Van Der Linden puts hosts to the sword with his four goal haul
Things were looking good for Belgium, who were sitting on top of the table and with the chance to increase the lead with what looked a winnable match against Luxembourg.
Luxembourg had to make do on the sidelines without manager Paul Philipp, who had been sent to the stands during their 4-0 defeat in Czechoslovakia. They were also without their star player Guy Hellers, who was absent now for the second time during their first five qualifying matches, this time for suspension after picking up his second booking last time around. The Standard Liège midfielder is undoubtedly their best player, and his absence will still be notable even if forward Robby Langers, rumoured to be on his way to either PSG or Nice after a prolific season in the French second tier, returns to the line-up, having been out of the squad in Prague. Libero/central midfielder Carlo Weis is another absentee due to the accumulation of two yellow cards, but other than that Philipp will have available to him those players that have been regular performers thus far.
The visitors had impressed during their 2-1 win against Czechoslovakia just over a month earlier. In particular Marc Degryse had played well, and the Club Brugge forward was someone Luxembourg had to pay extra attention to. Two players were missing: defenders Georges Grün and Philippe Albert were nowhere to be seen. Grün had also not participated in the 1-0 friendly win at home to Yugoslavia just a few days previously, though Albert had, and Guy Thys had instead given debuts to two defenders: Koen Sanders, a central defender from Mechelen, and Jean-François de Sart, a full-back from RFC Liège, had replaced Éric Gerets. Sanders would start in Luxembourg, with de Sart on the bench, as Gerets was eligible again. Strong left-sided player Patrick Vervoort, a feature during the ’86 World Cup, had been absent since Belgium’s first qualifier, but was back in the line-up here. Forward Luc Nilis had been relegated to the substitutes’ bench, with Marc Van Der Linden, the man who came on for him during the win against the Czechoslovakians, his replacement. Van Der Linden had scored the goal against Yugoslavia in Brussels.
Belgium had won 6-0 in Luxembourg in the qualifiers for the 1988 European Championships. That match had found place at Luxembourg’s national stadium in Luxembourg City, Stade Municipal. However, this stadium was currently a construction site due to necessary maintenance, and with their regular second choice in Esch-sur-Alzette unable to hold crowds in excess of 2,000, the Luxembourg FA saw across the country borders for alternatives. Eventually, they came up with French club Lille’s ground, which did seem odd to outsiders, considering Lille’s hardly ‘right on the doorstep’ from Luxembourg, an estimated 125 miles or so away, right on the Belgian border. The two other options had been Metz and Aachen in West Germany. This was the first time since a European qualifying match against Holland in 1972 that Luxembourg would play a ‘home’ match out of the country. Against the Dutch, though, this seemed a regular occurance, as Luxembourg had also agreed to play their ‘home’ fixtures against Holland in Holland both for the 1958 and the 1970 World Cup qualifications. It will have felt more like a home than an away fixture for the Belgians, and the electronic scoreboard even suggested Belgium were at home, putting their name above that of the actual host’s.
Referee? Borislav Alexandrov, a 45 year old Bulgarian with a wonderful moustache, would be in charge. He was far from experienced in an international setting, officiating in only his third ever international, his first ever qualifier, and more than four years after his last appearance: a 0-0 friendly match between Romania and Poland. Yet it was not thought that this match would present a referee with the greatest obstacles.
About the venue: Only the previous evening had it hosted the final league match of Lille’s 1988/89 season. They had trounced already relegated Laval by 8-0.
|1 John van Rijswijck||27||Union Luxembourg|
|2 Hubert Meunier (c)||29||Avenir Beggen|
|3 René Scheuer||27||Red Boys Differdange|
|4 Pierre Petry||27||Jeunesse d’Esch|
|5 Marcel Bossi||29||Progrès Niedercorn|
|6 Jean-Paul Girres||28||Avenir Beggen|
|7 Marc Birsens||22||Union Luxembourg|
|8 Gérard Jeitz||68′, sub 76′||28||Union Luxembourg|
|9 Théo Scholten||sub 83′||26||Jeunesse d’Esch|
|10 Robby Langers||28||Orléans|
|11 Armin Krings||26||Avenir Beggen|
|12 Paul Koch||22||Red Boys Differdange|
|13 Marc Thomé||25||Jeunesse d’Esch|
|14 Denis Scuto||24||Jeunesse d’Esch|
|15 Jeff Saibene||on 76′||20||Standard Liège|
|16 Théo Malget||on 83′||28||Avenir Beggen|
|1 Michel Preud’homme||30||Mechelen|
|2 Éric Gerets||35||PSV Eindhoven|
|3 Koen Sanders||26||Mechelen|
|4 Bruno Versavel||21||Mechelen|
|5 Franky Van der Elst||sub 74′||28||Club Brugge|
|6 Marc Emmers||23||Mechelen|
|7 Stéphane Demol||23||Bologna|
|8 Patrick Vervoort||24||Anderlecht|
|9 Marc Degryse||23||Club Brugge|
|10 Marc Van Der Linden||25||Antwerp|
|11 Jan Ceulemans (c)||32||Club Brugge|
|12 Filip De Wilde||24||Anderlecht|
|13 Jean-François de Sart||27||RFC Liège|
|14 Philippe Albert||21||Mechelen|
|15 Enzo Scifo||on 74′||23||Bordeaux|
|16 Luc Nilis||22||Anderlecht|
The home side play with Petry, the more mobile of their four defenders, as sweeper, and Scheuer is man-marking Ceulemans. They are quite rugged these fellas in the Luxembourg backline, but although they battle well, they are usually found out when Belgium turn the pace on. Meunier is perhaps more of a right back in the traditional sense than Bossi is a full-back on the opposite side, the latter rarely seen too far left. However, the visitors leave Degryse in the space between Luxembourg’s centre and left, and it is often up to Bossi to try and cut off this corridor.
The home side’s midfielders all drop dangerously deep, as Belgium overload them. As a result, there is preciously little support for the front two. Especially the two central midfielders Jeitz and Birsens sit deep, as they try to stifle the quick Belgian feet in front of their own central defenders. Girres to the right occasionally has to act as an emergency right back, with Meunier from time to time attending to more central duties. Up top Krings is as usually the man to try and hold the ball up to bring others (i.e. forward partner Langers) into play, whilst the quick and agile Langers tries to challenge in behind the Belgian defence. However, he often has Sanders marking him, so he will need all of his guile in order to get a shot in.
Belgium are high up the pitch with most of their players. This leaves not a lot of room for libero Demol in which to make surprising runs from the back into. On the right hand side, 35 year old Gerets is energetic like someone ten years younger, whereas down the opposite flank, Versavel often overlaps Vervoort and vice versa; the two seem to have a good understanding. Van der Elst is the king of the centre circle, from which he will direct Belgian operations. He spreads both right, left and centre, and is indeed a key figure for the visitors. The same can be said about both Emmers and Degryse, who both are drawn towards the right hand side of the pitch. However, the latter also switches positions with Van Der Linden from time to time, so it is not like the Belgian forwards are glued to a specific position each. Ceulemans is usually seen down the centre, though, where the uncompromising Scheuer is shadowing him. Big Jan is, as you would expect, a real handful in the air. At shifting times, the three most forward Belgian players will also come back into midfield both to collect and to try and direct attacks.
Belgium make a sole substitution during the game, which is when the hugely talented Scifo replaces Van der Elst in the centre of the park. Scifo’s role for the remainder of the game is identical to that of Van der Elst. For the home side, Saibene comes on for the tiring Jeitz in the centre of the pitch, and he adds a bit of a spark, as he is more confident on the ball than his predecessor. However, they do lose the defensive dimension that Jeitz brings to the team, but at four goals down it is all academic. They might as well try to create something of their own, despite running the risk of shipping further goals. Their final substitution is when big forward Malget comes on to replace Scholten out wide left. Malget is a player in the Krings mould: tallish and quite broad. This too seems a more attackingly inspired substitution, as Scholten had often had to focus on more defensive than attacking duties. Malget appears to have little interest in contributing much inside his own half, although he stays well out wide as an option for Langers to utilize. It could appear, though, that striker Krings perhaps comes slightly deeper after the introduction of Malget.
So how do Luxembourg approach a match in which they know they will most likely lose by a heavy scoreline? Their manager’s up in the stands; he’ll be unable to direct them. The players will need to be prepared beforehand for any eventuality. Instinctively, it could be very demoralising going a goal down to superior opposition in the early stages. However, with a game plan it doesn’t necessarily have to be so bad. The first aim will probably be to avoid losing by six, like they did last time around when they played the Belgians at home. This is not home, though. You’d probably be pushed to try and identify more than a handful Luxembourg fans among the 9000 or so crowd. Philipp, the manager suspended for this game, had to make do without their undoubtedly best player in Guy Hellers, who was plying his daily trade in the Belgian top flight with Standard Liège, although not actually as a team mate of any of these Belgian players. Forward Robby Langers, at French second tier club Orléans, was indeed their only professional player among the starting home eleven, but substitute Jeff Saibene was registered as a player of the same Belgian club as the absent Hellers: however, he rarely appeared for the Standard Liège first team. Indeed, he had only made one league appearance, as a 82nd minute sub, during the 88/89 season. Saibene would move on to Swiss top flight club Aarau during the summer break.
Belgium, fresh from their inspired 2-1 win at home to Czechoslovakia, were building up momentum ahead of the closing stages of the qualifying tournament. Only a few days earlier had they won against a good Yugoslavian team at home, so the only question was indeed as to how big a margin they’d win the game by. The experienced Thys knew he could take nothing for granted, so he did of course field his very best players available to him. Jan Ceulemans had been seen in an attacking midfield capacity against the Czechoslovakians, but was back as the target man here, and Degryse, who had had such a phenomenal performance then, was slightly withdrawn to the right of the big man up top. Van Der Linden, with his pending move from Antwerp to Anderlecht in the coming weeks, was seen slightly to the left. There was, however, no Luc Nilis, but they realized they would not have the same amount of space against Luxembourg as they had enjoyed in the win against Czechoslovakia, and so would have to deploy a different tactic. Ceulemans would be the player to look to, as he was spearheading the attack, though shadowed by the rugged figure of Luxembourg defender René Scheuer for most of the night.
There was little in the opening exchanges that suggested anything but backs to the walls for the ‘home’ side. Indeed, before eleven minutes had been played, Les Diables Rouges had had three headed opportunities: two from big Jan and one from Degryse. John van Rijswijck is a steady custodian between the Luxembourg sticks, and he had to draw on all his guile to keep out the second effort, which came from close range and was caught right before it was crossing the line for a Belgian lead. However, it was only a case of delaying the inevitable, and the ‘visitors’ got their opening goal following a huge Gerets throw from the right, which evaded both Ceulemans and the two Luxembourg players Scheuer and Scholten, bounced once deep inside the area, before Van Der Linden could control his header past the goalkeeper and into the net, and despite Bossi’s desperate efforts to try and clear it on the line.
At every opportunity Luxembourg do their utmost to keep the pace down, as they always struggle as soon as Belgium pass the ball quicker among themselves. Belgium often try to get crosses in from wide areas, with both Gerets and Emmers seen executing this particular bit of tactics from the right hand side, and Versavel and Vervoort doing the same opposite. The head of Ceulemans is usually the target, and he does come close to scoring on a number of occasions during the first half alone. The ‘home’ goalkeeper is doing well to keep him out. The big striker is brave as he challenges van Rijswijck for the ball as the goalkeeper comes off his line to collect a cushioned header from Van Der Linden, but although Ceulemans gets his head to the ball, he can only deflect it off the Luxembourg no 1 and out for a corner kick from the left. Both Ceulemans and Petry, who had also taken a hit in that same challenge, needed to be attended to as a result.
Luxembourg’s amateurs are unable to keep the ball for longer spells, but do have the occasional entry inside the Belgian half, and indeed from one such move they could have equalized as Langers got himself on the end of a rare decent cross from Girres, after Krings had done well to feed him down the right hand line. Langers’ finish was neither hard enough nor placed well enough to escape the arms of Preud’homme, alert to any danger despite being stood behind his defence without seeing a lot of action. It is also Langers who will have the next shot away from the hosts, but he can’t connect cleanly from nearly 25 yards, and the ball trickles into the arms of the ‘keeper. Otherwise Sanders is following Langers rather closely, and there is not a lot the forward can do during the opening 45 apart from what’s already been mentioned. Krings, his forward partner, has no pace, and is a simple catch for the Belgian defence, where Demol often sweeps with a bit of a distance to the other defenders. In midfield, Van der Elst will spread the ball to both sides, and he is perhaps the single player on the pitch to have the highest number of touches during the first half.
As the half draws nearer to an end, Luxembourg become increasingly tired, and Belgium muster a few decent opportunities before the break. Nearest of all comes Vervoort, whose right foot connects cleanly with the ball when it has been headed out to him after a Degryse corner from the left: his effort rocks the crossbar and rebounds back into the penalty area, though the visitors are unable to make further efforts count. Vervoort again has an opportunity to test his boot when he gets to shoot from 22 yards. This time he is well over with his left foot. Then right on half time the ‘home’ team are presented with a glorious opportunity to equalize: Demol dallies on the ball on the half way line, loses his concentration, and Langers nips in and steals it from him. With no further defenders between himself and Preud’homme, he seems odds on to draw Luxembourg level, but having raced a full 40 yards, he’s already had too much time to contemplate how to finish, and he ends up being caught in two or several minds, not even getting a shot away. His idea was probably to take it round the goalkeeper, but he loses the ball as soon as he gets inside the area. The least you would have expected him to do was to test Preud’homme. As it is, both the visiting number 1 and Demol could breathe a collective sigh of relief. It is half time, and Belgium are just the one goal to the good. No doubt Guy Thys will have a lot to tell his players during the break.
It is the Luxembourg front two of Langers and Krings who kick the second half into action. They will quickly concede possession, and Belgium appear to have a bit more urgency about their play early in the second period. The visiting side will try to release Emmers or Degryse down the right hand side, for them to try and aim for the head of Ceulemans in the centre, a recipe which is close to yielding a second goal for the visitors only two minutes after the restart. It is Degryse’s cross which finds his fellow Club Brugge forward, who gets up above Bossi, but Ceulemans can only direct his header just over van Rijswijck’s goal. However, from the next attempt they will increase their lead: Vervoort had remained on the right hand side after an earlier attack had been halted, and when he has time to pick his cross, Ceulemans gets to the ball ahead of his marker Scheuer and flicks the ball on for Van Der Linden to more or less side-foot home into a gaping net, as Jeitz on the back post is unable to get close enough to prevent the striker from scoring his second.
The visiting team need to keep their pace up in order to outplay the hosts. There is not much danger of Luxembourg finding a way back into the match, but Thys will surely not be happy unless he leaves Lille with a solid margin of victory. They are still very much in the ascendancy, but do not create a lot of openings, and they can not quite keep up the early second half pace. And so Luxembourg manage to defend rather easily, with manager Philipp an uneasy figure in the stands. The ‘home’ team try to keep the pace as slow as possible, but Emmers still manages to get into a couple of crossing positions from the right, something which will always create havoc in the Luxembourg defence. Their defenders will hit it long anywhere just to be relieved of pressure, even if they are aware that the ball will be returned with interest, and this increasing level of away team pressure will eventually result in Degryse receiving the ball in the area from Vervoort. As he takes on Petry, he goes right and then suddenly left, and the Luxembourg libero brings the light footed forward down for a penalty. This gives Van Der Linden the opportunity to complete his hat-trick, which he does as he sends van Rijswijck the wrong way with his right-footed spot-kick.
Shortly after 3-0, Sanders plays Degryse in with a short pass, and 25 yards away from the home goal, he’s brought down by Petry, who’s having a greatly troubled minute. Degryse pushes the resulting free-kick a yard on to Van Der Linden, who momentarily traps the ball under his right foot, before Vervoort comes in and smashes it into the top left corner for a fantastic finish. It really is a goal from right out of the top drawer. With about 20 minutes of the second half gone, Belgium are on their way to copying that heavy win they had last time they played Luxembourg away. They have been very efficient during the first part of the second period. Can they keep it up?
Petry’s tackle on Degryse leading up to Vervoort’s goal could perhaps have warranted a yellow, but the only booking of the game is dished out for Jeitz as he brings down Gerets inside his own half. Van der Elst is sick and tired of the constant fouling from the home side, but to his credit refrains from venting his frustration other than rolling his eyes. Is he perhaps realizing that his time is in when Thys tells Scifo to warm up along the touchline? Van der Elst’s had a good game in the Belgian midfield. Apart from one stray pass in the first half, he’s often dictated the pace, and when he’s been switched on, Luxembourg’s defenders have had a difficult time in trying to keep up with the raffined movement from the Belgian forwards ahead of Van der Elst. Some of the visitors’ passing has been a joy to behold, but one does feel that they could have done it on a more frequent basis. However, there can be few complaints when you are four goals to the good, no matter what the opposition.
20 minutes from time Luxembourg are possibly deprived of a very good goalscoring opportunity, when again the lively Langers is in the centre of the action: Krings tries to feed him with a fine pass, but the linesman on the near side incorrectly flags for offside against the pacey forward. Television replay shows he’s a good half a yard onside when Krings tries to play him in. Sanders had played him onside, though not according to the referee’s assistant. Perhaps some sort of justice is done when Vervoort has a headed goal disallowed down the other end a couple of minutes later? Again the cross comes in from Emmers, but the left-sided midfielder appears to have started his run just a fraction too soon.
Both sides make their first change with about 15 minutes remaining: Scifo replaces Van der Elst for Belgium, although he’s brought back by the linesman before he can run onto the pitch, as the flag man’s detected that he’s not wearing shin pads underneath his socks. So he’s ordered back to the bench to attend to these matters. Then Luxembourg will take off the workmanlike Jeitz and replace him with Saibene, who’s slightly better on the ball, but whose workrate does not quite match that of today’s only booked player. However, Saibene will have a fine final quarter of an hour, as he tries to engage his central midfield partner Birsens in short passing between the two, and he will also try to release both Krings and Langers with passes that are of a more constructive kind than what had been seen from Jeitz. It is also Saibene who will have Luxembourg’s final goalscoring opportunity in the remainder of the game when Langers gets away from Sanders down the right hand side and crosses for the onrushing midfielder, whose side-footed effort goes tamely over Preud’homme’s goal from 12 yards out. He really should have done better, and at least have made the goalkeeper work. This is after Luxembourg have brought on big man Malget for Scholten in the wide left position. Scholten had done a lot of running and covered a lot of ground on the left hand side. The player who comes on, though, is more a centre forward than a classic winger.
Scifo is obviously a quality player, and he does seem to inject a bit of life into an often mundane Belgium, certainly moving slightly to the right of the pitch in order to team up with both Emmers and Degryse, a frightening proposition for any opponent. Still the visitors do not get any closer to a fifth than when Ceulemans can get round van Rijswijck after Petry had tried to tackle the ball to safety. With the goal gaping, though from an angle, Ceulemans hits the left hand post. It is a glaring miss from the 32 year old, who hides his head in his hands. Right before the 90 minutes are up, Van Der Linden does finally add a fifth, and his fourth, for the visiting team: Some good combination play between Scifo and Versavel enable Van Der Linden to get a nearly scuffed shot away, and the ball trickles over the goalline with Ceulemans in close attendance in case it does not make its way across. ‘Big Jan’ does not wish to take the goal away from Van Der Linden, and credit to him for that.
Conclusion: a 5-0 win in international football is an emphatic victory, yet there was a feeling about Belgium that they only did what they needed to do and little more. The part-timers of Luxembourg were never a match for them. Indeed, whenever Belgium decided to up the ante, the home side would be chasing shadows. The visitors did show a few attacks in which their intricate short passing and intelligent movements came to fore. Altogether, though, it was not a match that made the audience wish to applaud cheerfully throughout; only sparingly were the 9000 or so in attendance willing to put their hands together. The win takes Belgium to eight points from five, so they look almost assured already for one of the two qualifying berths.
1 van Rijswijck 6.7
one feels sorry for the ‘keeper, who is not at fault for either goal. Claims a good few crosses, good positioning, rarely has to make a spectacular save
2 Meunier 6.5
the stalwart focuses entirely on defensive duties, and does well in challenges, but is usually outplayed once the visitors up the pace along the ground
3 Scheuer 6.2
is man-marking Ceulemans for a great portion of the game, without much success, as the Belgian captain is too strong in the air
4 Petry 6.2
positions himself well as the libero, but is heavily involved in two of the Belgian goals, and is too easily found out along the ground
5 Bossi 6.6
the tough guy in the Luxembourg defence never wants to accept defeat, dishes out some tough tackles, and is also on the receiving end on a couple of times. This is how Bossi likes it
6 Girres 5.7
simply incapable to leave any kind of print on the game: no pace, no skill. Appears more or less as the right full-back when Belgium are in possession. Is too often pushed very deep
7 Birsens 6.2
another who can not make much of an impression. Is less visible than Jeitz, and has no stand-out features in his locker
8 Jeitz 6.6
as always he puts in a lot of effort. Operates very deep due to the constant Belgian possession. Is unable to make an impact in way of creativity, but makes interceptions and is often well positioned. Could perhaps have done better than turning his back on Van Der Linden for 2-0
(15 Saibene –
enters the pitch late on at a time when the pace is very low, and leaves a decent impression with some neat passing. Could have scored when he finishes over with a half volley after more good Langers work down the right hand side)
9 Scholten 6.3
perhaps not as deep as his compatriot Girres on the opposite side, but not contributing with much in an attacking sense. Tires and goes off
(16 Malget –
comes on down the left hand side, receives the ball from Langers a couple of times, but can do preciously little with it)
10 Langers 7.0
desperately alone as a creative force in this team, but keeps the Belgian defence on their toes with his movements throughout. Often marked by Sanders, but gets free on a few occasions, and should have done a lot better with his huge opportunity right on the half-time whistle
11 Krings 6.4
tries to hold the ball up, manages on a couple of occasions, but often comes out second in challenges. Despite this, and his total lack of pace, he is not as poor as often seen before
1 Preud’homme 6.8
keeps his concentration, makes two first half saves to deny Langers. Other than that untroubled
2 Gerets 6.9
part of an effective right hand side, and never truly tested by Scholten even if Gerets let him past on a couple of occasions
3 Sanders 7.3
good game! Keeps the nimble Langers in check and knows how to play as well. Grün could struggle to get back in the side on this performance from his replacement
4 Versavel 7.3
works well in tandem with Vervoort, and is often more a winger than a full-back. Girres no worry to him. Assist for the final goal
5 Van der Elst 7.6
directs very well Belgian operations until replaced. Has one stray pass. Often seen advancing through the centre circle and feeding wide players. Takes a lot of responsibility
(15 Scifo –
seems eager when coming on, gets on the ball a lot, and combines very well with Versavel ahead of the fifth goal)
6 Emmers 7.2
always full of running, but not his very best performance, even if he does cause the ‘home’ side a lot of trouble along with his compatriots down the right hand side. Contributes with his share of crosses
7 Demol 7.0
typically focuses on defensive duties apart from a couple of forward raids. No problems defensively
8 Vervoort 7.4
fine game down the left hand side, and gets a few crosses in as well as scoring a fantastic free-kick. Hit the bar with his weaker right foot first half. Great combination play with Versavel down the left hand side
9 Degryse 7.4
is some player, and perhaps not at his most efficient in this match, he is still the mastermind behind a lot of what goes on inside the Luxembourg half
10 Van Der Linden 8.3
four goals, yet untidy in open play. However, his reluctance to stick solely to his left forward role causes the home side no end of trouble. His goals are three poacher’s efforts and a pen almost down the middle
11 Ceulemans 8.2
his head flicked assist for 2-0 is already his sixth involvement with his head inside the area, where he is such a danger to the ‘home’ side, who are unable to stop him. Also very good along the ground, and is surprisingly mobile for a man of his size