The qualifications for the 1988 European Championship final ended in 1987. But everything started much earlier – at the 1985 URFA Congress in Lisbon. Two important things happened there: first of all was the future of this championship, entirely based on money. The 1984 finals ended with solid earnings for UEFA and that killed any doubts and objections to the championship. It was to be continued permanently. The second important moment was the emergence of application for collective hosting – it came from Scandinavia: Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark made the proposal, which at the time was rejected immediately, for it meant half of the finalists to be the hosts. Later, however, it came to live, so the idea came early, but was not forgotten. Choosing the host was usual shuffle of intrigues in which West Germany won over England, Greece, and Holland. It was not only the usual
certainty that the Germans would provide perfectly organized tournament and the quality of everything will be great, but also canny West German promise to the East European block that West Berlin will not be a venue of the finals – this political move secured Communist votes. Right away the Germans went a step further, proposing 16-team tournament, organized on the Olympic principle from the ¼ finals to the final, but that was rejected and the formula was to be the one established in 1980 – 8 teams playing in 2 round-robin groups. Also rejected was the second German proposal – in case of teams ending with same points in the group-phase a play-off to be staged. This was really a return to the past which UEFA did not want to take – the schedule was to be tied and compact and it was not easy to balance between the needs of commercial sponsors and complains from every country which felt robbed in every occasion when their next opponent had an extra day off. Then came the draw, in early 1986. It was done ‘scientifically’ by using ‘the proven mathematic formula’: take the points games every country earned in the qualifications for the 1986 World Cup and the 1984 European Championship and divided it by the games they played. The result placed them in different urns – the strongest in one, and so on to the urn of weakest, so to be fare and no big teams to kill each other prematurely. Since Italy did not play any qualifications for the 1986 World Cup as reigning champions, they had plain zero for this campaign and thus ended in the 4th urn, the one next to last. Some science… Italy was just ahead of Turkey by this science, both in the urn of the outsiders. But that was that and the groups eventually formed – 7 of them. The 8th place of the finals went automatically to the host, West Germany. After qualifications started with their ups and downs, and sudden collapses, some due to utter stupidity, some for objective reason. By the end of the 1987 the final standings were completed and here, briefly as possible, the qualifications will be shown.
Group 1. Spain, Romania, Austria, Albania. Spain and Romania were the favourites, with some rather thin possibility for Austria.
Predictably, Albania finished last, losing every match they played. 0 0 6 2-17 0
Austria ended 3rd – it was also pretty much expected: although Austria had a bunch of good player, the golden generation of the 1970s was retired or too old by now and the team was in relative decline. However, the Austrians were still tough enough and managed to spoil the Romanian chances in the last game – it was 0-0 in Vienna. 2 1 3 6-9 5 points.
Romania lost in the last minute… Standing from left: Laszlo Böloni. Silviu Lung, Stefan Iovan, Rodion Camataru, Adrian Bumbescu, Miodrag Belodediçi. First row: Georghe Hagi, Marius Lacatus, Michael Klein, Dorin Mateut, Nicolae Ungureanu. Spain and Romania were old foes – they were grouped together quite often in qualification groups. This time Romania had its own golden generation with increasingly high-profiled Hagi as a leader. And as usual Spain and Romania went shoulder to shoulder to the end – the group winner was to be decided in the last games, played at the same time – Spain was hosting Albania and Romania was visiting Austria. Goal-difference was in favour of Romania, so any victory was going to qualify them. Spain needed enormous victory – at least by 10 goals. Thus, memories of the shameful win with the ‘right’ result in the previous qualifications for the 1984 Euro came back. But Albania was not Malta – or at least that was concluded after the game: the Albanian fought somewhat and lost by only 5 goals. There was no ‘helpful’ Malta, but there was helpful Austria – the Austrians played for their honour, which meant playing for a draw and to achieve that they went into frustrating killing of time. Austria wanted to avoid loss and thus they worked for Spain – Romania was unable to score and lost the race by a point: 4 1 1 13-3 9 points.
Whether Spain deserved to qualify is another matter – the team was not so great and had some problems, particularly in attack, where apart from Butrageno there was practically nobody worth mentioning. The key strikers of the leading clubs were foreigners and it came to unusual decision to include Paco Llorente, who was mere reserve in Real Madrid. But the team managed to prevail over Austria and Albania and the real decisive games were against Romania – at home they won 1-0, using every possible mean to achieve that, including superstition: the match was played in Sevilla, because there Spain qualified at the expense of Holland by beating Malta 12-1. By the way, Sevilla stayed the official city for home qualifications 11 and half years! With great difficulties Spain won at home, but in Bucharest Romania practically destroyed them – 3-1 does not luck scary result, but Romania played excellent football and Spain looked ugly weaklings in comparison. But the points were equal before the last group matches and Austria eliminated Romania. Still, Spain proved tough as ever and against results one can hardly argue: 5 0 1 14-6 10 points.
Group 2. Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Malta – that by the urns the teams came from. Of course, nobody saw Italy as an outsider, Sweden was on the rise with new talented generation, Portugal was in good shape and Switzerland had decent team – everything was possible, but the main battle seemingly was going to be between Italy and Portugal. Malta counted only as point donor, as ever. The qualifications started on the wrong foot – after the first game, which Switzerland lost to Sweden 0-2, the Swiss delivered protest to UEFA – somebody from the stands hurled a peace of marble and injured their goalkeeper. That was serious incident and most likely UEFA would have punished the Swedes, but in the last minute the Swiss changed their protest, now objecting from the Bulgarian referee’s booking of their captain when he tried to call his attention to his injured goalkeeper. This was much smaller and different ‘crime’ and the result stayed. The second match was between Portugal and Sweden and before it something almost comic in its stupidity happened – the Portuguese performance at the 1986 World Cup was considered a disgrace and investigation was conducted, finding the culprits and severely punishing them. As usual, the players were found guilty – their lesser crime was preoccupation with shopping; the big crime – hiring prostitutes all the time and going on strike because their bonuses from contract with Adidas were not paid. Both the players and the general public felt the Federation was the prime culprit and now was only looking for somebody else to blame and that practically left Portugal without a national team – the Federation decision was severe and 7 key national team regulars, including Fernando Gomes and Paulo Futre, were disqualified from the national team for life. That resulted in players’ protest – a petition for withdrawal from national team duties was signed by 173 players in support of their punished colleagues. This scandal practically killed the Portuguese campaign – eventually the decision of the Federation was reversed and the stars were convinced to play again for Portugal, but it was too late by then. As for the match against Sweden, it ended 1-1 and Sweden was lucky to escape – but got a point. Portugal remained in the race against the odds after their second match – they got a point away in Switzerland, which was almost finishing off the Swiss chances for qualification. Then Italy started at last and it was typical Italy – minimal wins, but wins. Meantime Sweden had shaky performances, pretty much as their coach kept cautioning all the time – he knew best the problems of his team and he was right, unfortunately. Yet, the Swedes were battling with Italy and won their home game. But then lost at home to Portugal… it was September 1987 by then: that late the Portuguese ended their own stupid scandal and all stars were back in the team. By then the only thing they could achieve was spoiling the chances of Sweden… and they succeeded in that by fielding another inferior squad in their last game against Italy – this time FC Porto refused to let its players playing for the national team with the argument they were much needed fresh for the coming Intercontinental Cup. Italy did not have to put much effort to beat the Portuguese 3-0, but by then Sweden ended their games and Italy already won the group.
Malta – last, as expected, but got 2 points, which was kind of successful campaign for them. 0 2 6 4-21 2 points.
Switzerland – 4th, also pretty much as expected. From left to right: Roger Wehrli, Heinz Hermann, Georges Bregy, Alain Sutter, René Botteron, Christian Matthey, Charly In-Albon, Alain Geiger, Claudio Sulser, Erich Burgener, André Egli. 1 5 2 9-9 7 points.
Portugal – 3rd. Here is one of the strange formations they fielded because of the scandal – in view of that, may be not so bad performance. 2 4 2 6-8 8 points.
Sweden – 2nd. This is the team which won over Italy in Stockholm and placed Sweden on top of the table – top, left to right: Glenn Strömberg, Thomas Ravelli, Glenn Hysén, Peter Larsson, Lennart Nilsson, Stig Fredriksson. Bottom, left to right: Johnny Ekström, Robert Prytz, Ulf Eriksson, Roland Nilsson, Hans Holmqvist. Not a bad team, but inconsistent. 4 2 2 12-5 10 points.
Italy – hardly a great squad, but the Italians were often able to sneak themselves in when nobody was taking them seriously and did it again. 6 1 1 16-4 13 points.
Group 3. France, USSR, DDR, Norway, Iceland. A battle between France and USSR was expected. However, in early 19865, at the time of the draw, that was certainty, which collapsed even before the year ended. France sharply declined, which was expected – the great generation of Platini and Co. aged and due to retire and the next was not so talented. The curve inevitably was going down, reaching its peak already in 1984. Yet, nobody supposed so sharp decline so fast. USSR had its problems, but of a different nature – rivalry and mutual dislike between Dinamo Kiev and Dnepr Dnepropetrovsk played a role and pigheaded Lobanovsky irritated observers and fans by ignoring Dnepr players, particularly Litovchenko and Protassov. Dnepr, it should be pointed out, was the best team at the moment – hence the irritation. A string of injuries contributed to the mood against Lobanovsky’s choises – he often preferred to improvise and called suspect players – particularly Khidiatullin (Spartak Moscow), who routinely underperformed in the national team, and aging Chivadze and Sulakvelidze from declining Dinamo Tbilisi. In coach’s defense can be said that his Dinamo Kiev was long enough and versatile team, he knew perfectly what his own players were capable of and also was able to motivate them – his dictatorial methods were difficult to swallow for players from other clubs, so the best way to avoid rebellion was to call the already tamed. As for what agenda was top in his head… as soon as the long and scandalous saga of the transfer of Litovcnehko and Protassov from Dnepr to Dinamo Kiev ended successfully for Lobanovsky, he included them in the national team right away. No matter what, USSR was not in the situation of France – they had plenty of talent and a team going up and not at its peak yet . Meantime East Germany got a new talented generation – some of them would be big stars for unified Germany in the 1990s – so instead of duel between USSR and France, DDR and USSR competed for the 1988 finals.
Norway finished last. Top row from left: Roste Fossen, Andersen, Ahlsen, Thoresen, Bratseth, Kojedal.
Middle row: Okland, Soler, Giske, Herlovsen, Osvold.
Bottom: Henriksen, Thorsvedt, Mordt, Rise.
1 2 5 5-12 4 points.
Iceland – 4th. Improving, having well respected stars, but as the result against East Germany shows, still modest team. Came ahead of Norway – that was the measure of success. 2 2 4 4-14 6 points.
France – 3rd. A disgrace, but inevitable… Henri Michel announced well in advance that he is going to build new team. After the 1986 World Cup Bossis, Giresse, and Rocheteau announced their retirement from the national team. Tigana was also planning to quit, Platini was hinting the same – Michel succeeded in persuading both stars not to go yet, but it was partial success: Platini said that he is staying in the national team only because it needed help, but will not be always available. He was not going to play the first game in Reykjavik for sure. France still had some teeth left, but as a whole they performed miserably, winning only once – at home against Iceland, which was also the last game Platini played for France and three months later he announced his full retirement from the game. 1 4 3 4-7 6 points. Ahead of Iceland only on better goal-difference…
DDR was always a tough opponent, but mostly trouble maker than a real contender. This time, though, there was a bright new generation of which Kirsten and Thom were rapidly rising, eventually becoming huge stars in the 1990s. Suddenly there was a team capable of matching the great team of 1974 and they compteted with USSR for top position – the direct clash between them decided the group winner and DDR lost the battle after losing 0-2 away in April 1987 and then unable to beat the Soviets at home in October 1987, 1-1. The East Germans played the last group game and won the away match against France, but it was only for pride – USSR already finished their games and was unreachable. 4 3 1 13-4 11 points.
USSR was expected favourite and possible winner and they delivered. No matter what problems and frictions existed, the Soviets had great generation and great, no matter how controversial, coach and managed to steer clear of big trouble. The French collapse helped too, but as a whole, team USSR was well prepared and focused and even without really outstanding performances, they managed to win game after game. It was strong and very experienced team – most of all that. Practically, Dinamo Kiev plus the great goalkeeper Dassaev. A handful of other players Lobanovsky used for a long time too, but as the picture above shows, no more than 2-3 of them at a time. In the crucial games against DDR – three of the 13 used were from other clubs in the home match; four of the 13 used in the away game. Against France: 5 from 13 in the first match and 4 from 13 in the second. Practically, there were no debutantes – Tishtenko and Lossev played a single match each (well, Tishtenko only half a match, for he was substitued at half-time); Dobrovolsky – twice (once substituted). Only once more than one newcomer played – Dobrovolsky and Lossev started in the home match against France, but Dobrovolsky did not finish the game, substituted in the 70th minute. Gaps were usually filled by Dinamo’s players – injured Demyanenko was replaced by his midfield teammate Ratz, for instance. In any case Lobanovsky preferred versatile players, capable of playing different positions like Bessonov, Sulakvelidze, Alleynikov, and Khidiatullin to those playing strict positions. Team USSR rarely shined during the qualifications, but always got what they wanted and that only counts – at the end of the day, they did not lose a game. 5 3 0 14-3 13 points.
Group 4. England, Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, Turkey. Well, England was the favourite, possibly fighting with Yugoslavia and just in case – with Northern Ireland. One interesting aspect of this group was its schedule – in all other groups there was chaotic approach, negotiated between the opponents in a way rightly or wrongly convenient to their schemes for outfoxing the opposition not just on the pitch. By sharp contrast, the schedule in Group 4 was fair – everybody played in the same day and there were no strings of games followed by long pauses. Apart from that – no surprises at all. England dominated, Yugoslavia, going through shaky period, was not real challenger, Northern Ireland played without heroics, and Turkey was bellow the others.
Turkish football was improving, but still was unable to narrow the gap – predictably, Turkey finished last. 0 2 4 2-16 2 points.
Northern Ireland left little evidence of their campaign – this is not even a picture from the qualifications, but still one around the 1986 World Cup, yet, it suits the purpose: with its limited resources, the Irish were hardly able to make brand new team – it was practically the same they used at the World Cup minus retired Pat Jennings. Hence, a photo with Jim Platt… who was not a newcomer at all. And that sums it all, for lovely Northern Irish short of heroics were almost nothing. Ordinary modest campaign and predictable 3rd place. 1 1 4 2-10 3 points.
Yugoslavia – 2nd, as expected. As a whole, the 80s were shaky decade for the Yugoslavs – they still had plenty of high-profiled stars, but somehow never all of them coincided in time and never enough for really strong team. Still, not a team to be ignored, but… at best second-best. This squad is point in case – standing from left: Zoran Vujović, Srećko Katanec, Mauro Ravnić, Ljubomir Radanović, Faruk Hadžibegić, Mirsad Baljić. First row: Borislav Cvetković, Fadilj Vokri, Zlatko Vujović, Mehmed Baždarević, Marko Mlinarić. Some already aging, others not at their peak yet, and few obviously ordinary for there were nothing else. Strong enough to beat the likes of Northern Ireland and Turkey, but not up to the real test – they lost both games with England. It was particularly humiliating at home: 1-4! 4 0 2 13-9 8 points.
There was already a pattern, which probably blinded the British somewhat and nobody else: England was superior in qualification groups, which suggested a revival of great years and may be new success at last, but then at the finals – bland nothing. England, however, did not play badly at the 1986 World Cup and if not for the shameful goal Maradona scored with his hand… that obscured reality: England certainly played better than ever did since 1971, but not brilliantly. Stubborn old deficiencies remained in their approach to the game. The great qualification campaign was to a big degree wrongly taken as a revival. The future looked bright… Tony Adams and David Seaman were already noticed, that was the shining future… But nobody can argue successfully against formidable statistics: 5 1 0 19-1 11 points.