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When the Soviet and Polish World Youth Cup Teams Came to Manila

Before it’s completely forgotten – by me, more than anyone else – let me write down this rather extraordinary event in Philippine football’s history. It had nothing to do with the Philippine national team.

It was October 1979. I was in college playing varsity football for DLSU. The second staging of the FIFA World Youth Cup had just concluded in Tokyo. Two of the teams that played in the semi-finals were due to visit Manila straight from the tournament for a two-match engagement against each other.

One was the USSR, who had in fact reached the final only to lose to the eventual champions Argentina. The other was fourth-placer Poland. The two engagements in Manila were ‘exhibition’ matches to help boost the game in this football backwater.

However, because the Soviet team had pipped Poland, 1-nil, in the semis to reach the final, the two-match series was being billed as a grudge rematch locally.

I suppose it’s a matter of time before some fancy European or South American club or national team comes avisiting again. After all, Manila was not always bypassed before.
Of course, local sentiment was that the series would have been so much more exciting had one of the teams visiting been the World Youth Champions Argentina. The Soviets had an outstanding defence; but were subsequently unlocked in the final by the brilliance of a certain Diego Armando Maradona.

We all knew about Maradona, of course. He was this brilliant youngster who was already quite a sensation in his homeland but did not get playing time when Argentina won the World Cup at home in 1978. It was said that Cesar Luis Menotti, the Argentinian manager, wanted to protect the youngster by not giving him too much too soon.

One year later in Tokyo, Maradona was the unquestionable shining light of the World Youth Cup. Naturally, after winning the tournament, the entire Argentinian team was anxious to fly back home to show off the silverware to an adoring public.

And not that anyone really complained that the two most powerful European youth teams had agreed to come to Manila. I watched the two matches with my teammates, of course.

The football was exquisite, needless to say; and this was the quality of the Rizal Memorial pitch – or rather, the lack of it – notwithstanding. Poland was the more cultured team, passed the ball exquisitely and played expensively.

Poland was also the meagre crowd’s favourite. Partly, I suppose, because of the Filipino penchant for the underdog; and partly because the Soviet Union was the sinister Cold War ‘bad guy.’

Despite Poland’s sexy football, they were undone by two quick Soviet counterattacks in the first match to lose, 1-2. The Poles finally got their revenge in the second match, eking out a narrow 1-nil victory over the Soviets.

These scores are, of course, as I remember them. It has been 34 years since.

None of the players on the pitch were really known to us as football was not really given much attention by the media in those days. Having read the FIFA technical report on the tournament just to help me reminisce the two-match engagement just before I started writing this article, now I appreciate the players I saw all the more.

Two players each from the Soviet and Polish teams were cited by the FIFA report as among the tournament’s most outstanding and also the world’s emerging youth players.

Soviet goalkeeper Viktor Chanov would play for perennial Soviet champion club Dynamo Kiev and represent the Soviet Union in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico as understudy to Rinat Dasaev. He played in the group match against Canada.

Oleksandr Zavarov would later be named USSR Footballer of the Year and would also reprent the Soviet Union in 1986 World Cup as well as the one four years later in Italy.

From the Polish team, the first named in the technical report was Jacek Kazimierski, who would play for perennial Polish champion club Legia Warsaw and represent his country in the 1982 World Cup in Spain and then again in 1986.

The other Polish player cited in the technical report was Andrzej Buncol, who not only played for Polish clubs Ruch Chorzow and Legia Warsaw but also for Bayer Leverkusen in the Bündesliga. Like Kazimierski, he also represented his country in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.

It was, indeed, a rare privilege to have seen these four players in action.

I suppose it’s a matter of time before some fancy European or South American club or national team comes avisiting again. After all, Manila was not always bypassed before.

In fact, in 1970, the Brazilian champion club Cruzeiro played against a Spanish-reinforced Philippine national team at the Rizal Memorial. The team included Tostão, also known as the ‘White Pelé’ worldwide. He was also actually in the Brazilian team that defeated Italy, 4-1, to win the World Cup of 1970.

In the eighties, Español of Barcelona also came to Manila to play in a mini-tournament at the Rizal Memorial.

So there you are. It can happen because it actually used to happen. Now I hope this silly English club that I have supported since I was a boy finally realises that it has fans in this archipelago close to its usual haunts Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

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