For this Interview, I have the pleasure to ask questions from the duo that make up the fantastic website http://italia1990.com.
For anyone unaware of this website, @1990worldcup and @1990qual have created a site that deals exclusively with the 1990 World Cup in Italy. This includes all the World Cup qualifiers. Each qualifying match is analyzed with meticulous precision down to the last detail with photographs and video shots of the matches.
There are still many matches to be analyzed still, but those available are precious archive material for anyone with interest to the fine details of each match.
Cover page of Italia90.com
Soccernostalgia: Before we discuss the website, I am curious about each of your backgrounds in the game. By that I mean what are your earliest memories of Football, what made you a fan, etc.?
@1990qual Response: Our website is dedicated to Italia '90, and although we both do have our preferences at club team level, I think we will stick to international football and use this as a common thread throughout our answers. I hope and believe this will be fine with you.
As for me, I only started out as a football fan, at any level, during the summer of '82, pretty much like the author of the SoccerNostalgia blog. The summer of the España World Cup. My age had yet to reach double figures, and I did not have a great concept of the rules of the game in these early stages, but I vividly recall how I was taken by the Brazilian team, as so many would be precisely this summer. As we all know, they would fail in their attempt to bring glory back to Brazil, but I am firmly of the opinion that this Brazil side is more legendary for the way their World Cup turned out than they would have been had they gone on and won. Forever shall remain "if only...". And yes, if only Careca had not been injured prior to the tournament and could have taken the number 9 shirt from the "useless" (as he was commonly referred to as) Serginho. Careca might have been young, but he'd already proven his credentials.
However, even if '82 was my introduction to the beautiful game, it would still take me a few years to hone this newfound love. I did obviously follow the World Cup and the European Cups of Nations in between, but only by '90 was my enthusiasm for the international level at full scale.
@1990worldcup Response: My first memories of the sport are quite unremarkable. It took some time before I developed an interest, but I remember arguing with the other kids in the schoolyard about who of us would be Olaf Thon when kicking the ball between us. That must have been in 1988. The 1988 European Championships made an impression, as did domestic football, but the 1990 World Cup was an eye-opener to the beauty of the sport. It was probably the defining moment for my interest. Anyway, I'm not particularly nostalgic about my football memories from childhood.
Soccernostalgia: The most obvious question is why the 1990 World Cup and qualifiers. What made you two to concentrate on this particular Tournament?
I have a guess, for me personally, the 1982 World Cup was what made a Football fan, and therefore it always has a special place in my heart, was it something similar with you two and the 1990 World Cup or was there some other reason.
@1990qual Response: I had been anticipating the 1990 World Cup with an almost unearthly amount of expectation. This would be the first tournament where I would record as many matches as possible on VHS, which was the only way we knew back then to secure matches for posterity. Tapes were not cheap for someone feeding off his parents, but I believe I had made ready more than 15 195 minute cassettes. Naturally, I had had to make a pre-tournament list of which matches I would record, as there was not enough space to record each and every game, and there were certain favourites whom would gain playing time no matter of the outcome, predominantly teams which were exotic to us Europeans. Though not just that. The continent's greats would also be taped, and though I said before that I would not draw on any personal favourites from club football, I cannot escape the fact that I had developed a love affair with the mighty Dinamo Kiev team which won the Cup Winners' Cup back in '86. To me, football played the Lobanovsky way was proper football. I am not sure that even until today I have ever been more mesmerised by the product of any one specific football manager.
Italia '90 might have a somewhat tarnished reputation in the eye of many a football fan, and it has been said that only football hipsters (I guess this term's meant to be condescending) can embrace this tournament. Well, in that case I am proud to say I am a football hipster, though I am far from into labels. I am into Italia '90. Perhaps, in something of an odd paralell with the failed Brazil '82 mission, would Italia '90 have stood out in the same way in my opinion had the tournament been generally acknowledged as being the best World Cup tournament in the history of the game?. Difficult to say. Italia '90 came at a perfect time. The size of the tournament was just about right. The lack of goals, which seems to have been a bit of a nuisance to some, only added to the mythicism. Italy, always renowned for their cynical football and 1-0 wins, would host a global tournament where a lack of goals was a highlighted feature.
So even if I was introduced to football in '82, it was '90 which saw me become a fully fledged World Cup fan. No WC can ever come close to replicating the events of those magic nights.
Soccernostalgia: What prompted you to start this website? Was it a hobby at first that developed into a passion?
Was the website as is, always your wish, or did it grow out of other ideas?
@1990worldcup Response: The main idea was always to examine all aspects of Italia'90. I was at an early stage attracted to the idea that you would have a website which not only collected all the basic information about the subject (such as line-ups, goalscorers and so on), but also presented analyses of the matches and the main stories, and also that all this would be open for future changes by the users (or editors, as it turned out) as new information became available or as a match was re-analysed. So it would be a website that constantly was in progress, aiming for the complete picture of how Italia'90 unfolded. The original vision was perhaps slightly more collaborative in its nature, with more contributions from the audiences. As it has turned out to be, it's a more authoritative model we're following, although always open to input, which we perhaps could stress more.
Soccernostalgia: What is the general process that you follow to prepare your match reports? I assume you both view the particular match DVD (if available), in addition to reading any available written reports.
(By the way someone like me greatly appreciates how you include all the non-playing substitutes, shirt numbers, etc, not many outlets do that)
@1990qual Response: I guess we have each our individual approach, so I will talk for myself.
Yes, we have available to us the very matches which we are reporting from, either purchased as DVDs or we find them in full online. Some Youtube posters have a rich menu with old matches, even in their completion, something which we are very thankful for. However, it has been necessary to purchase a solid number of full matches via collectors that we've been able to locate online. Fortunately, this has provided us with a lot of material, and from this material we extract the information we need in order to provide the match reports.
At this time of writing, I think I am approaching a total of 70 reports myself. It is time consuming work, and can only be done when there is peace and quiet around, i.e. when the family is not present. Stepwise, I progress like this:
1) I view the game in its entireity, having pre-match made myself familiar with the line-ups. I just view it as a regular spectator, getting acquainted with the players and roughly their positions (even if they're already familiar to me. I do not allow myself to let preconceptions about a player's position win through)
2) I go more methodically about the game, taking notes electronically and using a watch to record the time for various incidents (goals, bookings, substitutions)
3) Having already from the first two or three viewings got a grasp of the formations used and the individual players' positions, I proceed to implement players' positions in the sharemytactics board. This can be altered slightly along the way if I discover I've not already got it spot on, but it gives me a fine base to continue my work from
4) I view the game in its entireity again, to get another overview, before I proceed to writing the match-report. This I do stepwise, perhaps watching 10-15 minutes and then writing in order of events, before I progress to the next 10-15 minutes until the match is through. This is the time consuming but at the same time highly interesting part
5) When the match report's been concluded, I again watch the full 90 minutes before making individual player notes and marks
So I think it is fair to say that little is left to chance. It is very time consuming, but so rewarding. To double-check or triple check facts is also a necessity. We have found errors in FIFA's official reports as well as local reports (newspapers, magazines), such as player names and shirt numbers being incorrect, and indeed also the times for when goals or substitutions or bookings/sendings off occurred. And whereas the amount of times we watch a particular game is unimportant, I genuinely believe you can not make a decent evaluation of any football game without at least 5-6, preferably more, viewings.
@1990worldcup Response: I usually go straight to the dvd, play the first half with focus on one team, then repeat with the other team in focus, and put down four-five talking points from that half which I will write about. Then I proceed to the second half, same procedure, and then re-watch the game as many times as is needed before I think I have a good idea of how the game unfolded. Inbetween, I search for relevant information about the match in newspaper archives, where possible, or use various methods to find how why a certain player was omitted etc.
Soccernostalgia: Your match reports are very in depth. How many matches would you watch per week? How long does each match report take to prepare before uploading?
@1990qual Response: With each match report being painstakingly time consuming, there is rarely room for watching more than one match per week. In fact, I would think that a full report will take about two weeks (give or take a few days) on average, as we are full time workers and also must take consideration for our families. I would in fact say that progress, even if the family situation had been different, would not be any quicker in any circumstance, because the impressions need to be digested. We strive our hardest to make them as precise as humanly possible 28-29 years after.
Soccernostalgia: Your area of research thus far appears to be the European Zone. Are you planning on researching Conmebol and other regions for the future?
@1990worldcup Response: Absolutely. We have no intention to restrict ourselves to the UEFA zone, and will report from the other zones as well. Ideally, we would like to examine every Italia'90 qualifier from every corner of the world. However, it's no secret that material from the other qualification zones are harder to find. One reason for starting with Europe was our hope that more video material would become available in the future. Looking back after the two years that soon have passed, I'm unsure whether that's the case, though. Still, we've already made some pleasant discoveries of matches from other continents, and we'll probably be able to get a good idea about the qualifiers around the world.
Soccernostalgia: Another aspect of your work that I appreciate is the analysis for the friendly matches of this period, which is a rarity in such analyses. Do you feel that some of the friendlies gave an insight to the upcoming qualifiers of the involved nations?
@1990qual Response: The answer is certainly yes! Personally, I've had the pleasure of watching a fairly high number of friendlies, and most of them have been able to provide information which has been useful for qualification reports. This has been particularly useful for teams which we've had little background reports on from before, so getting to know them through friendlies has been a fine introduction. Very worthwhile.
I must admit that I am not quite as methodical about some of the friendlies reports as I have been for the qualification reports, something which, for example, shows in the lack of notes about how players fared individually.
Soccernostalgia: I would like to discuss each European Group, one by one, to have your historical insight.
Group 1, involved Denmark, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece.
Denmark had just come off the disappointing 1988 Euros and Sepp Piontek’s ‘Danish Dynamite’ era appeared to have ended. The likes of Preben Elkjaer, Morten Olsen, etc were gone. The younger Laudrup, Brian, was now fully part of the National Team set up.
Romania were a growing nation built around Gheorge Hagi and the backbone of the great Steaua Bucharest squad.
Many forget that Bulgaria had qualified for the 1986 WC and almost qualified for the 1988 Euros. Their elimination in their last match for the Euros somewhat knocked the wind out of their sails and for these qualifiers they were never in the running, much like Greece.
In the end it was between Romania and Denmark. Denmark went through a good phase in early 1989, when they scored 7 past Greece, as well as 6 past Sweden and 4 past Brazil and many erroneously believed the ‘Danish Dynamite’ was back. However, in the last qualifier, Romania defeated the Danes (3-1) to qualify.
What are your respective perspectives on this Group? Was Denmark truly past its peak?
@1990worldcup Response: I want to start with Denmark. The Danish destiny in the 1990 qualifiers made a big impact on us when going through the material in group 1. While they did start in an unimaginative fashion against Greece and Bulgaria, they ended the qualifiers on a high note with some of the best football seen in the UEFA zone. There's a story here, I think, about how Denmark found their shape during the qualifiers. One question is how much the return of Morten Olsen had to say for the change of Denmark's fortunes. John Helt didn't quite convince, and it seems fair to assume that the 39-year old Morten Olsen did improve the team from his DM role. But even more important was the introduction of Brian Laudrup, who easily was one of the best performers in these qualifiers. It has to be said that Michael Laudrup was disappointingly average throughout these matches, but his brother added the flair and pace that transformed the team. Suddenly Denmark were exciting to watch again! We need to remember that the main bulk of the team that were defeated in these qualifers would go on to win the 1992 European Championships. Yes, Denmark looked quite mediocre in autumn 1988, but based on their 1989 form, Denmark were the best side from Europe not to qualify for Italia'90. That's the story, I think, and I know many will disagree with me here. But let me make this clear, it was great to see Romania finally qualify for the World Cup, and they produced some great free-flowing football, especially at the start of the qualifiers. We need to get rid of the idea that Romania only was Hagi. Players like Sabău and Popescu took huge responsibilites in the team. Romania were better when going forward than when sitting back, however, and I have made some question marks about their defensive structure against good opponents. And who is going to be Belodedici's replacement as libero? The shift of fortunes in this group happened when Romania lost Belodedici and Denmark introduced Morten Olsen and Brian Laudrup, but the Romanians still hanged on to defend their early lead. One of the things people tend to forget with group 1, is how well all these teams had performed in the qualifiers for the 1988 championships. Bulgaria, as you said, were a whisker away from qualifying, and even Greece did a good figure finishing 2nd, although always inferior to the Netherlands. I was especially intrigued by Bulgaria, who delivered by far their worst qualification campaign in this period. They had two spirited performances to start with, but only got one point, and after a lethargic match against Denmark they were out of contention as early as April 1989. They saw some positives, however, with a lot of good young players coming through. There was Stoichkov of course, and Trifon Ivanov, Balakov, Kiryakov (big favorite of mine), also Lechkov for a few minutes. Dimitar Penev was even caretaker manager for one match, against Romania away, and set the team up in the 4-3-3 formation that we would see again in 1994, so in some respects this was an anticipation of the events five years later. Greece finished above Bulgaria, but left a very confused impression after constantly changing their team and an improbable number of friendlies.
Soccernostalgia: Group 2, involved England, Sweden, Poland and Albania.
Despite their poor 1988 Euros, England were favorites along with the improving Swedes in this Group. Poland had been fading since qualifying for the 1986 World Cup and not many expected Albania to cause problems to any of the teams.
England Manager Bobby Robson had surprisingly avoided the sack. The backbone of the team was intact, save the addition of Des Walker in defense.
It was a tight affair between England and Sweden and they both qualified undefeated (many scoreless draws in this Group). For England, besides Walker, Paul Gascoigne emerged as an option along with the late David Rocastle (before the latter drifted out of the squad).
What are your respective perspectives on this Group?
@1990qual Response: As you say, England will have been Group 2 favourites prior to the start of the qualification, with Sweden ranked not far behind. The latter had done well in the qualification for the '88 Euros, and did perhaps look particularly strong defensively, where centre-backs Hysén/Larsson had been a big feature for the IFK Gothenburg side which had reached the semi-final of the 1986 European Cup. They were now split, and were plying their trade in some fine clubs on the continent, something which was also the case for a lot of other Swedish players. For the relatively modest Nordic countries, seeing their most talented assets leave for bigger clubs in Western Europe had always been a benefit to the national team, as the domestic scene was still predominantly part-time.
You could also not count the Polish out of the reckoning. Perhaps had their most previous World Cup experience not brought a lot of good memories, but they had a fine modern day pedigree nevertheless, and there was still some talent available to manager Łazarek. There was perhaps no Boniek or Lato, and the once great Smolarek was by now coming of age, so they would have to look to the younger players such as Rudy, Urban and West Germany based striker Furtok. This did not look quite enough to be a threat over a full campaign, but they certainly had it in them to be a troublesome opponent for anyone on their day, and especially at home. Neither England nor Sweden would relish the journey in behind the Iron Curtain.
Albania? Surely also-rans. I would like to stress that Italia1990.com takes pride in giving the same kind of attention to any country, whether small or big in footballing terms, and Albania was no exception. Admittedly, an unknown quantity prior to the qualification to us both, and I had the pleasure of making myself acquainted with them. There were a few players of decent calibre, I'd like to mention libero Hodja and midfielder Demollari, two of their three ever-presents, but as a unit they were too uneven to be able to have a big impact. They fought gallantly in their home matches, where they were a big test to all the other group opponents, even if they lost all three matches.
Clearly, England had looked solid throughout, not conceding even once during the six qualification matches. It would've been nice to say that the emerging Gascoigne played a big part, but he only made two substitute appearances, though he showed glimpses of his vast talent when brought on during the 5-0 demolition of Albania at Wembley. They were looking impressive all across the pitch as far as talent was concerned, and particularly going forward they had been expected to be a big threat with a unique quartet of players such as Waddle, Barnes, Beardsley and Lineker. However, only really Waddle was on song for most of the qualification, with particularly the normally agile Beardsley a disappointment. Robson and Webb ran the show in midfield, and the Manchester United captain, also the skipper of the national team, showed his worth with a very sound campaign. The same could be said for Walker, who, as you mentioned, came to the international spotlight with aplomb. His pace alongside the experienced Butcher was hugely important.
Sweden did well to win all four of their matches apart from twice sharing the spoils with the English, and thus deservedly won the group, but England had probably looked the stronger in both the two 0-0 draws. However, Sweden won 2-0 in Poland shortly after England had only managed a(nother) scoreless draw in the same stadium, so eventually the Scandinavians boasted the best record. Despite the two other groups consisting four teams not having completed their fixtures, both Sweden and England knew they were going through before the last round of fixtures on November 15, due to the possibility of the second placed team in Group 1 only being able to obtain a maximum of eight points.
Sample coverage of a given match on Italia90.com
Sample coverage of a given match on Italia90.com
Sample coverage of a given match on Italia90.com
Soccernostalgia: Group 3, involved the Soviet Union, Austria, East Germany, Turkey and Iceland.
Valery Lobanovsky’s USSR squad, the recent 1988 Euro Finalists, were clear favorites in this Group. The team was built around its Dinamo Kiev backbone.
The stars of the team were now Alexei Mikhalichenko and his 1988 Olympics partner Igor Dobrovolsky, as Igor Belanov appeared not to be as sharp.
It was also the age of Perestroika and Glasnost and many Soviet players had transferred abroad for the first time, such as Zavarov (Juventus) and Khidiatullin (Toulouse).
Perhaps, the surprise was in the Group’s runner-up. Before the qualifiers, East Germany appeared to be the strongest of the rest. However, they would have disastrous qualifiers and would go through multiple managers. Austria edged ahead through the goalscoring exploits of Sevilla based Toni Polster.
I know you still have not reviewed any matches from this Group, but what are your respective perspectives on this Group? The Soviets, though not impressive, did just enough to qualify, why do you think East Germany collapsed?
@1990worldcup Response: I have already secretly watched all of the Soviets' matchs in this group, as well as a selection of other matches, and feel I should be able to give an answer to this. I was left with a quite solid impression from the Soviets, to be honest. @1990qual has previously masterfully analysed the dull performance they delivered in Finland prior to the qualifiers, with a shockingly bad Mikhailichenko in the centre of the field. But the same team showed their class as soon as there was something at stake, and the same Mikhailichenko was brilliant from his advanced midfield position. No nation could match the Soviets when it comes to breaking forward with pace, an aspect of their play I found to be excellent. They only had minor troubles, which never was crucial for their participation at Italia'90. I missed a figure like Yaremchuk with his speed to break up some of the inertia that at times slowed the team down, and Dobrovolsky didn't particularly impress me as a left sided midfielder here. I'm convinced Lobanovsky did a mistake in using Dobrovolsky instead of Yaremchuk. So how about rest of the group, apart from USSR? As you rightly point out, this should have been the time DDR finally made it to the finals again. Austria, to be honest, were only half-decent, and Turkey and Iceland were tough opponents, but possible to overcome over 8 matches. Compare that to the good performances by DDR in the previous qualifiers, and you would expect DDR to go through. They had a strong unit, and a brilliant goal scorer in Andreas Thom (must not be underrated). Well, it remains for us to examine where it went wrong, but it seems already clear that the sudden decision to appoint the totally unproven Manfred Zapf as national coach ruined much of their chances. Not sure where that decision came from. Later, Eduard Geyer came in just in time to restore their hopes in Italia'90, before the famous events of November 1989 took away much of the focus in the decider in Vienna. I think we all missed out on a great story here. No offence to Austria, but it should have been Eduard Geyer leading that DDR team out in Rome. But let me make it clear that I've always been in love with this Austrian team! Kurt Russ, Andreas Ogris, Manfred Zsak... these are names that smack of Italia'90 to me. But they delivered very few convincing performances and can count themselves lucky to have qualified. To me, it seems like Hickersberger had trouble in figuring out how he should dispose of Herzog tactically, and the match in Turkey will later reveal how bad things could get, with Hickersberger making a total mess of it. Remember, Hickersberger had little experience as a coach at all before taking on the national team. There's also a somewhat unknown story here about the frustrations of Tony Polster, as he evidently found it difficult to reproduce his Sevilla form for the national team, before it all changed with that decider in Vienna. Yes, there were even speculations about his international retirement. So DDR struggled, Iceland and Turkey took points from each other, and Austria somehow qualified.
Soccernostalgia: Group 4, involved Holland, West Germany, Wales and Finland.
This Group was perhaps the toughest as it contained the recent Euro winners Holland, as well as perennial favorites West Germany.
This was the age of Gullit and van Basten and Holland were the rage across the continent. The Dutch would have difficulty following their Euros win, not to mention the continuous injury forced absences of Gullit.
For the Germans, Beckenbauer appeared to have abandoned the experiment to hand over the playmaking role to Olaf Thon. Thomas Haessler was a new addition in midfield, while Illgner was firmly established as the starting goalkeeper.
Most of the matches were tight and in the end, the Dutch and the Germans qualified undefeated, but especially the Dutch struggled and had to score many late goals.
What are your respective perspectives on this Group? The Dutch perhaps take the Group lightly assuming as Euro Champions it would be easier? What do you think of West Germany’s performances?
@1990qual Response: Group 4 would eventually turn out much like Group 2, where both favourites were calculated enough to go through, both probably being fairly pleased to have drawn against each other twice in the process. However, the West Germans were probably unfortunate not to have won the group, as they after all had looked more solid than the Dutch. Perhaps with the exception of their trip to Wales, when they had faced a very industrious opponent who really put the West Germans to the test. The British had been seen as something of a threat to them both pre-qualification, although, again a bit like what was the case in Group 2, where Poland were in a similar kind of role, perhaps not over the course of the campaign. Finland were not expected to be a threat to either, also not to the Welsh, who had hammered them 4-0 in the home tie in the previous qualification.
West Germany were still relying on their star performers from the failed 1988 Euros campaign on home soil, though they were looking to replace Herget as the libero. Who would take the job? Surprisingly, it went to Bayer Uerdingen midfielder Fach initially, though teamchef Beckenbauer did not seem entirely pleased with what he had seen during the opening two fixtures: 4-0 in Helsinki and then 0-0 in Munich against the big rivals from the Netherlands. Fach had looked sound, but he would be replaced by Berthold for the next two matches, the 1-1 return fixture with the Dutch in Rotterdam and the scoreless draw in Cardiff. For their final two matches, Beckenbauer had looked to the returning Augenthaler. Having used the 32 year old Herget during the '88 championships, he now again seemed to opt for experience in this pivotal position. Matthäus had a fine, though perhaps not brilliant, qualification. Their strikers failed to properly get going, although ten goals over two matches against the Finns saw West Germany easily outscore their chief rivals.
The West Germans had an arsenal of midfield talent available to them, and the qualification for Italia '90 would see the emergence of Möller and, as you mentioned, Häßler. Thon disappeared, but had also been unfortunate with injuries, something which had also denied solid defender Kohler the opportunity to feature more frequently. Beckenbauer, capably assisted by Osieck, also saw veteran midfielder Littbarski put in some fine performances, and he unearthed 29 year old attacking midfield man Bein for his final two matches. He proved to be yet another gem as he fitted in from the start. They could do without a spectacular qualification from striker Klinsmann, who was second best to Völler for most of the tournament. Illgner established himself as the new first choice in goal.
The Dutch had to make do with super star Gullit for practically the whole qualification. He did show his importance for the two matches where he appeared, as he got the late winner against the Welsh in their opening fixture, and then he set up Kieft for another late winner from his substitute appearance in Helsinki. New manager Libregts had seemingly been something of a controversial appointment, as he had previously had a row with Gullit during his stint as Feyenoord manager. There were rumours of weakened morale in the Dutch camp, though whenever they scored, and initially in the qualification they would be masters of late goals, their players were celebrating as if there were no internal problems whatsoever. Rijkaard and libero R Koeman had solid campaigns, and were possibly the two stand-out players. The right-sided van Aerle likewise did well, and E Koeman again proved a fine outlet along the left. Libregts had often sought attacking formations (his 3-4-3 at times looked like 3-3-4), but with van Basten often out of sorts, they failed to ignite properly. There also seemed to be problems along the flanks, and no less than four players would appear in the left-sided forward position; none of them truly successful.
Thanks to a solid defence, the Netherlands did not ship a lot of goals, and they broke ten years of Welsh home resistance by being the first team in 15 qualifiers to win in Wales, a win which ultimately won them the group ahead of the West Germans. No young, exciting talent had truly emerged, but both Bosman, Huistra and Winter had put in one or two decent shifts when given the opportunity. There was also Belgium based defender Rutjes, who proved well capable of stepping into the heart of the defence, though at 29 he could hardly be dubbed 'promising' any longer. Would Gullit be fit and in form in time for the World Cup? Going forward, the Netherlands certainly seemed to need him.
Wales were a major disappointment. Their alledged fearsome front duo of Hughes and Rush only scored once between them, and despite the emergence of livewire striker Saunders as a third forward of fine international standing, manager Yorath would only see his side score four goals in six matches. Experienced 'keeper Southall had a fine campaign, whereas they were missing his Everton team mate Ratcliffe whenever he was not in action. Portsmouth and later Southampton midfield man Horne was probably their best player throughout, and the way he bossed midfield in the home draw with West Germany was particularly impressive. Towards the end of the qualification Yorath would field a few players who had yet not appeared a whole lot. Finishing behind Finland would have been a massive blow.
As for the Finns? Plucky and brave, yes, but not enough quality spread throughout the team to pose much of a threat against the two big boys. They did exceptionally well to take three out of four points from the two matches against the Welsh, but had been fortunate to see a second half Saunders penalty saved by stand-in 'keeper Huttunen in Swansea as they held on to a 2-2 draw. Twice lost heavily to West Germany, competed better with the Dutch, but would ultimately fail to score or collect points from either match. Some individual performances gave hope for the future, and perhaps few more so than midfielder cum full-back Holmgren, a strong player with fine combative skills who seemed to do well until the final couple of qualifiers. They would often expose their central midfield, would the Finns, and it seemed possible to question some of manager Vakkila's tactical decisions. The 1-0 home win against the Welsh was their undoubted highlight, and it had been a win they deserved as they never let Wales settle into any kind of rhythm.
Finland did have a few players spread throughout clubs on the continent, but few were major resources with bigger clubs. Playmaker Ukkonen was at Anderlecht, but seemed to struggle for game time there. He was a starter in each of Finland's six qualifiers. Initially, he seemed to struggle for fitness, though as the qualification progressed he did seem perhaps their internationally best equipped player, as he was capable to hold on to the ball in tight situations, one of few Finns who had this ability. In their first couple of matches, young Scotland based striker Paatelainen had seemed the part, but his form would go over board during 1989. Lightweight forward Lipponen would finish their top goal scorer with two.
Soccernostalgia: Group 5, involved France, Yugoslavia, Scotland, Norway and Cyprus.
France had been in decline since the 1986 World Cup. After a tie at Cyprus, Henri Michel was removed as Manager to be replaced with former star Michel Platini. He was unable to limit the damage in time and was essentially left with preparing a team for the future. Ivica Osim’s Yugoslavia were impressive and in the end qualified with relative ease, while Scotland followed them in the end.
I know you still have not reviewed any matches from this Group as well, but what are your respective outlooks for this Group.
@1990worldcup Response: Our expectations are sky high, to be honest. In fact, we decided to save it until the end, as a climax to our analysis of the UEFA zone. No secret that it's Yugoslavia that causes all this wild excitement, and perhaps no need here to explain why. That team was universally beloved, and there's much nostalgia due to the later dissolvement of the country. Early evidence suggests that we have much to look forward to here, and I'm especially excited about watching some of the players that I wasn't very familiar with back then. Watch especially out for Mehmed Baždarević, who was the team's regular DM, until he was banned from participating at the World Cup. I wish to find out how much of an impact his omission had to say for the Yugoslavian team we saw in 1990. I don't think the matches not involving Yugoslavia will be boring, however. It probably won't, with big World Cup nations such as France and Scotland in the mix. Personally, I have a thing for this French side in these years. It was the era of Franck Sauzée, Stéphane Paille, Marcel Dib ... I think there might be some pleasant surprises to be unearthed here, perhaps even a small rehabilitation, as in Denmark's case? Let's see. We all know that France would turn out a much improved team in the 1992 qualifiers (8-0-0!) and I wonder whether we actually can see some contures of that side. Also, were Scotland their superiors in terms of performances? I look forward to see behind the results and assess their strengths. Then there's Norway, pre Egil Olsen, who surely is worth a new viewing, with exciting players such as Gøran Sørloth involved. Not sure what my expectations for Cyprus are, or were, but @1990qual has previously done a good job at bringing out the interesting knowledge about minor nations such as Malta and Luxembourg, and I'm sure he'll take that job seriously once again.
Soccernostalgia: Group 6, involved Spain, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Hungary and Malta.
Both Hungary and Northern Ireland had declined since the 1986 World Cup and did not pose a threat.
Spain under new Manager Luis Suarez ran away with this Group, while the progressing Republic of Ireland qualified for the World Cup for the first time.
What stood out for you in this Group? Was it a foregone conclusion from the start?
@1990qual Response: Spain had failed dramatically during the '88 European Championships, and would need new manager Suárez to bring something new with him. And so he proved to do, as a few of his former players at U21 level rose to the occasion and eventually saw them through with some margin. However, they found it difficult when up against an opponent of physical nature, such as during their 1-0 loss in Dublin. And by the time they dropped a point in Budapest they were already through and most likely as group winners on the back of their superior goal difference to the Irish.
Veteran goalkeeper Zubizarreta was in fine form throughout. Young libero Andrinúa seemed an excellent prospect, and did well when partnered with Sanchís in central defence. Jiménez came in as the new left-back and did well. The midfield trio of Míchel, Martín Vázquez and Roberto worked tirelessly and combined effort with quality, something which provided assistance for strikers Butragueño and the emerging Manolo. Perhaps their wide play was a bit of a disappointment, with neither Begiristain nor Villarroya being great threats along the left? Nevertheless, they would be something of an outsider in the upcoming World Cup. Suárez was also able to utilize different formations, as they were seen with both four and five men across the back during the qualification.
Northern Ireland, as you said, were in decline, and they were unlikely to reach a third successive World Cup. Manager Bingham saw exciting attacking midfielder O'Neill emerge and do well, but around him there was not enough quality, and especially up front they seemed to lack players of international stature. Clarke and Quinn did ok, little more. K Wilson was used more in midfield than up front, and along the flanks they had Dennison, Penney and Black, where neither managed to create enough trouble for the better teams in the group. Experienced campaigner Donaghy had a decent qualification, and was seen both as right-sided full-back, central defender and defensive midfielder. The once promising Whiteside struggled for fitness, and only featured twice late on. McClelland and McDonald were uncompromising defenders, but exposed at international level. A trio of goalkeepers got their chance, and neither of McKnight, Wright nor Dunlop impressed a great deal. They were only able to defeat Malta (twice), and deservedly finished second bottom.
Hungary had been seen as something of an uncertain quantity, though they had left a decent enough impression from their previous qualification campaign, and did possess players of talent, first and foremost in midfield ace Détári. They did well through their opening win at home to Northern Ireland courtesy of a late winner from substitute Vincze, an Italy based player of some promise, but things would soon turn sour as a domestic bribery scandal would deprive manager Mezey of several players for the trip to lowly Malta. Shockingly, they could only get a 2-2 draw against an opponent thought to be the pool's whipping boys, and the Hungarians had wasted a golden opportunity to start the campaign with two wins out of two. When they could only draw twice in successive home matches with rivals Republic of Ireland and, again, with Malta, their chances of qualification were hanging by the thread. With away fixtures in Ireland and in Spain yet to come, it appeared clear that they would have to battle it out with the Northern Irish over finishing third. They beat the Ulstermen twice, something which was just about the only positives for the Hungarians to take away from this qualification.
Hungary had used no less than 35 players over the eight qualifiers, and only experienced 'keeper Disztl would be an ever-present. Veterans such as Nagy and Garaba were only bit-part players, and they would have to rely on performers such as E Kovács and Z Bognar, players who were probably not good enough to be leading a team at international level. Détári had a relatively low key six matches (no goals), and their possibly best player was 'second playmaker' G Bognár. A campaign to forget nevertheless, even if they only lost twice: away to the Republic and to Spain.
The Republic of Ireland had left a solid impression in their debut in an international tournament, when only that late Kieft goal against the Netherlands in their final group stage game in the '88 European Championships made sure of their exit. They were a very experienced side which relied heavily on a direct approach, and big target man Cascarino was easily their main figure up front, as Liverpool striker Aldridge never managed to replicate his goal rush from domestic football at international level. They were very solid at the back, where four quality defenders were all possible picks for the central defensive berths: Moran, McCarthy, McGrath and O'Leary, the latter who was back in the national team again after an absence of more than two years due to a spat with manager Charlton. As it were, both Moran and McGrath would be used in a holding midfield role, though McGrath more frequently than his former Manchester United colleague. They had in Liverpool midfield duo Whelan (centre) and Houghton (right) two players of high quality, and Sheedy was so often an excellent outlet along the left hand side. They would initially struggle for goals, but had played all of their opening three qualifiers away from home. Once back in Dublin, they would win four on the bounce, including an impressive scalp against run away group leaders Spain, to set themselves up nicely for a finish in Malta. They were all but through by that point, and rare international goals from Aldridge (a brace!) made sure the 5000 strong contingent of travelling support could unleash their joy: The Republic would represent the nation in a World Cup for the first time ever.
Malta? Another nation I knew little about prior to the work on Group 6. I had the pleasure of seeing all of their eight matches, and although they finished rock bottom like had been expected of them, their select was far from free of characters. Manager was West German Heese, and he drew on some fine performers in goalkeeper Cluett, libero Buttigieg, young central defender Galea, midfielders Gregory and the talismanic (captain) R Vella, as well as forwards Carabott and the nimble Busuttil. It was an easy task to be charmed by these. They left a lasting impression, even if they were not good enough to worry the big boys too much. However, twice drawing with a once mighty footballing nation such as the Hungarians was a wonderful achievement.
Soccernostalgia: Group 7, involved Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Switzerland and Luxemourg.
This seemed like a balanced Group with no clear favorites.
In the end Portugal were a few years away from being a good side and Belgium qualified along with Czechoslovakia.
What are your memories from this Group?
@1990worldcup Response: Somewhat surprisingly, I developed a lot of sympathy for this Portuguese side. Remember, they had been in shambles since the Saltillo affair in 1988, and had a bizarre preparation for the 1990 qualifiers with only one friendly before their opener against Luxembourg, despite the fact that nobody probably had an idea about what the squad selection of the Portuguese NT looked like at the time. The beginning of the qualifiers also clearly showed that Juca still needed to experiment, and this partly ruined their chances. Remember, they would have needed to beat Czechoslovakia 4-0 in the final qualifier, and 1-0 against Luxembourg in 1988 was just not good enough. But as soon as the team settled, I think this was a pretty good team. Juca always seemed to have some fun tactical tweaks, and had some really exciting players in Futre, Rui Barros and Vítor Paneira. It was a fun team to watch, balanced with some great characters such as André and our perennial favorite Adelino Nunes. It would be madness to claim that Portugal were better than Czechoslovakia or Belgium, though, so there was nothing to regret there for the neutral observer. Czechoslovakia were in many ways the opposites of Portugal. A team with a rock solid defence, particularly impressive when using their long-ball tactics. They were seriously lacking as a counter-attacking side, however, and could be a frustrating team to watch when they were sitting back, as they had absolutely nothing at all to give when trying to break forward. I also grew somewhat uncertain about the work rate of Chovanec. Belgium was probably the more balanced of the three top sides, and to me they looked a more complete side than the two others. But they were lucky to get a point in both Lisbon and Bratislava, and that was a big part in making their campaign successful. Good to see characters like Ceulemans, Gerets and Preud'homme qualify for the finals, some excellent talents coming through in Degryse and Emmers, and an unlikely goal scoring hero in Marc Van Der Linden (the Schillaci of the qualifiers!). Plenty of memories about Switzerland as well, but I've probably ranted enough about my disillusionment with the Swiss world star Heinz Hermann other places. The Swiss didn't quite deliver, and I think this qualification was a small step back for them, although there were improvements under Stielike, some impressive talent coming through, and the ever reliable libero performances of Alain Geiger. I didn't have the chance to see Luxembourg, but I know @1990qual wants to say a few words on them later in the interview.
Soccernostalgia: Now let’s shift the focus back to your website. What has been the feedback from Football fans about your work? What type of fans do contact you? General football fans or the most serious historian types?
@1990worldcup Response: The website itself has received very little feedback so far, and we know very little about what the audiences think about our contents. Yet, everything on the website is still pretty much a work in progress, and we'll perhaps do more in the future to get feedback from our readers (we do have readers, as the visitor count reveals). We enjoy the dialogue we have on Twitter with various fans, some of which have been very helpful in sharing their knowledge and expertise. Most of our pages do now have the possibility for leaving comments, and we'd love to see more of them coming in. As I mentioned previously in this interview, we ideally would like to draw upon the expertise of other people, in order to fill in the knowledge that we lack, so that might be an aspect that we'll be looking to improve.
Soccernostalgia: Your website, is a work in progress and you have scheduled many matches to still be reviewed. What do you anticipate to accomplish in 2018?
@1990qual Response: For 2018, it will just be more work along the lines that we've already set about. Work will hopefully progress to the final two qualification groups in the European zone, so after a while we will be able to also shift focus towards other continents. However, we will surely not do anything with exaggerated tempo, so we will not advice our 'fans' to hold their breath as we proceed.
Also, there could be more work with friendlies, and especially the host nation must again come under scrutiny. I've had the pleasure of analyzing six straight matches from their 1989 campaign, and Italy is a footballing nation you can not possibly remain unbiased by. What characters there were in that pool of players from which manager Vicini could call upon!
Soccernostalgia: You have noted on your site that the Finals matches will not be reviewed until the qualifiers are completed. Is this a long-term project, perhaps 2019?
@1990worldcup Response: Yes, this was our conviction when beginning the project. First qualifiers, and as many friendlies as we can, before we feel able to say anything on the finals themselves. When revisiting past World Cups, one often tends to focus on the finals, to the neglect of the preceding qualifiers with all the stories that exist there. Which is totally understandable of course. Who ever has the time to go through hundreds of hours with qualification matches? Well, in our case, it would appear that we do have that time, and so we decided to give the qualification its due attention in order to bring out the stories that preceded the finals. With our current speed, I'm unsure if we'll reach the finals in 2019, and giving a forecast also seems difficult. I would say 2020, at earliest, so yes, I think it's fair to describe this as a long-term project, as you say. Perhaps even an endless project: After reviewing the finals, we have to return to the qualifiers again, etc.
Soccernostalgia: Last question, what has been the most rewarding part of doing this project. I can imagine that this type of research is very time consuming.
@1990qual Response: The most rewarding part...I guess it has been to get acquainted by the so-called lesser nations. I personally have had the chance to get to know Malta, Luxembourg and Albania thus far, and I had little or no knowledge on either of these countries' players or tactical preferences prior to embarking on this wonderful journey. I am not saying I have not enjoyed the work on the 'big boys', but unravelling the mechanisms behind these smaller ones has certainly been a great joy. Cyprus are yet to appear, and they are for sure another one I shall be looking forward to making myself acquainted with.
@1990worldcup Response: To uncover the patterns and stories of the nations' campaigns is certainly the most important thing to me. It's always rewarding to search in Dutch newspapers and find out why Jan Wouters didn't play a particular qualifier, but it's even more valuable to discover and articulate the big narratives, such as a national coach's tactical preferences or philosophies.
Soccernostalgia: Were there players and/or teams that grew on you during your work on this qualification?
@1990qual Response: Yes, most certainly. As for teams, I have already mentioned some of the lesser nations, and if I were forced to pick one, I would perhaps go for Luxembourg. Not because I did not enjoy getting to know Albania or Malta, but because there were some proper characters in that team. They were perhaps the lowliest ranked of all the European nations, but in some matches they truly belied their status, such as towards the end, when they managed a sensational draw in Belgium (one of World football's single most upsetting outcomes throughout the 80s in my humble opinion), and a draw that they even meritted on background of their performance, and then lost marginally away to the Swiss.
Should I have to mention one player from that Luxembourg side who got under my skin more than anyone else, it was probably Marcel Bossi, a really rugged defender, a no-nonsense performer who never shirked a challenge and did not care whether his opponent was a world class player or someone of amateur status like himself.
If forced to chose a personal favourite from each of Albania and Malta, I would opt for midfielders Mirel Josa and Charles Scerri respectively. The former was a somewhat cautious player in the Albanian select, though not without qualities when in possession, whereas Scerri, who was also operating as a right-sided player, was the more combative type. Both were excellent representatives for their country.
Among the bigger nations, I have liked Spain's Roberto, Italy's Baggio, Belgium's Degryse, West Germany's Häßler, the Netherlands' R Koeman, England's Robson and Romania's Popescu. I can not wait to dig into the Soviet Union, France, Scotland, Yugoslavia, Austria, East Germany...I am truly thrilled there's still a lot of work left to cover.
Once again I cannot stress what an impressive website http://italia1990.com is.
I am thankful for the time taken to respond to these questions and reliving these wonderful Football memories. Your passion in doing your work is evident.