The Soviet Union national team manager for the Mexico world cup of 1986 was Valeriy Lobanovskyi, a much respected name of eastern European football. Lobanovskyi began his playing career at Dynamo Kiev in 1957, winning silverware of various types. He was at the Ukrainian club for seven years until he moved to Chornomorets Odessa, on the Black Sea in 1964. He was only at Odessa for a season before moving on to Shakhtar Donetsk, again only spending a short time there. He hung his boots up aged only 29. Lobanovskyi was one of those people who only came to true prominence in football after he went into management. As a player he was quite decent by all accounts, scoring over 70 goals. One interesting nugget of info about Lobanovskyi is that he had a knack for scoring from corner kicks; he was an expert curler of the ball, back in the day when footballs were made from thick leather and football boots were nothing like the hi-tec creations they are today, no Adidas Predators back then!
As soon as he retired as a player he went straight into management, taking charge of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. However, this wasn’t the Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk the football club no, the club with the nickname of The Warriors of Light; it was in fact the Dnipro of the sport known as Bandy. Bandy is similar to ice hockey, although it’s played with a ball and not with a puck. It was first played in London late in the 19th century, but it never caught on in Britain. His football management career began in earnest when he took the reins at his home town club, Dynamo Kiev in 1973, bringing silverware to the club pretty much as soon as he took on the job. It was Lobanovskyi’s Kiev who became the first Soviet side to life a European trophy, when Dynamo defeated Hungary’s Ferencvaros in the 1975 European Cup Winners Cup final, in Switzerland. For the next decade or so, he had spells managing the Soviet national team as well as running Dynamo. So by the time the 1986 world cup came around, Lobanovskyi was an experienced team boss with some notable victories under his belt.
The Soviet Union qualified for the ’86 world cup from the U.E.F.A. qualification Group 6, finishing as runners up to Denmark. The Soviets finished two points ahead of Switzerland, so the Swiss along with Norway and the Republic of Ireland failed to qualify. Lobanovskyi took a twenty two man squad to Mexico, over half of that squad was made up of Dynamo Kiev players. Those non Kiev players were goalkeepers Rinat Dasayev of Spartak Moscow and Serhiy Krakovskyi of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Oleh Protosov a team mate of Krakovskyi’s at Dnipro, Gennady Morosov of Spartak Moscow, Aleksandr Bubnov and Sergey Rodionov also of Spartak, Aleksandr Chivadze of Dinamo Tbilisi, Sergei Aleinikov of Dinamo Minsk, Nikolay Larionov of Zenit St Petersburg, then known as Zenit Leningrad and another Dnipro player, Gennadiy Litovchenko.
It’s worth mentioning that Soviet squad included another great name of Soviet football, Oleh Blokhin. Blokhin spent nineteen years playing as striker for Dynamo Kiev, appearing in 432 games and scoring 211 goals, that’s just under a goal every other game. Incidentally, Blokhin was the team manager of Ukraine when they appeared in their only major tournament appearances which were the 2006 world cup and the 2012 European Championship. I suspect most fans into football shirts would have been impressed with the Soviet kit at that time. It was plain yet simple, smart and quite eye catching in its simplicity. The first choice colour for the shirt was red, second was white. For those that remember that Soviet shirt, they will tell you there were four letters on that shirt, C.C.C.P.. People often wonder what those letters meant. Well, they were actually letters of the Cyrillic alphabet, the alphabet of the Soviet Union. Those letters stood for Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik, basically the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or U.S.S.R.. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, they went by the name of the C.I.S., which stood for the Commonwealth of Independent States. After that, states such as Georgia and Belorussia achieved independence.
At Mexico ‘86 the Soviets were drawn into Group C, along with Canada, France and Hungary. On June 2nd, György Mezey’s Hungary provided the Soviets with their first test in Mexico. It was an easy test for the Soviet Union at the Estadio Sergio Leon Chavez. By half time the Soviets were 3 – 0 up, the goals courtesy of Pavlo Yakovenko, Igor Belanov via a penalty and Sergei Aleinikov. The Soviets were comfortably in control and to an extent the second half was a mirror image of the first half. The Soviet Union scored another couple of times, Ivan Yaremchuk and Sergey Rodionov finding the net. To rub salt into the wound for the Hungarians, László Dajka scored an own goal, so it finished in a 6 – 0 victory for Lobanovskyi’s side.
Next up for the Soviets was Henri Michel’s France, three days later at the Estadio Nou Camp. It ended 1 – 1. As the Brazilian ref blew for half time, it was goalless. Vasily Rats of Dynamo Kiev opened the scoring for the Soviets about thirteen minutes into the second half. In keeping with the closeness of the game it didn’t take long for the French to draw level with the Soviet Union, less than ten minutes later it was 1 – 1 after Luis Fernández scored for Les Bleus.
The final group game for the Soviet Union was a meeting with Tony Waiters’ Canada. Waiters was originally from Southport and had played professionally for Blackpool and Burnley. It was a straight forward game for Lobanovskyi’s team, they defeated the Canadians 2 – 0, the goals coming from Oleh Blokhin and Oleksandr Zavarov. The Soviets topped the group with five points, just pipping France for top spot on goal difference. So the Soviet Union were into the last sixteen knockout phase, waiting for them was Guy Thys’s Belgium.
For a last sixteen world cup game it was poorly attended, only 32,000 showed up for the Soviet Union’s encounter with Belgium. It took place at the Estadio Nou Camp, in Leon on the 15th of June. It began well for the Soviets, when Igor Belanov put his team ahead in the 27th minute. When Erik Fredriksson, the Swedish referee, blew for half time it looked good for the Soviets, they deserved their lead.
The Belgians came out for the second half looking for an equalizer, but it was the Soviet Union who started the second half the better team. However, in the 56th minute Enzo Scifo leveled for the Belgians, putting the ball in the Soviet net via a cross from Frank Vercauteren. With about twenty minutes to go, the Soviets hit on the break from midfield after Jan Ceulemans gave the ball away. After a pass from Zavarov it was Belanov again who put the ball past the Belgian goal keeper, 2 – 1 to the Soviet Union. Only a few minutes later Ceulemans redeemed himself when he scored for Belgium making it 2 – 2.
That’s how it finished in normal time, extra time would be needed. Going into this game, the Soviet Union were the favourites of most informed pundits, however the Belgians were giving their opponents something to think about. They certainly did that in the 102nd minute when Stephane De Mol put the Belgians ahead in the game after a great headed goal. The Belgian’s tails were up, in the 110th minute Nico Claesen put Belgium further ahead via a sweetly struck volley into the Soviet goal. It was a game of exciting incidents and the Soviets had to provide another one to save their world cup, and that’s what they did only a minute or so after Claesen had scored Belgium’s 4th. Igor Belanov was fouled in the eighteen yard box, it was a penalty and it was Belanov himself who scored the penalty. However it wasn’t enough, the Belgians won the match 4 – 3 and the Soviet Union were going home.