United States midfielder RICKY DAVIS of the New York Cosmos, who notched a goal in each leg of the Olympic qualification tie with Bermuda in December of 1979, pulls away from an opposing defender during the Americans’ lopsided 6-0 loss to France on the plastic lawn in the international friendly match at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on May 2, 1979.
It was on February 20, 1980, that the weak American President JIMMY CARTER’s ill-advised deadline with respect to a Soviet withdrawl from Afghanistan came and went to no effect. Exactly two days later, though, the UNITED STATES ice hockey team did accomplish what many consider to be THE greatest upset in the history of all sport when HERB BROOKS’ youthful Olympic squad upended the mighty SOVIET UNION at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York. This extraordinary result will forever remain famously known as the great “MIRACLE ON ICE”.
Cuba would later be selected to replace the United States and were ultimately drawn into the very same group for the football tournament with the host nation of the Summer Olympic Games to be staged in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. For the sake of entertainment, it will be assumed here that the draw would have remained the same even if there had been no boycott. And, in that instance, the first round of the Moscow football tournament would have produced a mouth-watering U.S.A. vs U.S.S.R. match-up.
As in the case of the Olympic ice hockey contest earlier that same year, there is absolutely no question that the United States would have been heavy underdogs heading into a football tie with the Soviet Union at the 1980 Summer Games. At least the U.S. pucksters in Lake Placid had been able to enjoy the benefits of home cooking and a very vocal, pro-American crowd at the little Olympic Field House in scenic upstate New York. A high-profile match on the road at the Grand Arena of the Central Lenin Stadium in front of a certain capacity crowd of 103,000 passionate football supporters in the Soviet capital city would have been an entirely different matter for the U.S. Olympic soccer team, just for starters.
1980 Olympian SERGEI SHAVLO from Spartak Moscow, the Ukrainian-born midfielder who cut his teeth with Latvian side FK Daugava Riga before moving to the Soviet capital city, was later one of the very first players allowed by government officials in the U.S.S.R. to play professional football in the West when transferring from Torpedo Moscow to Austrian club SK Rapid Vienna in the summer of 1987.
The Soviet Union, bronze medalist at the Montreal Summer Games, made a very poor showing in the unexpectedly tight Group 6 of the 1980 UEFA European Championships. After the U.S.S.R. could only muster a 1-1 tie with neighboring Finland in Helsinki, the 1956 Olympic gold medalist NIKITA SIMONYAN was summarily sacked as trainer of the Soviet national team in July of 1979 with two qualification matches still yet to be contested. KONSTANTIN BESKOV, the former U.S.S.R. national team trainer who would steer Spartak Moscow to the Supreme League title for the spring-to-fall 1979 Soviet season, was re-installed and immediately began re-building with an eye towards the upcoming 1980 Summer Games.
After another surprising draw with stubborn Finland in Moscow that saw the U.S.S.R. finish last in Group 6, the Soviets then succumbed in their very last international of 1979 to West Germany 3-1 at home in Tibilisi, Georgia. But Beskov had been integrating new blood into the program — goalkeeper RINAT DASAYEV and defender ALEKSANDR CHIVADZE of Dinamo Tbilisi being prime examples — which would prove extremely beneficial in the immediate future. Five days after President Carter officially announced that the United States would, indeed, boycott the Summer Olympics, the U.S.S.R. senior national football team claimed the first of what would be five consecutive wins in the months leading up to the Moscow Games.
This purple patch for the Soviet Union included a come-from-behind 2-1 conquest of always-formidable Brazil in front of a reported crowd of 61,256 at the famed Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Still only 20-year-old midfielder FEDOR CHERENKOV, another youngster under Beskov at Spartak Moscow, was emerging as a genuine attacking threat for the U.S.S.R. and scored a goal in four of these five full internationals including an 85th minute-winner as the Soviets stopped France 1-0 in Moscow. In-form striker SERGEI ANDREYEV of army club SKA Rostock-on-Don, who was on his way to the goal-scoring crown for the 1980 Supreme League season, had already netted four times on seven appearances for the U.S.S.R. since having been first-capped by Beskov.
No one seemed to be missing two-time Olympic bronze medalist and prolific striker OLEG BLOKHIN of Dynamo Kiev, the 27-year-old former European Footballer of the Year who had already bagged 26 goals on 66 appearances for the U.S.S.R. national team — or at least for the time being.
Ironically enough, the United States were exactly only halfway through the final Olympic qualification round when President Carter issued his boycott proclamation. One day earlier, on March 20, 1980, the visting Americans had upended Costa Rica 1-0 on the road in San Jose courtesy a goal from DON EBERT, the 20-year-old striker who would leave Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville early in order to pursue a professional career with the powerful New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League that year. Yet another goal from Ebert allowed the U.S.A. to forge a 1-1 draw with the Costa Ricans in the return match five days later in Edwardsville and formally qualify for the Moscow Games.
Costa Rica would actually rebound to top the three-team group which also included Suriname on goal-differential and chose not to join the United States in the Olympic boycott.