Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Before the crown there was the crawl. The European quarterfinals proceeded unspectacularly, in the sense of ending with the expected winners.
Wales, despite of having the ‘best team ever’ – the old staple player Mike England was reduced to a substitute – was no match for Yugoslavia. It was considered the easiest ¼ final draw and it was – Yugoslavia won 2-0 in Belgrade and finished whatever uncertainty survived until the second leg by opening the result in Cardiff in the 18th minute. The match ended 1-1, which hardly mattered anymore – Yugoslavia got the hosting of the finals.
Holland was to meet their archenemy Belgium, traditionally, their toughest opponent. It also looked like eternal couple – the two countries competed in the preliminary group for a 1974 World Cup spot and back then both matches ended in scoreless ties. Not this time: Holland annihilated Belgium in the first leg – 5-0 in Rotterdam. Rensenbrink scored a hat-trick against a squad filled with his Anderlecht teammates. It was over already and in Brussels the Dutch allowed Belgium to score first and after that Rep and Cruyff provided second victory.
West Germany and Spain were seen as the most difficult pair, with odds tipping to the Germans. The opening in Madrid supported predictions: 1-1, which gave the edge to the Germans. In Munich Hoeness and Topmoller scored a goal each in the first half and it was over. By now, Spain was accepted as eternal loser anyway. The Germans continued to struggle, but their willpower was intact and more obviously the key ingredient of German football.
Lastly, Czechoslovakia and USSR. Hardly the toughest draw in purely football terms and of little interest, for by habit whenever the Soviets were playing against another East European team, it was expected the opponent to be ordered to lose. It was not to be that way – Czechoslovakia won 2-0 at home and tying the second leg at Moscow 2-2.
Moder scores the first goals in Bratislava. It was commented in a weird way by the Soviets: a second earlier Pollak was fouled, but since the Czech attack was not interrupted, the Turkish referee Ok did not stop the game. Soviet players, though, were caught by surprise and practically did not react, expecting a free kick. The goal was much commented – as both blunder of the defense and blunder of the referee. The confused reaction was also due to the simple fact CSSR clearly outplayed USSR and there was little reason for complaints.
The second leg in Kiev brought some changes in the Soviet squad and was fought in earnest, but the Czechoslovakians still played better. Here J. Pivarnik clears ahead of V. Veremeev.
I. Viktor wins the air battle with V. Troshkin and clears the ball.
O. Blokhin equalizes and saves the day. Looks ferocious and Viktor, the goalie, entirely helpless – but it was only 2-2 and the Soviet team was out.
In fact, it was the Soviets tying, for the ‘lesser brothers’ lead 1-0 and then 2-1 until Blokhin prevented full-blown disgrace in the 88th minute. Yet, it was a ¼ final worth a comment: there was very little outcry in USSR. It was somewhat strange quarterfinal – before that a friendly was played between the opponents, which was unusual, but very likely arranged way before the UEFA draw was known. The friendly ended 2-2, and although both teams used some deep reserves in it, most players were regulars.
Frantisek Kozinka (playing here for his club Bohemians Prague) appeared in the friendly – the only complete unknown in the Czechoslovakian squad.
Muddy affair – the friendly was played on very tough pitch, but it was not the only mud in the Soviet football.
Some troubles were detected in the Soviet selection and the way they played, and it was considered that Czechoslovakia were particularly difficult opponent. Yet, no visible measures were taken for the real games. It was difficult to figure out what the Soviets were up to – for the first time they had separate Olympic team, coached by its own coach – Konstantin Beskov. The national team was in the hands of Lobanovsky – or more accurately in the hands of the duo Lobanovsky-Bazilevich. Oleg Bazilevich is rarely spoken of today, but at the time it was not Valery Lobanovsky, the great coach – it was Lobanovsky-Bazilevich, equal to each other in both Dinamo Kiev and the national team. They used mostly players from their own club – so many, that even the reserves were from Kiev, and even players, who were substitutes in Dynamo were included – and played – in the national team (Zuev, for instance). This practice came under fire after the day when USSR was represented entirely by Dynamo’s players and slight adjustments were done, but it was mainly Dynamo on the pitch – Zvyagintzev was included in the national team in 1975, as one of the non-Dynamo players, but in 1976 he was no longer captaining Shakter (Donetzk) – he was in Kiev, fighting for a spot in the team with another national player, Reshko. About all that there were complains from Lobanovsky as well – he was unhappy his boys were playing so many matches: national championship and cup; European club tournaments; and in the national team on top of everything. But what was so unfair? It was Lobanovsky using the same 12 players at every possible occasion. And the results vastly differed: Dynamo was the ‘revelation’ in 1975, conquering Europe. The very same team was struggling and shallow with the red USSR shirts – the national team was not winning.
Which immediately brings back the so-called Olympic team. Was it really a separate team? Lobanovsky-Bazilevich took players from it whenever they wanted to do so. However, Beskov had different vision of football, so it was not very clear what was the benefit of taking his players. Besides, Beskov was not shrinking violet and very likely he and Lobanovsky were not at good terms. As a result, neither selection performed well and various players very likely were not happy at all. Typically, nothing appeared in the press – there was suspect silence instead. Small and seemingly casual and unconcerned reports of matches, giving the impression that the Soviets did not really care what was going – this itself was very unusual, for traditionally it was the A-national team which mattered. May be they were counting on the Olympic team? This did not appear true either – Beskov’s team was seemingly of lesser importance: it was players taken from it for the national team, not the other way around (until later, when a bunch of national team players were included for the Olympic Games in Montreal). It is a speculation, but it looked like the Soviets decided the European Champions Cup to be their priority in 1975-76. At least larger and more in depth coverage was done on the progress of Dinamo Kiev in Europe. Whatever was kept in secret, it did not matter in the open – USSR was eliminated after two not particularly great games and Czechoslovakia went to the finals. So far quietly – among the last four teams, CSSR was considered the weakest.