Russians settle a score

Nirmal Shekar wrote on the Nehru Gold Cup football tournament in The Sportstar issue dated February 16, 1985.

The Hindu Photo Library

The victorious Soviet Union team.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

THERE is one thing that is better than a victory: a victory over a team that beat you just the other day.

As such, not even the slightly overweight, volatile fellow who coaches the Russian football team, Edvard Malofeev could have prepared a better script for the team's final match against the Yugoslavs in the fourth Jawaharlal Nehru Gold Cup football tournament at Cochin early last week.

Two things combined to send a whole lot of professional critics and pundits backing the wrong team before the final. One of course was the fact that Yugoslavia lost no opportunity to trumpet its 'professional' status and approach and this seemed to have at least a faint ring of truth if only for the fact the Yugoslavs were the only ones to be paid — 15,000 U.S. dollars — for a game.

After the Yugoslavs managed to beat the Russians in the league phase through a game in which the winning team's attack looked particularly exciting, there seemed, in most people's mind, little doubt as to who would be the favourite in the final.

Full house

Then again, if the events of a football tournament unfolded in such logical progression, especially the ones in Cochin, then over 50,000 men would not have cared to go through the considerable ordeal of finding places in the galleries for the climactic game itself.

Every train and bus coming to Cochin on the day of the final and even the previous night was filled with twice as many people as they can normally take and minutes before the kick off, thousands had to be accommodated in the walkways.

And the game itself was a tribute to the passion of the Cochinites if only for the pace that it set up early on and sustained right through and also perhaps for the high drama that was a continuing undercurrent of the match. Tortured by a few crude and spiteful fouls and crippled for a while by the Indian referee Hakeem's apparently unjust penalty award to the Yugoslavs, the final was yet the womb that conceived some wonderfully exciting soccer.

Like in the first match against the Yugoslavs, the Russians got off to a magical start scoring in only 11 minutes through the busy, untiring midfielder Sergey Aleynikov, a 27-year-old with tremendous pace and bobbing blond curls.

Creative

Right through the tournament, in the matches leading up to the final, it was the Yugoslav attack that seemed more creative and spectacular although the team's defence, if not mediocre, was much less solid compared to the Soviets'.

And for a brief while after the Russians had taken the early lead, the Yugoslavs pieced together some attacking form although the equaliser itself was not so much earned as it was gifted. It was a flag kick for the Yugoslavs and it seemed to float harmlessly by the crosspiece and the great Soviet goaltender Renat Dasaev nonchalantly spiked it away.

A commotion

Whatever drama that the flag kick may have induced should have ended there. But, as it were, the bizarre series of events were to begin only then. For Hakeem, after considerable delay, decided that the Soviet sweeper Sergey Borovsky had thrown his arms around the Yugoslav skipper Zlatko Vujovic just as the ball was descending and so a penalty was in order.

Coach Malofeev jumped out of his chair on the sidelines as if the earth under him at the Maharaja's College ground was caving in. His boys surrounded the referee and protested vehemently in sign language. But there was simply no sign of the referee relenting.

Hadgibegic Faruk, the Yugoslav penalty specialist, promptly slotted the ball home and the Soviets, still not reconciled, trudged back to the middle with a sick sense of deja vu, having been felled by a penalty (this one quite in order) even in the first match against the Yugoslavs.

The Soviets were such a zealous lot, so totally committed, so sure of what every one of them had to do, so set on their goals that one misplaced award did not seem to matter at all as they assailed the Yugoslav goal.

A right move

Malofeev's decision to put Georgy Kondratiev for the first time in the tournament appeared to have been based on sound judgment. Kondratiev, while not an immensely gifted player, was a great trier and a splendid opportunist. It was Kondratiev who came up trumps for the Soviets in the second half as he beat the great Yugoslav midfielder Ivan Gudelj in the penalty area and danced around to score after the Yugoslav goaltender Stojic Ranko had proved that he had at least some of the qualities that the Soviet genius under the bar had shown while making a few spectacular saves from marauding Russian strikers, particularly Stukashov.

The Yugoslav attack had been too sporadic to crack the Russian defence and even the gifted Zlatko Vujovic seemed a little pedestrian most of the time although Radonovic Ljubomir did come up with that fierce drive from outside the area a few minutes before the close.

That shot should have been a goal on most football fields in the world. But it was Yugoslavia's misfortune that it had to contend with Dasaev's genius. Both the semi-finals had been fairly exciting, too. South Korea fought with great courage and sense of pride against the Yugoslavs in one match while the dazzling Moroccans did the best they could against a Russian defence whose marking was extraordinarily tight.

Vokri Fadilj scored for the Yugoslavs in the first half and after the splendid little Korean skipper Kirn Sam See had evened out things with a goal past the hour, the Yugoslavs rebounded to score through Ivan Gudelj and Zoran Vujovic.

In the other semi-final, Sergev Dmitreiv fired the Soviet's winning goal.

From the Sportstar archive, dated February 16, 1985

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