49 year old Valery Lobanovsky was well into his third period as Soviet manager by the start of the ’90 qualification. He had guided club side Dinamo Kiev to continental success in 1986, when they had won the Cup Winners’ Cup, crushing Atlético Madrid 3-0 in the final. He had not managed the national team during the qualification for the ’86 World Cup in Mexico, but he had taken charge just before the start of the tournament. They had won a lot of admirers during the group stage, where they had finished top ahead of a fancied French side. Due to some poor refereeing decisions and lapses in defensive concentration, they surprisingly bowed out in the round of 16 in a famous 4-3 extra time defeat against Belgium. Lobanovsky would, unfortunately, be unable to take charge for the USSR’s first qualifying match, as he was recovering from illness.
49 year old Valery Lobanovsky was well into his third period as Soviet manager by the start of the ’90 qualification. He had guided club side Dinamo Kiev to continental success in 1986, when they had won the Cup Winners’ Cup, crushing Atlético Madrid 3-0 in the final. He had not managed the national team during the qualification for the ’86 World Cup in Mexico, but he had taken charge just before the start of the tournament. They had won a lot of admirers during the group stage, where they had finished top ahead of a fancied French side. Due to some poor refereeing decisions and lapses in defensive concentration, they surprisingly bowed out in the round of 16 in a famous 4-3 extra time defeat against Belgium. Lobanovsky would, unfortunately, be unable to take charge for the USSR’s first qualifying match, as he was recovering from illness. Main assistant Yuri Morozov was his stand-in. Furthermore, Sergey Mosyagin and Nikita Simonyan were also part of this regime’s trainers’ collective.
The Soviet Union had just lost the final of the European Championships to the Netherlands, but they had displayed to a global audience the kind of football that they were capable of. They were favourites by some margin to win their qualification group ahead of Italia ’90, and why not? They had not lost any player among the regular starting eleven, even if defender Sergey Baltacha had decided to call it a day at international level after the tournament in West Germany. He had already been surpassed by others anyway. Lobanovsky remained, the Kiev stars were still making up a large portion of the side, and they had a couple of interesting players coming up.
The Soviet Union were also one of five European nations to take part in the Olympic football tournament in Seoul, which would happen not long after their first World Cup qualifier. They would travel to Asia without their biggest stars, though players like Aleksey Mikhailichenko and the promising Igor Dobrovolsky would be going. This would turn out to be a great choice for the Soviet Union, as they would return from Seoul victorious. Appearances in two international finals within the space of a few months was a fine boost for Soviet Union football after the disappointment of Mexico.
Global politics could prove to be an issue for the Soviet Union, as there were signs under president Gorbachev that their totalitarian version of socialism was beginning to soften. This would in turn lead to less restrictions for players who sought to pursue careers abroad, and what effect would this cause on the national team? It remained yet to be seen.
Since the European Championships, three players were lined up for transfers to clubs in the West: wonderful goalkeeper Rinat Dasayev (Sevilla), libero Vagiz Khidiatullin (Toulouse) and attacking midfielder Aleksandr Zavarov (Juventus). (Dasayev saw the domestic 1988 season out with Spartak in Moscow, and he only made his Sevilla debut at the tail end of November, while Khidiatullin’s first Toulouse involvement came already in medio July. Zavarov made his debut for Juventus in medio September, in a cup game prior to the opening of the new league season.) More players were indeed likely to follow, something which could spell disaster for some of the leading domestic clubs, not least Dinamo Kiev, who in recent times had been the major supplier of players for the national team. No less than eleven of their players had featured in the ’88 finals squad.
The Soviet Union played only one friendly ahead of the qualification: a dour 0-0 draw in Finland. They had looked lifeless, and had perhaps displayed something of a European Championships hang over. They would play their first qualifier in Iceland, in the same ground where they had only managed a 1-1 draw in the previous qualification.
Friendly: Finland 0-0 Soviet Union
Line-up (4-4-2): Chanov – Bessonov, Aleinikov, Kuznetsov, Demyanenko (c) – Rodionov (Zygmantovich 72), Mikhailichenko, Zavarov, Rats – Protasov (Gotsmanov 60), Belanov
The USSR could have been suffering from a European Championship hangover as they never managed to exert usual dominance against a side expected to be inferior to them. There was no Dasayev or Khidiatullin, but seven of the starters during their 2-0 final defeat against the Netherlands were nevertheless present. Demyanenko possibly with the greatest opportunity as he headed marginally wide from a good position.
Qualifier 1: Iceland 1-1 Soviet Union
31.08.1988, Laugardalsvöllur (Reykjavík)
Line-up (4-4-2): Dasayev (c) – Bessonov (Dobrovolsky 60), Khidiatullin, Kuznetsov, Demyanenko – Litovchenko, Aleinikov, Mikhailichenko, Rats – Zavarov, Protasov
Neither the performance nor the result that the Soviets would’ve wanted, but they struggled with a difficult pitch and aggressive opponents, and had to make do with a fairly late equalizer, having fallen behind early. There was also a man of the match performance by Dasayev, whose saves kept the USSR in the game.
Olympics: Soviet Union at the Seoul Olympics
Friendly: West Germany 1-0 Soviet Union
Line-up (4-4-2): Chanov – Demyanenko (c), Aleinikov, Kuznetsov, Shmatovalenko (Sukristovas 70) – Litovchenko, Zygmantovich, Cherenkov (Rats h-t), Blokhin (Gotsmanov h-t) – Belanov, Protasov
In a match played during the on-going Olympic football tournament in South Korea, both teams were without a good few regulars. Not necessarily due to the event in Seoul, as only Mikhailichenko of the players participating there was a first team regular. Dasayev, Khidiatullin, Bessonov and Zavarov were heavy absentees. Stunningly, the legendary Blokhin came momentarily out of national team retirement and played one last time in USSR colours, now with a world record 112 caps to his name. Game lost through an own goal from Shmatovalenko, the only visiting debutant.
Qualifier 2: Soviet Union 2-0 Austria
19.10.1988, Respublykanskyi Stadion (Kiev)
Goals: Mikhailichenko, Zavarov
Line-up (4-4-2): Dasayev (c) – Aleinikov, Khidiatullin, Zygmantovich, Demyanenko – Ivanauskas (Gorlukovich h-t), Litovchenko, Mikhailichenko, Rats – Zavarov, Protasov (Savichev 82)
After an indifferent performance in Iceland, the group favourites returned to winning ways in deserved fashion against a defensive opponent. Both goals came in the second half, when the performance was improved, after the first half had seen a tweak in the traditional 4-4-2 formation: debutant Ivanauskas had been the only wide right player, appearing in a midfield position. Aleinikov had been part of a three man central defensive unit. When Gorlukovich came on for his debut at the start of the second half, Lobanovsky, on his return to the bench, reverted to the more tried and familiar. First goalscorer Mikhailichenko with a good performance, and the Soviets were never threatened.
Friendly: Syria 0-2 Soviet Union
Goals: Demyanenko, Gorlukovich
Line-up: Chanov (Kharin h-t) – Demyanenko (c) (Rats 60), Zygmantovich, Kuznetsov, Gorlukovich – Litovchenko (Belanov 65), Mikhailichenko, Aleinikov, Shirinbekov – Protasov (N Savichev 70), Y Savichev (Ivanauskas 73).
The first in a three match tour of the Middle East which brought three wins in six days. There were debuts for goalkeeper Dimitry Kharin (Dinamo Moskva), midfielder Oleg Shirinbekov (Torpedo Moskva) and Nikolay Savichev (Torpedo Moskva) in Syria. The latter is twin brother of Yuri Savichev, and the brothers got three minutes together on the pitch before Yuri was replaced.
Friendly: Kuwait 0-1 Soviet Union
Line-up: Chanov (Kharin h-t) – Demyanenko (c), Zygmantovich, Kuznetsov, Gorlukovich – Litovchenko (Ivanauskas h-t), Mikhailichenko, Aleinikov (Belanov 30), Shirinbekov – Protasov (Rats 61), Y Savichev (N Savichev 82)
Friendly: Kuwait 0-2 Soviet Union
Goals: Protasov, Aleinikov
Line-up: Chanov (Kharin h-t) – Demyanenko (c), Zygmantovich, Kuznetsov, Gorlukovich (Aleinikov 70) – Ivanauskas (Litovchenko 55), Mikhailichenko, N Savichev (Rats 25), Shirinbekov – Protasov, Belanov (Y Savichev 70)
Friendly: Bulgaria 1-2 Soviet Union
Goals: Borodyuk, Rats
Line-up (4-4-2): Kharin (Chanov h-t) – Gorlukovich (Belanov h-t), Aleinikov, Kuznetsov, Demyanenko (c) – Yaremchuk (Cherednik 58), Litovchenko, Zygmantovich (Kalaychev 67), Rats – Borodyuk, Protasov
The Soviets, with some big names missing, put on a fine battling performance against a decent Bulgaria side, and the visitors do well on a difficult pitch to come from behind and win the game with goals from debutant Borodyuk (who impresses) and stalwart Rats. Further debuts for Cherednik and Kalaychev as substitutes.
Friendly: Netherlands 2-0 Soviet Union
Line-up (4-5-1): Dasayev (c) – Demyanenko, Gorlukovich, Kuznetsov, Rats – Litovchenko, Zavarov, Aleinikov, Zygmantovich (Cherednik 64), Borodyuk (Savichev 64) – Protasov
Qualifier 3: Soviet Union 3-0 East Germany
26.04.1989, Respublykanskyi Stadion (Kiev)
Goals: Dobrovolsky, Litovchenko, Protasov.
Line-up (4-4-1-1): Dasayev (c) – Luzhny, Gorlukovich, Kuznetsov, Rats – Litovchenko, Aleinikov (Kulkov 81′), Mikhailichenko, Dobrovolsky (Y. Savichev 75′) – Zavarov – Protasov.
Res.: Zygmantovich, Borodyuk, Kharin.
The team proves too good against a nervous opponent in terrible form, leading 3-0 by half-time. But other than the score, this is not necessarily an impressive performance. They are awfully slow and narrow in their build-up play, and perhaps rely too much on the abilities of the omnipresent Zavarov to carve open the opponent. It improves in the (scoreless!) second half, as they up tempo and the fluid shape of the team starts to effectuate. Dobrovolsky scores, but hardly does much else to prove he should be the team’s regular left sided midfielder.
Qualifier 4: Turkey 0-1 Soviet Union
10.05.1989, Ali Sami Yen Stadyumu (Istanbul)
Line-up (4-4-2): Dasayev (c) – Luzhny, Gorlukovich, Kuznetsov, Rats – Litovchenko, Aleinikov (Ketashvili 90), Mikhailichenko, Dobrovolsky – Zavarov, Protasov (Borodyuk 88)
It was a match which the Soviet Union had attacked thoroughly professionally against an opponent which had been showing qualities of late, and after a somewhat even start, the visitors managed to gain control towards the half-time break through their playful midfield, where Mikhailichenko and Zavarov, dropping deep, dominated. Mikhailichenko notched his second goal of the qualification when he collected Protasov’s return pass and fired beyond the solid Engin for the only goal of the tie. Second half the USSR mainly relied on being collected defensively and accepting counters when the opportunity arose. Dasayev never had a real save to make, and Zavarov (twice), Mikhailichenko and Protasov were close to further goals. The Soviet Union seize a strong initiative of the group through this away win.
Qualifier 5: Soviet Union 1-1 Iceland
31.05.1989, Tsentralny Stadion, Luzhniki (Moscow)
Line-up (4-5-1): Dasayev (c) – Luzhny, Gorlukovich, Kuznetsov, Rats – Litovchenko, Aleinikov, Bessonov (Ketashvili 83), Zavarov, Dobrovolsky – Protasov (Savichev 83)
In a game of low pace and little quality, a complacent Soviet Union failed to hold on to their lead late on and were punished from Iceland’s only meaningful attempt on goal. There was no Mikhailichenko, something which led to the seasoned Bessonov’s return to the team, and in a midfield position. The lack of fluency about the Soviets’ play was noticeable throughout, though this could not be blamed on Mikhailichenko’s absence alone. Individually, his replacement did well, though collectively the hosts failed to replace him. They went ahead through Dobrovolsky’s low free-kick, and then succumbed to an equalizer following a long throw a few minutes from time. It might have seemed just reward were it not for Iceland’s sole wish to sabotage Soviet play from the outset.
Friendly: Poland 1-1 Soviet Union
Line-up: Chanov (Kharin h-t) – Luzhny, Gorlukovich, Fokin (Kiryakov 28), Ketashvili (Kanchelskis 90), Kulkov (Bal 82), Zygmantovich, Cherenkov, Shmarov (Kolyvanov h-t), Rodionov, Dobrovolsky (c).
Qualifier 6: Austria 0-0 Soviet Union
06.09.1989, Praterstadion (Vienna)
Line-up (4-5-1): Chanov – Bessonov, Khidiatullin, Kuznetsov, Gorlukovich – Litovchenko, Cherenkov (Aleinikov 79), Mikhailichenko (c), Zavarov, Dobrovolsky – Protasov
Lobanovsky had made no less than four changes since that lifeless draw at home to Iceland, but in far more difficult circumstances, the Soviets were clearly content with a single point. They were the ones superior in possession, but they found it hard to break through the home defence, although Protasov should’ve done better when he hit the outside of the post during the first half. After the break, Cherenkov, making his first appearance of this qualification, and Litovchenko tested Lindenberger from distance, but in the end, both teams were gleefully accepting the one point which they’d started the match with. Another bore draw.
Qualifier 7: East Germany 2-1 Soviet Union
08.10.1989, Ernst-Thälmann-Stadion (Karl-Marx-Stadt)
Line-up (4-5-1): Chanov – Bessonov, Khidiatullin, Kuznetsov, Gorlukovich – Litovchenko, Mikhailichenko (c), Aleinikov, Zavarov, Dobrovolsky – Protasov
Lobanovsky had been hoping to follow up the draw in Vienna with a similar outcome in East Germany, but his side are under-performing, and they deserve what they get: nothing. They have reinstalled Aleinikov in their five man midfield, but the Juventus ace fails to bolster an area which will be gradually dominated by emerging GDR star Sammer. Neither side cause much in ways of chances in a bleak first half, but the USSR move in front through a fine counter and a brilliant Litovchenko volley with only 15 minutes left for play. All seems to go well despite a below-par performance, only for the usually steady USSR defensive to collapse twice in the remaining minutes. Chanov has a hugely disappointing game, and is the direct cause for the equalizer, whilst the defence fail to clear their lines for Sammer’s winner. A highly forgettable game for the Soviet Union.
Qualifier 8: Soviet Union 2-0 Turkey
15.11.1989, Stadion Lokomotiv (Simferopol)
Goals: Protasov, Gökhan (own goal)
Line-up (4-5-1): Dasayev (c) – Luzhny (Rats 85), Khidiatullin, Zygmantovich, Gorlukovich – Litovchenko, Zavarov, Mikhailichenko, Dobrovolsky (Cherenkov 84), Yaremchuk – Protasov
After some dull, dire performances of late, the Soviet Union finally managed to raise their game right at the death. They were less predictable through the inclusion of a proper winger in Yaremchuk, while Dobrovolsky seemed to revel in a more central position. Mikhailichenko had three efforts at goal during a first half in which the hosts had dominated without scoring, though they would address this in the second half as they won it through a side-footed Protasov goal and a ricochet into his own net from Turkey libero Gökhan, a goal which had been created by Protasov’s speed on the counter. A deserved win against a depleted opponent, and the Soviets win the group just like it had been expected from them.
Having come into the qualification on the back of a tremendous European Championships in West Germany during the summer of 1988, the Soviets looked to emphasise their pre-qualification favourites tag. They had been a major international force during the entire decade, though they had ultimately failed to deliever despite their great promise. No less than qualification was expected from them, and most would surely deem it a failure should they fail to win the group.
With the backbone of the team still made out of that exciting crop of Dinamo Kiev players which had thrilled the audience back in 1986, when they had demonstrated some enterprising and attacking football during the Cup Winners’ Cup campaign, where they’d ultimately claim the title through a 3-0 final win against Atlético Madrid, much of the same had again been expected from them. However, this time around they would be a more mundane outfit, despite eventually claiming that top position.
They would show a level of indifference in their only pre-qualifying friendly, a 0-0 away draw with neighbouring minnows Finland, and despite having available to them nearly all the players who had excelled during the summer’s continental championship, they would fail to captive the audience like they had done on so many occasions previously. Was repeating previous displays of fine counter-attacking football beyond the current generation? The qualification would reveal how there appeared to be a need for fresh blood. A few players simply failed to reach their top level. Despite finishing two points ahead of the runners-up, it had far from been a convincing Soviet qualification campaign. In such a statement rested also a lot of pressure for this crop of players not just to win, but to do so with dominating performances.
They’d got off to a drab start through a highly forgettable 1-1 draw in Iceland, where the hosts had been the better side. They’d improve when they appeared at home for the first time, which was against a young Austrian side still finding their feet at this level. Inbetween their first two qualifiers, their Olympic tournament squad had returned home with gold medals, no less, after triumphing 2-1 in the final in South Korea, and so, surely a further few players had made sure to put pressure on the established ones, wanting to force their way into the full international squad. By the end of the qualification, half of the Seoul squad, no less than ten players, had appeared in at least one of the eight qualification squads. Midfield dynamo Aleksey Mikhailichenko had been the big Soviet star during the Olympics, but young forward Igor Dobrovolsky had truly come to the fore with a return of six goals, even scoring in all three cup stage matches.
The Soviet Union would resume qualification duties in late April with a routine 3-0 home win against a shaken East German outfit, and Dobrovolsky, in his first qualification start, notched the opener. He would remain a starter through until the end of the qualification, but generally manager Lobanovsky failed to unearth new gems to a side which had often looked stale, devoid of enthusiasm and ideas, even if they had always been difficult to break down defensively. A few players had already moved abroad by autumn in 1988, and it wasn’t always so that the often inspirational Aleksandr Zavarov, now with Juventus in Italy’s Serie A, had left the greatest impression when returning to the national team.
While the Soviets looked highly familiar during the qualification, there had also been some injury trouble, not least to stalwart defender Anatoly Demyanenko, something which had forced the manager into new ideas at full-back. 26 year old Lokomotiv Moscow defender Sergey Gorlukovich had done terrifically well as libero during the Olympics, and this had rewarded him with a more or less regular berth in the full international squad. He’d typically be seen as the left-back, while another newbie, the enthusiastic Oleg Luzhny, had also made his way into the squad.
One of their most impressive performances during the qualification was the 1-0 win in Istanbul against a Turkish team which had done well in two wins against East Germany. However, they would give a dross of a performance in the subsequent 1-1 home draw with Iceland, where they’d have to see the visitors claim a late leveller. The Soviet Union had never lost a World Cup or European Championships qualifier on home soil, and although they were never really in danger of doing so against Iceland, too, a draw was almost on par with defeat. They would follow this up with another bore draw, a 0-0 clash against potential runners-up Austria in Vienna, before succumbing to a revitalised East Germany by 2-1 in Karl-Marx-Stadt, despite going ahead late on through leading scorer Litovchenko, who had notched his third goal of the ongoing campaign. That result even enabled the Soviets to miss out on the World Cup altogether should they fail badly against Turkey in their final match, coupled with getting other results against them.
The USSR won 2-0 against a depleted Turkey in their final game, and they did so whilst returning to at least some of their more enterprising brand of football, bringing in a proper wide player along the left hand side in Ivan Yaremchuk, whilst Dobrovolsky had been allowed a more central position as a roving inside left midfielder. This had made them less predictable, and though leaving their two goals late, they had not been truly put to the sword by the Turkish. Ultimately, they had done what had been expected of them, although not much else.
Final position: 1 (out of 5 – qualified as group winners)
Total record: 8 4 3 1 11-4 11
Home record: 4 3 1 0 8-1 7
Away record: 4 1 2 1 3-3 4
Number of players used: 22
Number of players including unused substitutes: 29
Ever-presents (720 mins): 2 (Litovchenko and Zavarov)
Leading goalscorer: Litovchenko (3)
Yellow/red cards: 9/0
– game by game
|Player||Ice (a)||Aut (h)||Gdr (h)||Tur (a)||Ice (h)||Aut (a)||Gdr (a)||Tur (h)||Apps||Mins|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
20.02.1990 Colombia 0-0 Soviet Union (Los Angeles, United States)
22.02.1990 Costa Rica 1-2 Soviet Union (Los Angeles, United States)
24.02.1990 United States 1-3 Soviet Union
28.03.1990 Soviet Union 2-1 Netherlands
25.04.1990 Republic of Ireland 1-0 Soviet Union
16.05.1990 Israel 3-2 Soviet Union