Monday, May 10, 2010

USSR to the finals! I don’t remember anybody doubting that with Salvador Allende for President of Chile. The last qualification round was to be a joke… I think even the Soviets did not count the coming qualification with Chile – their scheduled friendlies for were clearly geared as a preparation for the finals – England, Brazil, West Germany. Confident Russians, which was unusual and not only because of the sudden change of old habit to fret and fear, at least on paper. This time they really had to fret and fear – their football was lagging behind, it was outdated and no players and coaches capable of total football were in sight. The last international results were mixed at best: second in the European championship in 1972, but absolutely outplayed by West Germany. Second at the Olympics in same 1972, but with a team which disgusted everybody at home. The following severe critique of the Olympic team reached alarming conclusions: lack of talent among the lower echelons of Soviet football. With aging key players and nobody to replace them, something drastic had to be done – but nothing was done. The first match with Chile was in Moscow and Allende was still president. Uninspired, slow, and boring game ended 0-0.

Trouble in Moscow – Olivares saves again, despite his tiny size (1.71 m tall).

Happy Chileans in Moscow.Before the second leg came, General Pinochet and the Chilean army ruled in Chile and Allende was no more. The Russians cried murder. The general political reasons are not important here, but they swallowed football as well – the Soviets refused to play on a stadium used for a concentration camp and torture. Sensitive, the Soviets… as if they never had concentration camps and never used torture. FIFA, still governed by Stanley Rose, kind of ‘inspected’ the stadium in Santiago and proclaim that politics has no place in football; the stadium is not a concentration camp; no sign of torture is visible anywhere in the stadium; and the second leg should be played precisely there and not on proposed by the Soviets neutral place. USSR stuck to her guns and refused to play in Santiago; Rose and FIFA were unmoved. At the scheduled time Chile run on the pitch, the referee whistle the beginning, their was a pass and slow run of a striker to the ‘Soviet’ net, slight kick and – goal. The referee blew the final whistle right away – it was all symbolic, there was no Soviet team present, Chile won and qualified for the finals.

The game of one team, lasting one minute.Huge noise over that was made in Eastern Europe, but doubt hold firm – was it just a convenient excuse? What if the match was played – even on neutral field – and Chile won? It was more than possible after the tie in Moscow. Now it looked like the Soviets twisted their own football situation – they were victims somewhat and therefore – moral winners – no matter how grim was the reality of Soviet football.

The declaration of the Soviet Football Federation, protesting the FIFA decision to stage the second leg in Santiago. Just about as big was the report of the first leg played in Moscow. To compare: the friendly with Brazil was covered in three issues of ‘Football-Hockey’ plus following analysis. Nevertheless the whole affair was and is murky: FIFA playing apolitical game, yet, some dictatorships were problem and others were not. Let say the expulsion of Israel and South Africa for political reasons was right – then what about Zaire, Haiti, and Chile? And many others. And what about Eastern Europe? In 1968 almost all East European clubs walked out of the European tournaments, ordered to ‘protest’ in this way the Western protest over the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, football cannot be separated from politics big and small. Personally, I don’t think USSR would have made the World Cup 1974 a better tournament.