One month and one day before the surprising and historic fall of the Berlin Wall, 22-year-old Dynamo Dresden midfielder MATTHIAS SAMMER (above) scored a dramtic, late goal as EAST GERMANY stunned the SOVIET UNION in the final minutes of the last World Cup qualification match ever played in the old Deutsche Demokratische Republik. (DPA photo)
It was, of course, the late 19th century Irish antimimetic philosopher OSCAR WILDE, who put forth the idea in his 1889 essay, “The Decay Of Lying”, that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.”
With this in mind, the question here today is — can an international football match foreshadow a momentous event in world history?
After all, what transpired on the field at the Ernst Thaelmann Stadion in Karl Marx Stadt during the World Cup qualification match between East Germany and the Soviet Union that day in October of 1989 was just about as predictable and impacted an existing situation almost as much as the historic events that unfolded at the Wall in East Berlin one month later on November 9th.
Arriving in Karl Marx Stadt for the match with the East Germans, the formidable Soviet Union squad that had finished second at the 1988 UEFA European Championships final tournament staged in West Germany were already qualified for Italia ’90 with two qualification matches yet to play. East Germany’s World Cup goose, for its part, looked to be all but cooked — particularly after a pair of losses both home and away to Turkey. Furthermore, the East Germans had not defeated the Soviets in a ‘full’ international since 1977, losing five of seven matches in the process.
Indicative of USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s era of Glasnost, the Soviet Union’s manager, VALERY LOBANOVSKI of Dynamo Kiev, fielded no fewer than four ‘legionnaires’ now openly playing professional football in the West. ALEXANDER ZAVAROV had been the trailblazer, with Italian Serie A titan FC Juventus of Turin paying the then-considerable sum of $ 5.0 million dollars for the privilege of signing the Dynamo Kiev’s USSR international midfielder in the summer of 1988. Zavarov was joined the next season in the Alps at Juventus by USSR international midfield colleague SERGEI ALEINIKOV, who arrived from Dynamo Minsk.
A clear sign that the Soviets had already booked passage to Italy for the coming World Cup — star goalkeeper RINAT DASAYEV, for whom Spanish La Liga side FC Sevilla had forked out over two million dollars after the 1988 European Championships, was given a game off in favor of the capable VIKTOR CHANOV from Dynamo Kiev.
EAST GERMANY vs SOVIET UNION
Ernst Thaelmann Stadion, Karl Marx Stadt
October 8th, 1989
After more than seventy minutes of scoreless struggle, all looked to be returning to form when USSR striker OLEG PROTASOV of Dynamo Kiev, who finished second all-time on the Soviet scoring chart with 29 goals in 69 career internationals, lost his marker and raced menacing down the right wing before cutting the ball back to the penalty arc for on-rushing Ukranian club teammate and midfielder GENNADY LITVOCHENKO.
Litvochenko, who would later join Protasov in Greece with Olympiakos Piraeus, arrived to meet the ball with a technically superb, airborne volley and produced an absolute rocket to which East Germany goalkeeper DIRK HEYNE could not even begin to react.
Considering their position in the group standings coming into the match, the East Germans might have easily gone ahead and folded the tent after the strike by Litvochenko with barley a quarter of an hour left to play; instead, manager EDUARD GEYER sent on 23-year-old Dynamo Berlin midfielder THOMAS DOLL and East Germany began to attack with a genuine sense of urgency.
And then, from seemingly out of nowhere, an equalizer emerged. Chanov came out for a corner kick but it was the Soviet goalkeeper’s own skipper, midfielder ALEXEI MIKHAILICHENKO of Dynamo Kiev, who popped the ball up into the air sending it towards the Soviet goal. Somehow, despite being completely surrounded by Soviet defenders, the ball fell for 23-year-old East Germany striker ULF KIRSTEN of Dynamo Dresen. Standing on the goalline, striker ANDREAS THOM of Dynamo Berlin applied a final touch to Kirsten’s improbable header and leveled the match for East Germany in the 80th minute.
The blitz continued as the rejuvenated East Germans struck for a second goal within 100 seconds. A ball played to the top of the box was chested down by Thom and left for 22-year-old midfielder MATTHIAS SAMMER of Dynamo Dresden to lash a left-footer in the corner past a diving Chanov. The lightning-fast comeback was complete.
The surprise victory over the Soviet Union changed everything for East Germany in Group 3. Given that a loss by Turkey in the USSR was highly likely, the Deutsche Demokratische Republik could redeem itself for the terrible start to its qualification campaign. As unlikely as it had once seemed, a win in Vienna against Austria in the last qualifying match come mid-November could, in the end, punch East Germany’s ticket to the upcoming World Cup scheduled for Italy after all.
D.D.R. against U.S.S.R.
Ernst Thaelmann Stadion, Karl Marx Stadt
THE FULL MATCH (in Russian)