Historical Football #9 – The Soviets’ Final Footballing Union

The Soviet Union dissolved around the turn of 1992 as all republics became independent leaving a bit of a logistical headache for the sporting teams. With the USSR having qualified for Euro 1992 before the dissolution a solution was put in place – the CIS…

The Soviet Union were going to Sweden for Euro 1992 before all the politics happened. Republics became countries and instead of one there was now fifteen. It also presented a sporting headache. Which of the 15 members had the best claim to go to Sweden? Would UEFA allow it? Would any of the fifteen new countries have FIFA ratified football associations in time? Luckily, for everyone, on the 11th of January 1992 the Commonwaelth of Independent States came and sorted the mess when they created the Association Football Federation of CIS. Two days later, it was official. CIS were going to Euro 1992.

There didn’t appear to be much different from the USSR team though. Anatoly Byshovets, manager of the USSR at the time of dissolution, was kept on as boss while many of the squad were regulars of the final Soviet squads. The key differences were obviously kit, national anthem (Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 being a cultured choice) and the lack of players from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all of whom had decided against being apart of the CIS as a whole. So, there was a team that were basically the rebranded Soviet Union but would they preform like the Soviet Union?

The CIS flag for Euro 1992 - creative (!)
The CIS flag used at Euro 1992

In short, it was a little disjointed. The performances were mixed at best. Wins in the first two games in the US and El Salvador were promising but premature given the quality of the opposition at the time. A 2-2 draw with England also gave some hope to the CIS fans but this was Graham Taylor’s England, just before they capitulated at Euro 1992. Perhaps, the reality came when they were taken apart 4-0 by Mexico in a friendly. It was all too easy for the Mexicans and left the CIS as outsiders in Sweden as they headed into their first game against the newly unified Germans.

The CIS were clearly not in Sweden to entertain as they went with a strikerless formation to try and stop the Germans dominating midfield. It worked too as an Igor Dobrovolski penalty had them on their way to a historic first victory before Thomas Hassler struck in stoppage time to rescue the world champions.

The second match saw the former Soviet Union taking on their Euro 1988 conquerors, Holland. It was another incredibly defensive display from the CIS as they doggedly played for the point against Bergkamp, Gullit, van Basten and company. CIS keeper Dmitri Kharine (the ex-Chelsea keeper) was the hero coming up with save after save to preserve the 0-0 for his side and keeping them in the running for the semis.

The stage was set for the CIS to progress. They had to beat the already eliminated Scotland and hope that either the Dutch or Germans lost in the other game to go through. However, things fell apart as they opened up and were taken apart by a Scottish team with nothing to lose. Paul McStay, Brian McClair and a Gary McAllister penalty late on sent the Scots above the CIS and saw the former Soviet Union finish bottom of the group.

CIS 1
The CIS line up in 1992

That hammering also proved to be the finale of the CIS football team. The majority of member countries had managed to get their own national teams together and with the players going off to players heading off to play for Ukraine, Georgia and the likes. The CIS’ history and records were passed on to the Russian national team and that was that.

The CIS national team was nothing more than a solution to a problem. It was never really intended to go beyond Euro 1992 nor should anyone have imagined it would. It felt temporary too. Disjointed performances, a dull, uninspired showing at the Euros and bodged together kits and anthem gave off the air of amateurism and there seemed to be a lack of passion from the players probably stemming from confusion over what was going on.

It was the Soviet Union’s last footballing union and it was one that felt forced. Rather like the country itself.

Thanks!

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