The Russians are directed by a series of sacred Communist plans: Five-Year Plans, and plans for teams which are supposed to lead them quickly and efficiently to Olympic and world championships. Nothing is more serious to a Russian Communist than that these plans should be carried out exactly and precisely on time. Any breakdown, or even slowup, can be most unpleasant for those involved, whether they be scientists, factory managers, soldiers or athletes. Last month one of Communist Russia's most precious plans, the winning of the World Football Cup in Sweden in 1958, not only got off schedule and broke down but was almost completely derailed by one of her most irritating allies—Poland.
The Poles, definitely a second-class soccer country as compared to the Russians' first-class status, violently upset Soviet Russia's sense of football fitness by winning a frenzied World Cup elimination match in Chorzow 2 to 1 on October 20. It had been only a year ago that October, in a political showdown, that Poland's underdog Gomulka had heroically wrecked another Russian plan when he had proved in a face-to-face contest with Russia's Khrushchev that there might be two roads to socialism. Now the Poles were going one step further. They were trying to prove there was only one road to Sweden and that they were taking it.
The Russians had started confidently. In European elimination group six they had defeated the Poles in Moscow 3 to 0, and it seemed as if the football plan was being met and that their football squad, as the winner of one of 16 elimination groups playing in 1957 in Europe, North and South America, North Africa and Asia, would be right on schedule. Then came the second match with Poland in Chorzow; and when Poland whipped Finland the Russians were suddenly made aware that they would have to meet the Poles again in a playoff match on neutral ground; there was even horrible talk that the plan would not be met and the Russian football team would never be seen in the finals in Sweden.
While both football squads trained and waited, tension built up in Poland and Russia. The playoff game, scheduled for November 24, became more than a very exciting sporting prospect; momentarily it acquired the status of a symbol of possible satellite independence from Moscow.
Only 10 days before the match, Leipzig's new 100,000-seat stadium was chosen as the site of the playoff from among stadiums in Belgrade, Vienna and Helsinki. The picking of Leipzig brought the Germans emotionally and financially into the picture, especially in Berlin, long sensitive to clashes between East and West.
Against them both
"It is difficult for us," explained one of West Berlin's most knowledgeable football buffs the night before the game, as he hunched over his tall glass of Pils in the smoky Sportsklause bar next to the Sportpalast, West Berlin's Madison Square Garden. "We normally don't like the Poles," he went on, taking a long sip. "But we want the Russians to lose."
This expert, however, like most of the other soccer gentlemen who nightly discuss their passion in the Sportsklause bar, was a realist. He agreed with the odds of 7 to 4 in favor of a Russian win. "I hate to admit that," he continued, nodding slowly. "However, if the first goal is Polish, then everything might be different," he added.
Sunday was gray and cold and the first snow of the year—a thin film—covered the Berlin streets. The bus transporting the Western press, some 18 of us, mostly West German sports reporters and editors (I was the only American), moved through the still dark streets of East Berlin at just after 7 a.m. In highhanded Communist fashion, the East German government press bureau had insisted that all Western journalists ride the 100-odd miles from East Berlin to Leipzig in the official bus. This demand had caused many devious trips, including one by a one-legged sports editor from N√ºrnberg, a West German city less than 200 miles from Leipzig, who in this roundabout fashion covered some 600 miles.
The East Germans were not going to have a group of Western journalists poking around their area, not even for a few hours, thus, the bus, a useful form of confinement, was used, and the sportswriters were hustled through the East Zone to Leipzig and tossed back into Berlin in one quick day.
At 7:45 the bus halted at the border of the East Zone of Germany. Out of a small control-point shack came two soldiers in brownish uniforms with green tabs. They were from the East German army, and they inspected the bus quickly. Behind them two short, tough-looking Soviet soldiers in fur caps stood and watched.
Once on the Autobahn which runs between Berlin and Leipzig, we were able to see the drab emptiness of the East Zone. Whereas in West Germany new building developments spring up in a matter of months, there seems to be almost no building here. Much war damage remains unrepaired. Bullet holes pockmark the buildings.
As we approached Leipzig, we began to pass buses carrying fans to the match. In the city everyone seemed to be walking toward Central Stadium, although it was still two hours before game time.
Over the Hotel Astoria, where 18 Soviet soccer men were staying, hung a red flag with its hammer and sickle. Around the corner, 16 Polish players were living at the Hotel International. Between them, on the front of an office building, was strung a long red banner which announced: "1917-1957—40 years that changed the world."
Out by the high walls of the stadium, which was only finished in August 1956, the crowd was even thicker. Soviet officers and soldiers moved among East German civilians. Of the 100,000 seats in the stadium, which also has room for 10,000 standees, 12,000 seats had been turned over to Soviet troops and officials in East Germany. Not many Russians had traveled to Leipzig from Russia, but 4,000 Poles, some of them rewarded for having exceeded their work norms, had come from Poland. They were strongly in evidence on one corner where a group of young boys were blowing horns, waving red and white Polish flags and hoisting a placard which read, "Footballers, you will see. Poland goes to Sweden."
The beautiful stadium was packed for the kickoff. At one end between the flags of Russia and Poland surprisingly flew the Union Jack of Great Britain. This unusual nod to the English was for the referee of the day, John Holden Clugh. Clugh had refereed the first two games so well that both teams had requested him for the playoff.
In the first few minutes of play the teams looked confusingly similar. The Russians in red jerseys, white pants and red socks were slightly bigger than the Poles in their white jerseys, red pants and red socks with single white stripe. The Russians had fielded a team consisting of Jaschin (goalkeeper), Ogonkow (right back), Kessarew (center half, called middle back in the Russians' concentrated defensive system, also used by the Poles), Kusnewzow (left back), Winow (right half), Captain Igor Netto (left half), Tatuschin (outside right), Jwanow (outside left), Mamedew (center forward), Strelzow (inside left) and Kowaljow (outside left). Pregame stars were the fantastic acrobat Jaschin, Ogonkow, Netto and Strelzow, who was injured with a pulled muscle in his thigh.
On the Polish team, only Captain Gerhard Cieslik was cited a pregame man to watch, as when the Poles win it is more through spirited teamwork than individual efforts.
The Poles began with a burst of clever and precise midfield passing that had many of the spectators hopefully murmuring, "The Poles are better. The Poles are just missing goals by inches."
Indeed, the Poles were consistently down around the Russian goal. They seemed more hopped up and more certain of themselves, although Referee Clugh said after the match that the tension in both teams, just before the kickoff, had been so apparent that many Russian and Polish players were actually trembling.
Time and again the Poles menaced the Russian goal and it seemed as if they might get that all-important first score. Suddenly in the 18th minute Brychezy passed to Jan Jankowski in front of the Russian goal, and Jankowski was alone in front of the tall Jaschin. Jankowski rushed in, Jaschin hesitated and then started out of goal. In this second Jankowski had a chance for that first goal with what Referee Clugh later described as "an elementary shot." But the excitement was too much for young Jankowski. Instead of waiting for Jaschin to come out further, he shot too quickly, and with a wonderful sideward leap Jaschin smothered the ball on the ground. Here certainly was the negative turning point of the match.
For the next few minutes the Poles continued to press around the Russian goal and the Russians seemed unable to get the ball moving to the other end, although their tightly clustered defense, strongly generaled by Netto, did not allow the Poles, who were attacking four abreast and without the necessary reserve depth, to pester Jaschin with many shots.
But then again another quick play put the ball in front of the Russian goal, and again the fate of his nation was left to the whirling feet of young Jan Jankowski. And again the marvelous Jaschin flung himself full length to hug the ball to his chest.
The Poles had dominated the early part of the first half. Now, in the last 19 minutes, the Russians took over. They began to move the ball toward the Polish goal, but they came upon wonderful individual defenders, particularly Left Back Wozniak, who time and again tackled a Russian and came away, sprinting up field with the ball.
Within three minutes of Jankowski's second goal attempt, the direction and location of play had changed completely. Now the Russians swarmed around the Polish penalty box, passing back and forward quickly and accurately. The feeling that it was only a matter of time hung heavily upon us. And it was so. In the 30th minute Strelzow, visibly limping, shot high and the ball hit the crossbar, bounced straight down and, tragically, onto the back of Goalkeeper Stefaniszyn from where it rolled into the net. The Russians had the first goal; the positive turning point in the game had occurred.
At the beginning of the second half the refreshed Poles attacked with spirit for the first five or six minutes. Fans began to say, "Now they are better again." Twice they made Jaschin leap to save a goal, but then the Russians again took command with a series of long passes-which rammed the ball up against the Polish penalty box. The Russian players were remembering the warning issued after their defeat at Chorzow by the Russian newspaper Sovyetski Sport. At Chorzow they had employed "much too academic a style of playing....Only goals count," had cried Sovyetski Sport, and now the Russians did not fiddle with the ball in midfield; with deadly efficiency they rocketed it into shooting position.
The second goal came in the 80th minute. The Russian center forward, Alekper Mamedew, faked the Polish defense to his left with his shoulder and then went around to his right where he had a clean shot past Stefaniszyn. The Russians led 2 to 0, which was to be the final score.
For the rest of the game the Poles never gave up trying, but they could not break through. A Polish attacker with the ball always seemed to be engulfed by red shirts. "One Pole is always between two Russians," someone muttered in the press box. "Poleska, Poleska," the 110,000 crowd, now pro-Polish, implored. But it was no use.
In the last five minutes the effects of the Russians' almost awesome physical condition began to tell on the Poles. At one time three of them were bent double with cramps, their hands on their knees or on the ground, while not one Russian seemed to be puffing.
The better team won, although not overwhelmingly or easily. The Russians will be in Sweden next summer. But the glory of Poland and the Polish football team remains bright. The small satellite stood up to Moscow and even beat it once. For over a month the Soviet football plan for winning the World Cup had been stalled. That in itself was something close to a famous victory.
Soccer Sputnik, the Soviet outside left, Valentin Jwanow, flies over Polish defender Wozniak in race for ball. Poles dominated exchanges in early stages of World Soccer Cup qualifying game in Leipzig last Sunday, but Soviet durability earned a 2-0 victory, which insures a berth for the Reds among the last 16 who will fight for the cup next summer in Stockholm. Most of the 100,000 East German fans—swollen by some 12,000 Red Army men—rooted vainly for the Poles in historic game at which Reporter John Mullikenwas the only American present.