5 OF THE BEST
Despite the USSR’s international football successes, the political climate and limits on transfers beyond the country meant that many of its players were denied the fame their abilities deserved. We look back at five icons of communist football.
It is telling that FIFA’s Golden Glove trophy, awarded to the best goalkeeper at the World Cup, was for many years named after Yashin (pictured right). Still the only custodian to ever win the prestigious Ballon d’Or, Yashin was a key figure in the USSR’s triumphs at the ’56 Olympics and ’60 Euros. Nicknamed “the Black Spider” due to his choice of on-field attire, Yashin also had a stint in goals with Dynamo Moscow’s ice hockey team, winning the Soviet Cup in 1953. He was named in FIFA’s World Cup All-Time Team in 1994.
Born in Rostov-on-Don, a host city for the 2018 World Cup, striker Ponedelnik had a brief but brilliant tenure. Uncapped until two weeks before the 1960 Euros, he scored an extra-time winner in the final. Forced to retire for health reasons in the mid-1960s, Ponedelnik is still fondly remembered for that goal – a life-sized statute commemorates him outside FC Rostov’s stadium.
Living in the shadow of Yashin is not easy, but Dasaev has a strong claim to being the second-best goalkeeper in Soviet history. Born in Astrakhan near the Caspian Sea, Dasaev was a keen swimmer before an arm operation forced a switch to football. He recorded more than 300 caps for Spartak Moscow, and helped the USSR to second
at the 1988 Euros, before making a highprofile switch to Sevilla. In Spain, Dasaev earned an amusingly political nickname: the Iron Curtain.
Dubbed the Russian Pele, Streltsov is remembered as one of the Soviet Union’s most exciting outfield players. Yet his sparkling career was overshadowed by a rape conviction just before the 1958 World Cup, and many believe he was framed by Communist Party officials. Streltsov pled guilty – by some accounts, he was misled into doing so – and spent seven years in a gulag. Remarkably, he returned to football after his release and was twice named Soviet Footballer of the Year.
A great defender with an even better nickname – “Ivan the Terrible” – Shesternyov was an imposing libero who collected 90 caps for the Soviets before retiring in 1972. But his tenure was soured by one great misfortune, at the 1968 Euro semi-final between the Soviets and Italy. Deadlocked after extra time, the result was determined by a coin toss (this was the era before penalty shoot-outs). Shesternyov called wrongly, and Italy went on to win the tournament on home soil.