuttling forward. All in all, the Porto striker made a positive impression this evening in Prague.
As expected, really, Czechoslovakia took charge again after Portugal’s equalizer. They had certainly looked toothless attackingwise after being reduced to 10 men, but when they needed to commit themselves for a second goal, they had no other choice but to send men forward. Captain Hašek rallied his men to go forward and a shot blasted with real venom by Kadlec (as seen also against Switzerland away) proved that the home side were mounting a late resurgence.
After just a brief spell with Czechoslovakia suddenly back in the driver’s seat, we got the decider in this encounter: Michal Bílek became the unexpected hero when he swept home a free-kick in the 82nd minute, giving Czechoslovakia a 2-1 lead. Using his exquisite technique, he lifted the ball above the Portuguese wall and left Silvino rooted to his ground near the other goal post. A remarkable goal in the way Bílek is able to make it all look so simple and a further testimony to that celebrated right peg of his.
However: Was Mr. Schmidhuber right to award Czechoslovakia the free-kick that led to the goal? It appears that André makes a double foul on Němeček and Skuhravý, but might it not have been (as one angle suggests in slow motion) that Skuhravý trips the legs of Němeček? The evidence is not conclusive, but let us not rule out that André might have felt justified in protesting the yellow card that was brandished, as well as the outcome.
There were still more than 10 minutes to be played, and Portugal did their best to stage a second comeback. However, Czechoslovakia did their upmost to waste time, meaning that there wasn’t a lot of football played – and only inbetween long breaks of play. Tempers were also getting more sour, with the highlight being Frederico protesting when the medical apparatus entered the field with a stretcher for the injured Straka. Frustration was getting the upper hand. There was perhaps no reason to protest against this particular incident, but Portugal could feel aggrieved that Schmidhuber had failed to punish much of the time wasting that otherwise took place.
Portugal managed to get going again in the last few minutes, but didn’t get closer than a shot from Lima going well wide.
This was an encounter full of tension, but as neutral spectators we probably missed out on its finer qualities the moment when Griga was sent off. The teams had first looked to go for each other’s throat, but Czechoslovakia’s strategy after the expulsion (except inbetween 1-1 and 2-1) was nothing else than to waste time, and you might question a few of the “injuries” that their players sustained during the 90 minutes. It wasn’t all pretty. The game was also marred by a number of free-kicks, effectively preventing any flow in the game and Mr. Schmidhuber was unfortunately not helping the spectators’ cause, despite his more and more grim face. The score itself was settled by one penalty kick and two free-kicks, with Michal Bílek the perhaps unlikely hero, although it was time that his wonderful right peg got its recognition.
1 Stejskal 6.4
Solid impression on a few crosses, but gifts Portugal the equalizer.
2 Straka 7.5
Impressive in his tussles with Futre. Intercepts a number of balls with his resolute performance.
3 Kadlec 6.6
Often too weak or too far off in his duels with Rui Águas.
4 Hašek (c) 7.2
Never stops running, up and down the pitch. His attacking contributions naturally restricted in this match.
5 Kocian 6.9
Like a wall in the defence, and always reliable. But his distribution let him down a few times.
6 Čabala 6.5
Workmanlike, but quite sloppy in his passing.
Assured performance when coming on)
7 Bílek 6.9
The hero with his two goals. Otherwise little use of his right peg in the match scenario.
8 Chovanec 6.6
Not his ideal match scenario. A bit slow and lacks tenacity in the defensive work.
9 Griga –
Sent off in the 18th minute, not much involved before that.
10 Skuhravý 7.1
Difficult match, but makes the most of it. Good work rate.
11 Moravčík 6.8
Much improved. Some good runs with the ball at feet, fulfills his defensive responsibilities.
Barely enters the pitch before full time is whistled)
1 Silvino 6.6
Not much to do really.
2 João Pinto 7.1
Initiates many attacks from his right back position, some good crosses.
3 Frederico 6.8
Asserts himself in the headers. Causes the penalty.
4 Venâncio 7.1
Good performance at the back, also decent distribution of the ball.
5 Veloso 6.9
Reliable. Eager at shuttling forward, but few alternatives in front of him.
6 Nunes 6.5
Commits himself in the duels. Quite poor passing.
7 Sobrinho –
Taken off when deemed surplus.
(15 V. Paneira 6.5
Bit disappointing – again. Rarely threatens the opponents’ defence.)
8 Rui Barros 6.7
Unfortunately lost in a very congested area. Gets two glorious opportunities to score.
9 Rui Águas 7.0
Shows himself worthy of a place in the team. Imposes himself against tough defenders.
10 Paulo Futre 7.2
Mazy runs with the ball at feet that noone can follow. Struggles a bit against a deep defensive line.
11 André 6.9
Gritty as always, driving Portugal forward.