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“The Czech killed us”: how the Russian team was “released” from the World Cup

In the summer of 1998, the Russian national team missed a major tournament for the first time. The team failed to qualify for France for the World Cup. However, it is believed that the reason was far from football skill. Sport recalls the most scandalous match in the history of the Russian national team.

At the time of the fall of 1997, Russian fans were used to a lot. To the scandals of the players and management about prize money and ugly uniforms. To the fact that the composition is formed according to the personal preferences of the coaches, and not based on the strength and readiness of the players. Moreover, the high expectations from the national team at big tournaments are their own problems, and not the concerns of the players. However, they are not used to the fact that the World or European Championships can be held without the participation of Russia. The dark period of the late 70s and early 80s was already forgotten. Since 1986, domestic football players have consistently entered major tournaments.

With the qualifying group for the 1998 World Cup, which was held in France, very lucky. Cyprus, Luxembourg, Israel and the aging Bulgarian team. The main star of the last Hristo Stoichkov quarreled with the local federation and stopped answering calls to the national team. Two years earlier, the Russian team led by Oleg Romantsev qualified for the Euro with one of the best results among all – eight wins and 34 goals scored in 10 games. Opponents were more serious then. In addition, according to the calendar, the most difficult matches – just with Bulgaria – fell at the end of the qualifying cycle, in September and October, which are very convenient for the “spring-autumn” system.

The first words of the new head coach of the national team Boris Ignatiev sounded optimistic:

“I will invite to the team those who at the moment I consider them the best in their roles, regardless of their club affiliation”.

The results and the level of the game in the first matches pleased. There was a draw in a friendly match with Brazil and a 4-0 home match with Cyprus. And then…

After a draw to Israel (1:1), it seems that for the first time in the new history of Russian football, the words were heard that “now everyone has learned to play.” After the away 1:1 with Cyprus, the team said goodbye to Valery Karpin and Alexander Mostov for a long time. According to one version, they did not want to work with the Ignatiev tandem – the leadership of the RFU themselves. According to another, the players did not receive calls because of the conflict.The passing defeat of Luxembourg (3:0) was overshadowed by a serious injury Omari Tetradze, and a difficult victory over Israel at home (2:0) was remembered not so much by the beautiful goals of Vlad Radimov and Alexei Kosolapov, but by the ugly lawn of the Dynamo stadium.

The Bulgarians started the selection even worse – with a defeat in Ramat Gan from Israel. However, they then rallied and won five matches in a row. Stoichkov and Lubomir Penev returned to the line-up, Krasimir Balakov from Stuttgart got in shape, Emil Kostadinov scored. Before the match with the Russian national team, the 1994 World Cup semi-finalist led the group by one point. A home victory would guarantee the Bulgarians a ticket to France. For some reason, the hosts of the game did not doubt the success.

After 20 years in an interview, the star Bulgarian will say that he did not want to offend anyone, but was just joking. At that time, this phrase sounded defiant. For the victory, the players of the Bulgarian national team were promised 10 thousand dollars. An additional motivation was the arrival of the President of the country for one of the last trainings.

Was the money promised to someone else of the participants in the match, no one knows. However, strange things happened on the field from the first minutes.Kostadinov defiantly scored from offside after the whistle, but did not receive a yellow card. Alexei Kosolapov was given a warning for delaying the game, and in the same situation the Bulgarian was left without punishment. Fouls in midfield in controversial moments whistled in favor of the hosts. When the Russian players were on the lawn, the referee of the meeting Czech Vaclav Krondl pretended that nothing happened. But when, immediately after the break, Igor Kolyvanov, throwing the ball for a move, got kicked in the legs by Kishishev and did not earn a penalty, he felt uneasy. A few minutes later, Igor Yanovsky was injured, but Krondle, who was three meters away, seemed to see nothing.

After Trifon Ivanov's goal, Kolyvanov played great at the opposite end of the field. However, he was rudely stopped by the scorer. Horror stories about Erik Fredriksson (didn’t notice Maradona’s handball at the World Cup 90), Jorge Monteiro (removed Onopko in the semi-finals of the Cup Winners' Cup – 1993) and Serge Mumenthaler (refereeed the quarter-finals of the Champions League “Spartak” – “Nantes”) against this background seemed easy childish fairy tales."I can say with confidence that Krondle killed us then! 100 percent! — shared his memories with Boris Ignatiev. “I understand that everyone can be configured differently, so, it was necessary to win anyway, but everyone admitted his mistakes!”

The Russian national team could not win back, and the return match in Moscow with a bunch of penalties against the Bulgarian team no longer mattered. In the joints, Ignatiev's team got Italy. She survived in the snow-covered Luzhniki and made the desired result in her field. So Russia found itself without the World Cup for the first time in 20 years.

Bulgarians in France failed, completing the group stage with one point and losing to the Spaniards with a score of 1:6. And what would the generation of Andrey Kanchelskis, Kolyvanov, Nikiforov and Onopko show with the youth from Spartak and Lokomotiv? ;I don’t want to offend anyone from the current generation, but I can say with confidence that then the players were much better equipped and more formed. 32 people left for different countries. They played in Italy, England and Spain. And now we have three of them – Alexey Miranchuk, Alexander Golovin and, maybe, Nikita Khaikin. Then there were hard times, football was in an organizational moment at a crossroads. Problems prevented the team from moving forward. However, in terms of the quality of the players, that time was wonderful,” said Ignatiev.

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