Monday, June 21, 2010

The mother of them all in Eastern Europe, USSR, did not have to worry about the World Cup too, after refusing to play Chile for political reasons. The Soviets had the opportunity to concentrate on their own domestic problems – and introduced fresh change, or rather abandoned the ill-fated experiment of breaking ties with post-match penalty kicks. The clubs triumphed: they did not play for winning when the rules forced to win, and they were free to collect points from their beloved 0-0 ties. Therefore, the crisis continued – the old philosophy of ‘try to win at home and try to end in tie when visiting’ ruled supreme and with vengeance reached new lows. Only three clubs ended with less than 10 ties (out of 30 championship games). The champions sported modest 12 ties this season. Scoring was a fiction: the champions were the most enterprising with their 49 goals, scoring great 1.63 goals per match average. But the most telling was the team with least goals – Dynamo (Tbillisi) with 29, less than a goal per match! The Georgians traditionally were the most open and attacking club in USSR – in 1974 they played the same cautious single-point oriented football as everybody else. The Soviet league was especially boring no matter what urges came from the Football Federation or from critical journalists.
Dynamo (Kiev) won a double – their 6th championship and their 4th Cup. It was return to the normal and familiar, no wild clubs muddling the waters. There was nothing to hint at future international triumphs: Dynamo were not fun and barely caught the title by one point difference from the second placed Spartak (Moscow). Vasily Lobanovsky came to coach them from lowly Dnepr (Dnepropetrovsk), where he was more criticized than praised for lackluster and mean kind of football. In view of the low scoring, it is interesting to point out that Dynamo already got Onsishchenko and Semenov from Zarya (Voroshilovgrad) and now recruited Shepel from Chernomoretz (Odessa), who scored 38 goals in the Second Division the year before. The attackers clearly suggested some kind of desire to increase goalscoring, yet Semenov and Shepel were wasted in Dynamo, played rarely, and soon dismissed. Blokhin, already the best Soviet player, was the top scorer of the championship with 20 goals – almost half of the total Dynamo’s production. Somewhat curiously Zarya (Voroshilovgrad) reached the Cup final – as if to prove that they were not cheating in 1972, when they won their dubious title. However, they barely escaped relegation in the championship, finishing 14th in the 16-team league. Final is final, so they put on a fight and lost 1-2. The whole picture was grim: Dynamo did not look great, but rather shrewd team painfully extracting victories more by will than skill.
Hard to believe that Dynamo will take Europe by storm in 1975… here are the winners in 1974:
Bottom, left to right: A. Puzach – assistant coach, I. Zhutnik – masseur, V. Semenov, V. Kondratov, A. Damin, V. Muntyan, V. Onishchenko, A. Petrashevky – assistant coach.
Middle: V. Lobanovsky – coach, L. Kozhanov – team doctor, A. Shepel, V. Maslov, L. Buryak, O. Blokhin, V. Matvienko, O. Bazilevich – team’s director.
Top: E. Rudakov, M. Fomenko, S. Reshko, V. Kolotov, V. Veremeev, V. Zuev, V. Troshkin, V. Samokhin, V. Berkovsky – doctor. Already some typical features of Lobanovsky’s Dynamo were present – dependence on small core of players, just 11 strong plus 4-5 eternal reserves coming regularly in the second half; lack of right full back (Damin and Zuev alternated in 1974, none of them ever a solid starter); and lack of centre forward (Semenov and Shepel placed quickly on the bench). This situation changed practically after 1986: the team relied on tough and populous midfield, temporary right backs, fast wingers, and the scoring ability of Blokhin. When the opposition managed to block him, scoring seized… and winning was not in the books. Hence, Lobanovsky’s vision of ‘scientific’ football developed – if you cannot improvise, then learn schemes and follow them like a robot. And run, run, run…Perhaps the only bright thing in 1974 was another Ukrainian club – Chernomoretz (Odessa) finished third. The highest place they ever had and it was even better, for they just came back from the Second Division swamps.
Top, left to right: Aleskerov – coach, Dzyuba, Davidov, Prokopenko, Zubkov, Tomashevsky, Pavlenko, Radionov, Nechaev, Logvinenko, Grigoriev, Feydman, Zabolotny – assistant coach.
Bottom: Degtyarev, Makarov, Butenko, Ustimchik, Sapozhnikov, Kulichenkov, Ivanenko, Doroshchenko, Nefedov, Galitzky – administrator. Of course, it was great success, if one was from Odessa. And keeping in mind that the club lost its best player – Shepel – to Dynamo (Kiev). But it was not a great team… none of the players was more than journeyman. It was more enthusiasm than anything, the typical case of small clubs. It was also weak championship: Dynamo ended a point better than Spartak, which was mediocre squad at best, approaching their own disaster. Chernomoretz, with no great players at all, finished third. One may wonder what was the meaning of ‘worse’ in Soviet football. But good for the small guys! They never repeated such success, making it even sweeter.