Belgium v USSR, 1986 World Cup
Belgium v USSR was a seven-goal thriller in the Second Round of the 1986 World Cup, played in León, Mexico. The two nations had progressed from the opening group stage in contrasting fashion – USSR topped their group, including an impressive 6-0 rout of Hungary; Belgium lost their opening game to hosts Mexico and only qualified due to a narrow 2-1 win over Iraq. Igor Belanov’s hat-trick in this game contributed to his winning the 1986 European Footballer of the Year award; among Belgium’s goalscorers were the experienced Jan Ceulemans, midfielder Enzo Scifo (voted young player of the tournament), and striker Nico Claesen, who joined Tottenham later that year. As the Soviets bowed out complaining about offside decisions, Belgium then beat Spain on penalties to reach the semi-finals for the first time, where they were unable to cope with a rampant Diego Maradona. They ended the tournament with a fourth place finish, their best World Cup performance until it was surpassed in 2018.
While Belgium failed to qualify for the 1988 European Championships in West Germany, the bulk of the 1986 Soviet side were part of the squad. The USSR reached the final where Belanov missed a penalty and Marco Van Basten’s wonder goal sealed a 2-0 win for the Netherlands. Two years later, the 1990 World Cup was the last fling for the USSR as a national team, who disappointingly finished bottom of their group, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The 1986 tie saw a meeting of veteran coaches Guy Thys and Valeriy Lobanovskyi. Thys had managed the Belgian national team since 1976, guiding them to the final of the 1980 European Championship and successive World Cups. After stepping down in 1989, he returned for a final spell including the 1990 World Cup, where Belgium were knocked by a last-minute goal by England’s David Platt; his achievements at this World Cup saw him voted World Soccer magazine’s Manager of the Year for 1986. He died in 2003. The USSR team was built around Lobanovskyi’s successful Dynamo Kiev side, who won both the Soviet League and European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1986 – he managed Kiev and the national team simultaneously until 1990. Lobanovskyi was a legendary figure in Soviet football, famous for his meticulous, scientific approach; his innovative use of computer and video analysis led to the success which earned him worldwide acclaim. He later returned to manage Dynamo Kiev from 1997 until his death in 2002, winning five consecutive Ukrainian league titles and reaching the 1999 Champions League semi-finals with a largely home-grown side featuring striker Andrey Shevchenko before his transfer to AC Milan.