In recent years it has been Shakhtar Donetsk that has led the way for Ukraine in European club competitions when they won the UEFA Cup in 2009. But it was Dynamo Kiev that put Ukrainian football on the map throughout the 20th Century.
Dynamo’s memorable journey to the 1998 Champions League semi-final showcased Ukrainian football to the world as an independent nation. Yet they also elevated Soviet club football by winning the 1974-75 Cup Winners’ Cup against Hungarian side Ferencvaros. It was a notable achievement by becoming the first Soviet team to win a European club competition. But the focus of this article is what happened a decade later when the Ukrainians once again shined in Europe and would have further implications.
Dynamo Kiev by the summer of 1985 were managed by Valeriy Lobanovskyi who was in his second spell at the club. Qualifying for the 1985-86 Cup Winners’ Cup, it was a chance for Lobanovskyi to show he could win a European club title on his own. When Dynamo Kiev won the Cup Winners’ Cup back in 1974-75, it was under the co-managership of Lobanovskyi and Oleh Bazylevych.
Dynamo Kiev had a good squad of players. There was strong competition in goal where Viktor Chanov was the first-choice goalkeeper, but by September 1985 he was injured and his spot was taken by Mikhail Mikhailov.
The defence was very experienced – the full backs had Vladmir Bezsonov on the right, along with the captain Anatoliy Demyanenko on the left who could also play on the wing. At centre back was Sergei Baltacha and Oleg Kuznetsov. Such was the experience along the back four they would have a combined 262 caps for the Soviet Union.
There was an abundance of riches in midfield for Lobanovskyi to choose from – players such as Vasili Rats, Ivan Yaremchuk, Pavlo Yakovenko, Aleksandr Zavarov, Andriy Bal, Vadym Yevtushenko and Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko. They had a multitude of attributes whether it is build-up play, tackling, creativity, technique and goalscoring ability. Yet the real trump card was upfront in the veteran Oleg Blokhin, Aleksandr Zavarov and new signing Igor Belanov.
Blokhin at 33 was the veteran, a revered striker in Europe that haunted defences throughout the 1970s and scored in the 1974-75 Cup Winners Cup final for Kiev. Now in his 30’s, he was still able to put in double figures for the season.
Zavarov was a player living up to his potential, with many in the Soviet Union at the time likening him to Diego Maradona for his pace, vision, technique, dribbling and ability to play with both feet. Belanov had arrived from FC Chornomorets Odessa in 1985 and was a player of real athleticism. He could run 50 meters in 5.7 seconds and had a powerful right foot.
With this abundance of riches, some might think it is not a surprise Dynamo Kiev were one of the Soviet Union’s best clubs. But many teams in world football have enjoyed an embarrassment of riches yet had good managers find it difficult to utilise their players to their fullest potential. Lobanovskyi was able to do so by implementing methods that would be considered normal in the modern game but in the 1970s and 1980s were seen as ahead of their time.
The Ukrainian tirelessly worked on the scientific, analytical and psychological side of the game. Whereas Lobanovskyi made sure his team was physically fit, wanting a player to fill a role offensively as well as defensively under his relentless pressing style, he strived to improve himself as a manager.
All good managers sooner or later end up a relic, overtaken by younger managers with new methods or ideas, but not Lobanovskyi. He was able to stay relevant, which explained his success in the 1970s and up to the 90s wherein his third spell led Dynamo Kiev to the Champions League semi-finals.
Come the first round of the 1985-86 European Cup Winners’ Cup against Dutch side FC Utrecht in September, Dynamo Kiev were near the end of their 1985 double-winning season, as the Soviet calendar went from March-November instead of the normal August-May calendar in Western Europe. They qualified for the Cup Winners’ Cup by winning the 1985 Soviet Cup final that was held in June.
Despite their triumphs in the Soviet Union, Dynamo Kiev found the first leg at FC Utrecht on the 18th September quite difficult. The Dutch club raced into a 2-0 lead through Gert Kruys and John van Loen with less than 30 minutes remaining. Crucially for Dynamo Kiev, it was Demyanenko that got the away goal on 82 minutes to keep the tie alive.
They had good reason to be confident for the second leg in Ukraine on the 2nd October, as it was played infront of 100,000 fans. Yet those spectators were silenced after eight minutes when Utrecht’s Ton de Kruijk headed in Jan Wouters’ free kick from the right despite being surrounded by three defenders.
Trailing 3-1 on aggerate, Dynamo Kiev realised the gravity of the situation and equalised two minutes later when Zavarov’s shot was parried by keeper Van Ede and Blokhin scored from the rebound. Now roared on by the crowd, Dynamo tied the game on aggerate on 20 minutes through Yaremchuk.
With Utrecht under pressure, the Ukrainians pressed home their advantage in the second half with goals from Zavarov and Yevtushenko to make it 4-1 and win the tie 5-3 on aggerate. Urbeu, then former club president of Utrecht was astonished at Dynamo’s attacking capabilities:
“We understood that in Kiev we would have a difficult match. But frankly speaking, we did not expect such a brilliant game from the hosts. Dynamo surpassed us in all respects.”
Dynamo would stay in Eastern Europe for the second leg with their opponents were Romanian side Universitatea Craiova. Just like in the first leg, they would play away in Romania on the 23rd October and the game was a tale of two players. Craiova took the initiative when striker Marian Bacu opened the scoring on 13 minutes.
But Dynamo quickly turned the tie around in the space of ten minutes with two quick fire goals from Zavarov on 17 and 23 minutes. Yet the tenacious Romanians made sure their opponents would not leave Craiova with victory, winning a penalty on 83 minutes when Dynamo centre back Baltacha was penalised for handball, Bacu duly converting the spot-kick.
Craiova had been resolute in their marking in the first leg, putting two players on the dangerman Zavarov. But they would have no answer for Dynamo’s second leg performance on the 6th November in Kiev once again infront of 100,000 spectators.
It took Dynamo 13 minutes to blow their opponents away with a devastating display of offensive firepower – Rats opening the scoring on seven minutes, Belanov doubling the lead four minutes later and Demyanenko making it 3-0 two minutes later. The Romanians were taken apart and Dynamo advanced to the quarter finals 5-2 on aggregate.
Their opponents were Rapid Vienna of Austria who had reached the final of the competition last season where they lost to Everton. In their ranks possessed Hans Krankl, still a player of great potency infront of goal at the age of 32. The first leg of the quarter-final was to be played in Vienna on the 5th March 1986, just four days after the start of the 1986 Soviet Top League campaign.
The first half displayed some rustiness amongst some of Dynamo’s players for Rapid Vienna were on the front foot yet spurned three good chances, with Dynamo obliged to a now fit Chanov for his performance. With the first half goalless, Dynamo made sure to make Rapid rue their profligacy in front of the goal in the second half.
The Ukrainians took the lead on 55 minutes when Vasili Rats dispossessed Liner in midfield and then fed Belanov to convert. The striker then got his second of the game six minutes later when Rats once again showed good anticipation to intercept a wayward pass and his cross from the left was met with a fantastic acrobatic header from the edge of the box by Belanov.
Rats then deservedly got his goal on 68 minutes from a corner and Yakovenko then made it 4-0 on 74 minutes. Much to the chagrin of Lobanovskyi, there was no clean sheet for Dynamo when Gerald Willfurth got a consolation goal for Rapid on 84 minutes.
The second leg in Kiev on the 19th March provided little mercy for Rapid, as Dynamo were 2-0 up within 19 minutes through Yaremchuk on 7 minutes and a Belanov penalty 12 minutes later. Though Sulejman Halilovic got a goal back for Rapid on 27 minutes, Yaremchuk got his second goal of the game five minutes later. Dynamo would extend their lead when Blokhin scored two minutes before half time and Yevtushenko made it 5-1 (9-2 on aggerate) on 79 minutes to send the Ukrainians to the semi-finals.
Dynamo Kiev had repeatedly shown their fearsomeness in attack throughout the Cup Winners’ Cup, but their opponents Dukla Prague were known for upsetting the apple cart, defeating Benfica in the quarter finals on away goals. Playing at home for the first leg on the 2nd April, Dynamo once again ended the tie as a contest by playing at a fast pace.
It took just seven minutes for them to take the lead when Yaremchuk intercepted the ball in midfield, played it to Blokhin who skipped past a defender and rifled a shot into the bottom corner. Zavarov doubled the lead on 35 minutes and Blokhin got his second goal of the game from close range off Rats’ cross two minutes later.
When it was 3-0 at half time the words of Lobanovskyi to his players showcased how seriously he took the mental side of the game: “When the score was 3-0, I approached each player in the dressing room, bent over him and said that only he could hear the same thing. The score was 0-0,” Dynamo Kiev would not concede a goal in the second half and took a 3-0 lead to Prague for the second leg two weeks later where a 1-1 draw was enough to take them into the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup where they would face Atletico Madrid.
Under the management of Luis Aragones, they possessed a strong side with several players, veteran Argentine goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol, stalwart captain Miguel Angel Ruiz at centre back and the dangerous strike pairing of Uruguayan Jorge da Silva and Argentine Mario Cabera. As for Dynamo Kiev, Lobanovskyi decided to pick Chanov ahead of Mikhailov in goal despite playing with an injured hand.
The final was to be played in Lyon on the 2nd May in front of over 39,000 fans. But it was also less than a week after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster with Dynamo’s captain Demyanenko in 2016 recollected to Ukrainian website Footclub their feelings before the final:
“On the one hand, of course, there was concern for relatives and friends who remained at home. It made it difficult to concentrate. On the other hand, we felt a responsibility to the country, our compatriots. I wanted to distract people with something, to brighten up their grief.”
Millions of citizens from the Soviet Union, especially Ukrainians, watched the game on their television sets or listened to the radio. Those watching would see Dynamo Kiev take just five minutes to make their mark. Vasili Rats scampered down the left-hand side, gliding past two Atletico Madrid players before his low cross was met by Belanov’s strike. Fillol managed to parry it away but Zavarov reacted quickest and headed the rebound into the bottom corner.
Now a goal down, Atleti searched for an equaliser, but Dynamo Kiev’s defence held firm in the first half. Come the second half and Chanov was called into action when he brilliantly tipped a free kick over the bar. Despite Atletico’s pressure, Dynamo doubled their lead on 84 minutes with a free-flowing move. From a throw-in taken by Demyanenko deep inside their own half on the left, Rats sauntered into Atletico’s half where he found Belanov in the middle, quickly playing it to Yevtushenko and then passing it to Blokhin on the right.
Seeing the striker in acres of space, Fillol raced out to him in order to narrow the angle, but Blokhin lifted the ball past him and into the net. Such was the incisiveness of the move that the neutral French fans, as well as some Atletico Madrid fans, applauded Dynamo Kiev’s players. They would put the icing on the cake two minutes later when Rats’ ball over the top found Yevtushenko who broke the offside trap, rounded Fillol and made it 3-0.
It was a glorious performance that lifted the mood of the Soviet Union (especially in Ukraine) during one of its bleakest moments. Even Atletico Madrid’s manager Aragones conceded Dynamo were the better side on the day and it was the opening goal so early in the final that knocked them off their stride. Soviet football legend Nikita Simonyan was impressed by Dynamo Kiev’s football under Lobanovskyi:
“….the team demonstrates a game that, if I use a short and succinct definition, I would call modern. The game is dynamic, high-speed, with constant movement of all players. Everything, I repeat, is done at extreme speeds.”
Such a dominance display in the final perfectly encapsulated Dynamo’s performances in the Cup Winners’ Cup. The statistics speak for itself – 25 goals in nine games with an average of 2.7 goals per game. Four players topped the goalscoring charts with five goals – three of them were Dynamo Kiev players in Belanov, Blokhin and Zavarov.
Such was the impervious nature of Dynamo’s hegemony in the Cup Winners’ Cup that the Soviet Union made him manager of the national team just before the 1986 World Cup. The 22-man squad consisted of 12(!) Dynamo Kiev players, many of which had been at the forefront of Dynamo’s Cup Winners Cup victory. The Soviets would reach the last 16, where they fell 4-3 to Belgium after extra time despite a hattrick by Belanov.
As a result of his heroics for the Soviets in that game, along with Dynamo in the Cup Winners’ Cup, Belanov would win the 1986 Ballon D’or ahead of Gary Lineker and Emilio Butragueno. Further honours would lie in store for Lobanovskyi, as Dynamo would again win the 1986 Soviet Top League and reach the semi finals of the 1986-87 European Cup – falling to eventual winners FC Porto.
There would be further glory for Lobanovskyi in the 1990s before his death in 2002 at the age of just 63, but it can be argued the 1985-86 Cup Winners’ Cup was Lobanovskyi’s and Dynamo Kiev’s finest hour.
By: Yousef Teclab / @TeclabYousef
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / David Cannon