Twenty years had passed since the SOVIET UNION last won the Olympic gold medal for football at the 1956 Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia, although the U.S.R.R. did earn a share of the bronze medal at Munich in 1972. IRAN did not get past the first round at the ’72 Olympics after suffering heavy losses to Denmark and silver medalists Hungary but did manage to upset always-skillful Brazil before bowing out. This was the historical scenario casting its shadow over the Olympic quarterfinal match to be played at the tiny Municipal Stadium in Sherbrooke.
After sticking with the Startelf for the Soviets’ first two matches, trainer VALERY LOBANOVSKY made four changes to the U.S.S.R. first team for the quarterfinal with the Iranians. One of those was injury-enforced as Dynamo Kiev defender and experienced international ANATOLI KONKOV had gone out early in the final Group D match against North Korea while Dynamo Kiev rearguard STEFAN RESHKO, the oldest field player for the Soviet Union at 29 years of age, was outright dropped. Their replacements were yet two more Dynamo Kiev men in MIKHAIL FOMENKO, who had finished the previous contest in place of Konkov, and 25-year-old centerback VIKTOR ZVYAGINTSEV.
VLADIMIR VEREMEYEV of Dynamo Kiev, who grabbed the second Soviet goal in the 3-0 triumph over the North Koreans, was sat down in favor of FC Pakhtakor Tashkent midfielder VLADIMIR FEDOROV, the 20-year-old who had already appeared in the Soviets’ first two Olympic games as a substitute. And, veteran U.S.S.R. international VLADIMIR ONISCHENKO, the Dynamo Kiev attacker who scored both goals against host nation Canada in the Soviets’ opener at Montreal, lost his spot to 21-year-old forward LEONID NAZARENKO of army club CSKA Moscow. Both Onischenko and Veremeyev would be called off the bench and sent out onto the pitch by Lobanovsky inside the final half hour against Iran, however.
Iran ’76 Olympic and ’78 World Cup defender ANDRANIK ESKANDARIAN (2) of the New York Cosmos runs with the North American Soccer League championship trophy after the New York Cosmos defeated the Seattle Sounders 1-0 to win the 1982 Soccer Bowl at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego.
Iran had put up the proverbial good fight against defending Olympic gold medalist Poland earlier in Group C play and had even initially gone to the lead against the 3rd place team from the 1974 FIFA World Cup. The Iranians fielded a Startelf for the quarterfinal opposite the Soviets which featured three veterans from the ’72 Olympic squad including competent goalkeeper NACER HEJAZI of FC Taj Tehran, the 26-year-old who had kept the sheet clean against Brazil at the Munich Games. Perhaps more importantly, eight of the eleven in the Iranian first team were destined to appear at the 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentina.
The Iranian backline was able to keep Dynamo Kiev superstar striker OLEG BLOKHIN, the current European Footballer of the Year selection, at bay throughout the entire contest. But 21-year-old midfielder ALEXANDER MINAYEV of Dynamo Moscow managed to break the ice for the Soviet Union five minutes for the halftime break. Then the in-coming Zvyagintsev, who scored exactly one goal in 13 ‘full’ internationals for the U.S.S.R. in his career, provided a pivotal second strike against Iran in Sherbrooke with a little over twenty minutes to play.
Iran pulled out all the stops and sent on an extra attacker in striker GHOLAM HOSSAN MAZLOUMI of FC Shahin Tehran, the 27-year-old who had shot the game-winning goal against Cuba in the first round. Soviet nerve buckled a bit when the Persians were awarded a penalty kick in the 82nd minute and Iran captain PARVIZ GELICHKHANI, the three-time Olympic veteran who later signed to play for the San Jose Earthquakes in the North American Soccer League in 1978, was able to shoot past Soviet goalkeeper VLADIMIR ASTAPOVSKY of army club CSKA Moscow from the spot to set up a frantic finish. But an equalizer never did materialize for the miniscule crowd of 5,855 on hand at the Municipal Stadium and so it was the U.S.S.R. who marched into the semifinals of the ’76 Summer Games with the 2-1 defeat of Iran.
U.S.S.R. striker OLEG BLOKHIN of Dynamo Kiev, who netted six goals when the Soviets earned a share of the bronze medal at the 1972 Munich Games, was kept off the scoresheet by Iran in the ’76 Olympic quarterfinal match at the tiny Municipal Stadium in Sherbrooke but, nevertheless, did advance to the medal round for the second time in as many tournaments at the Summer Games.