The Game of the Century II

The first ever meeting between Ukraine and Russia took place in Kyiv at the NSC Olympiyskyi on September 5th 1998.  The game was a highly contested dramatic tie, which ended in a 3:2 victory for Ukraine.  Being the first game between the two main national sides, the game was largely symbolic and Ukraine was delighted to have achieved the victory and earn bragging rights over their neighbours. To read about this game, The Game of the Century, click here.

Being part of the qualifying campaign for the UEFA 2000 European Championships hosted in Holland and Belgium, the game between Ukraine and Russia would be a double header.  The first was the opening game of the group and second meeting would be the final group game at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Following the first meeting Ukraine took great momentum from the victory and wins over Andorra and Armenia meant that Ukraine finished 1998 with a 100% record and top of Group 4.  Russia however, had an all together different experience, the game with Ukraine knocked the confidence of the squad and they went onto lose their next two games against France at home and away in Iceland, leaving Russia level on points with Andorra at the bottom of the group.

This disastrous start to the group led to a swift change at the top for Russia.  Kyiv born manager Anatoliy Bushovets was sacked after the unacceptable results and he was replaced by Oleg Romantsev.  Romantsev had previously led Russia to Euro 1996 and it was hoped he could reproduce the form which took Russia to the previous European Championships and give Russia a chance of qualifying.

Romantsevs first competitive games in charge of his return to the Russian dug out were against Armenia and Andorra.  These two games provided two comfortable victories for Russia and confidence was restored.  In these two rounds of games Ukraine remained unbeaten, gaining a credible 0:0 draw away at world champions France and a disappointing 1:1 home tie against Iceland.

At the half way stage of Group 4, the table looked as follows:

Pld W D L GF GA Pts
France

5

3

2

0

8

3

11

Ukraine

5

3

2

0

8

3

11

Iceland

5

2

3

0

4

2

9

Russia

5

2

0

3

13

8

6

Armenia

5

1

1

3

3

8

4

Andorra

5

0

0

5

2

15

0

Beginning the second round of matches, Russia continued their improved form with a momentous victory at the Stade de France, defeating the World Champions 3:2.  This was followed up with a home victory over previously unbeaten Iceland.  This run had shown a massive turn around for Russia achieving four straight victories to put them in the frame for qualification for the Euros.  Ukraine returned to winning ways with a 4:0 thumping of Andorra, but this was followed by a somewhat disastrous result away to Armenia in the form of a 0:0 draw. Despite this, Ukraine were now top of the group after seven games, ahead of World Champions France and neighbours Russia.

Russia were given a chance to get back into the mix with a 2:0 win over Armenia while Ukraine and France played out a 0:0 draw in Kyiv.  All 3 sides in with a chance of qualification won the penultimate games of the group, Ukraine winning 1:0 in Iceland, Russia winning 2:1 in Andorra and France defeating Armenia 3:2 in Yerevan.

Coming into the final round of fixtures the table looked like this:

Pld W D L GF GA Pts
Ukraine

9

5

4

0

13

3

19

Russia

9

6

0

3

21

11

18

France

9

5

3

1

14

8

18

Iceland

9

4

3

2

9

4

15

Armenia

9

1

2

6

5

15

5

Andorra

9

0

0

9

3

25

0

The final game would be the meeting between Russia and Ukraine at the Luzhniki and there was more than just pride on stake.  The winner of the tie would most certainly win the group and qualify automatically for 2000 European Championships.  It would also be a disaster for the loser, as France were large favourites to overcome Iceland in Paris, ready to leap frog any slip up from the two Slavic sides.

The game took place on 9th October 1999 at a rain soaked Luzhniki Stadium.  As with the first meeting between the sides, key political dignitaries were there.  Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was joined by his Ukrainian counter-part Valery Pustovoitenko.

The teams lined up and with the crowds packing out the Luzhniki the national anthems were sung and the game got under away.

Russia Ukraine

1

A. Filimonov

1

O. Shovkovskyi

2

D. Khletsov

2

O. Luzhnyi (C)

3

D. Khoklov

3

S. Mizin

4

A. Smertin

4

O. Holovko

5

D. Alenichev

5

V.Vaschuk

6

Y. Drozbov

6

Y. Dmytrulin

7

V. Onopko (C)

7

Y. Maxymov

8

V. Karpin

8

A. Husin

9

E. Titov

9

S. Skachenko

10

A. Panov

10

A. Shevchenko

11

A. Tikhanov

11

S. Rebrov

Subs:

Russia: R. Nigmatullin, M.Demenko, A. Schirkov, I. Yanovksyi, V. Beschastynykh, I. Chugainov, S. Semak.

Ukraine: V. Kernozenko, V. Mykytin, S. Konovalov, O. Koval, S. Kovalov, S. Kormyltsev, G. Moroz

The officials for the match were from England and David Elleray was the man in the middle.

The captains before kick off.

Russia kicked off, immediately pumping the ball forward toward the Ukrainian defenders.  After a quick period of tooing and throwing the Ukrainian defenders got the ball down and began playing football.  A direct ball out of the Ukrainian defence to the right hand flank created the first chance for Ukraine.  Ukrainian captain Luzhnyi picked up the ball on the right and put a cross into the box, but it was missed by Skachenko and went harmlessly away.

Just as with the first meeting of the two sides the referee was called into action early as Elleray gave the first free kick to Ukraine in the opening minutes after a foul by Smertin.  The early exchanges proved to be scrappy with possession changing hands several times and neither team were settling into a rhythm.

Ukraine had the next opportunity winning a free kick on the edge of the Russian penalty area.  It was taken by Shevchenko and crossed into the box but the Russian defenders dealt with it easily and tried to launch a counter attack which was stifled by the Ukrainian defence.  The game continued to remain scrappy with neither side carving out a real opportunity.  Russia were trying to take the game to Ukraine and force the issue, but the final moment of quality was not yet sufficient and the Ukrainian defence were answering any questions.

Ukraine pressed Russia, just as they had done at the first meeting in Kyiv and it was this pressing that gave Ukraine there next opportunity.  Russia were passing it out of defence, but Ukraine’s pressing forced an error and they gained possession, Skachenko took the ball and put a cross into the Russian box, but unfortunately nobody was there to meet it.  It was after this that Russia launched their first dangerous attack.  Picking the ball up in his own half Dmitri Khoklov ran with the ball through the Ukrainian defence, he was eventually stopped in his tracks, but the danger for Ukraine was not over, as Russia won the first corner of the game.  The corner was whipped in, but Ukrainian goalkeeper Shovkovskyi punched it clear and the attack was over.  Ukraine tried building up an attack out of defence, but Russia were smothering them, not allowing Ukraine as much time as they had in the first meeting and Ukraine could still not settle.

Russia had settled and were now taking control of the game.  They began moving forward and Shovkovskyi was called into action again on 10 minutes.  Khoklov  had another opportunity but Shovkovskyi dealt with it and the rebound fell for Russia’s second corner of the game.  The corner was played short and when crossed in, Sasho again came and punched the ball clear.  Russia were in control, but had yet to fully stretch the Ukrainian defence.

After creating a couple of half chances, the Russians began growing in confidence and really took control of the game playing some good football throughout the team.  Russia were looking at playing through balls to try and break through the defence, but as Ukraine were playing very deeply, there was little space for this tactic to work and Ukraine were remaining defiant and dealing with Russian attacks.

Despite the fact Ukraine were dealing with the threats, Russia were continually growing in confidence and pressing Ukraine, taking more control of the game and putting Ukraine firmly on the back foot.  Ukraine could not play their football as Russia were pressuring them forcing tackles and mistakes meaning a return to Russian possession, which they were beginning to dominate.

Russia again had another attack with Dmitry Alenichev running at the Ukrainian defence.  He managed to skip passed the challenge of Andriy Husin and was looking to skip passed VaschukVashuck attempted a tackled, but made no contact with Alenichev who theatrically went down.  To the disappointment of Ukraine, David Elleray awarded Russia a free kick in a very dangerous position on the edge of the box.  The free kick was taken by Khoklov but fired straight at the wall, the rebound was deflected wide and Russia won another corner.  Yet again, Shovkovskyi showed good command of the area and claimed the ball.  He quickly threw the ball out as Ukraine looked to launch a counter attack.  Shevchenko picked up the ball on the half way line and ran with the ball at the Russian defence, he forced the ball into the area but could go no further and gave away a free kick.

This was a rare foray into the Russian box for Shevchenko and co as Russia were the dominant force in the game.  Another chance for Russia was wasted as Alenichev fired wide.  The dominance Russia showed on the pitch was having an effect of it as the home fans were backing the team with chants of “RO-SI-YA” echoing around the arena.  Tikhanov was finding room on the left hand side and was able to produce a number of opportunities for Russia.

It was at this time that news for filtering round the stadium that France had taken the lead against Iceland, with the Russia Ukraine game at 0:0, France were now in pole position and leading the group.

As it stood (25 mins):

GD Pts
France

7

21

Ukraine

10

20

Russia

10

19

Russia were on top in the game but their dominance was not converted into chances.  Despite dealing with a few crosses, Sasho had very little else to do.  Ukraine were dealing with the Russian attacks and were able to launch another attack of their own.  Down the right Russia failed to properly deal with the cross, after a little scramble in the box, Rebrov managed to get a shot away, it managed to beat Filimonov, but agonisingly went wide for Ukraine.  Despite Russia’s dominance it was Ukraine who had created the first real chance.

This was a rare attack for Ukraine and Russia reasserted the authority on the game.  Again however, the Ukrainian defence prevented any opportunities and Ukraine’s defence, which had kept 7 clean sheets in 9 games in the qualifiers, was holding firm.  Russia still pressing sort a change of tac and Smertin fired an effort from long range, but it went harmlessly wide.

Following on Ukraine had their own long range effort, Russia wanted a free kick but Elleray waved play on and Mizin had a long range effort, but it was in vain as it rose over the bar.  Ukraine seemed threatening when the ball was at Shevchenko’s feet and he was able to run at the Russian defence, but he was not given time and space and the service was not continuous.

Russia continued to look at getting forward and creating chances but the opportunities were severely limited by the excellent defence of Ukraine.  A long goal kick from Shovkovskyi lead to the next opportunity, after some good play in the Russian half, the ball fell to Shevchenko who whipped a cross for Rebrov, but his header went wide.  Russia looked to launch another effort forward but a weak effort only found safety with Shovkovskyi.  Seemingly part of the game plan, Sasho again quickly threw the ball to Shevchenko, but this time the Russians had a plan as Smertin fouled him.  The free kick led to a Ukraine chance and the first period of pressure on the Russian goal.  Sheva put the cross into the box and it was flicked on by Serhiy Mizin only to be cleared off the line and away for a corner by Viktor Onopko.  The corner was whipped in and Filimonov came to claim it but he misjudged the flight and couldn’t claim the ball, it was then headed toward goal only to be once more cleared off the line.  It was agonisingly close for Ukraine, but it would not have counted anyway, as Elleray blew for a foul on Filimonov.

With this spell of Ukrainian pressure, the Russian crowd stepped up and attempted to push Russia forward.  After more good work by Tikhanov and Titov, Karpin had a chance to cross but he couldn’t beat the first man, Russia’s problem was appearing to be finding the killer pass.  With yet another move forward and effort from distance Khoklov forced Shovkovskyi into a good save winning yet another corner for Russia.  This corner was not delivered with quality but Russia managed to win another corner from it.  Russia managed a shot at goal from this corner but it sailed wide.  Despite not scoring, Russia had regained the initiative and were starting to work Shovkovskyi.

Tikhanov’s work down the left was to bring the next opportunity for Russia, and it was to be their best so far.  Tikhanov managed to get his cross into the box and found Panov.  Panov was unmarked and with space in the box, all he had to do was head the ball into a gapping net, yet somehow he failed to convert this chance.  Ukraine were now living on a cliff edge.  Tikhanov was again looking lively moments later, providing yet another quality cross into the box.  This time it was Titov on the end of it and he also failed to convert, however the linesman had his flag up signalling offside.

With this pressure, Ukraine manager Josef Szabo was looking to make a change with Mykytin warming up.  Ukraine had a rare foray upfront but Skachenko blazed his shot over the bar.  This was to be his last contribution to the game as he was subbed for Mykytin.  The tactical substitution showed that Russia had had the better of the first half and Szabo recognised this.

This was the last meaningful action of the first half.  Russia had controlled possession and created the more numerous chances.  Shovkovskyi was having an impressive game commanding the area and dealing with Russia crosses.  In Paris, France had doubled their lead appearing to be cruising to a lead.  This meant that Russia’s only hope of qualification were through a victory over their neighbours.

A packed Luzhniki at half time, with the score 0:0

Ukraine kicked off the second half with the rain pouring at the Luzhniki.  It was a slow start to the second half with Ukraine seemingly happy with the scoreline at 0:0 and soaking up the Russian pressure.  Despite this, it was Ukraine who created the first opportunity in the second half.  Ukraine won another free kick on the edge of the Russian box and David Elleray awarded the first yellow card of the game to Khletsov.  Shevchenko stepped up and crossed the ball into the box, it was met by the head of Rebrov but he could only direct it wide.

Moments later Ukraine won another free kick.  This time it was in shooting range for Shevchenko, but Filimonov was equal to it punching it away.  Ukraine were starting to liven up and look more threatening.  The latest from Paris was that Iceland had pulled a goal back, leading to excitement form the crowd.

Russia began to return to the rhythm of the first half, winning corners and having shots from distance that failed to trouble Shovkovskyi sufficiently.  Ukraine were also showing increased boldness playing more football and working the ball around the pitch.  The Russian response was to foul the Ukrainians and this worked to the away sides advantage as they were able to send the set pieces into threatening positions in the Russian box.

10 minutes into the second half and the crowd launched into celebration.  Russia were regaining control of possession but this was not the reason for the celebration, in Paris, Iceland had done the unthinkable and managed to equalise against the World Champions.  The 2:2 scoreline meant that as it stood, Ukraine would win the group and Russia finish second.

Russia made their first substitution on the hour mark with Chugainov replacing Tikhanov.  Shevchenko was proving a handful and the Russian defence were doubling up on him when he was bringing the ball forward.  But on the whole, the second half was much a repeat of the first half.  The defences were in control and the attacks were lacking the imagination to break through.

Despite appearing 2nd best, Ukraine launched the next good attack.  Maxymov’s pass found Luzhnyi who lived up to his reputation with a run down the right hand flank.  He managed to dig out a good cross which was met by the head of Mizin but Filimonov made a good save to prevent Ukraine from taking the lead.  This lifted Ukraine and they were quickly attacking again.  They managed to break through the Russian defence and were in a 2 on 1 situation, but Husin could not find Rebrov with his pass and Russia cleared.  The Blue-Yellows had wasted a real opportunity.

Russia seemed willing to be more patient in their build up where as Ukraine were looking to attack on the counter and with speed.  Ukraine were dealing with the Russian threats and Russiarequired something special to break through.  The need for a Russian goal was increased as on 70 minutes, France had regained the lead in Paris meaning Russia had fallen out of the play-off spots.

Russia now had a new sense of urgency and had a chance to take the lead after Vaschuk fouled Alenichev on the edge of the box.  Valeri Karpin stood over the free kick on the 75th minute.  He came forward and his shot powered through the wall and passed the stranded Shovkovskyi.  Karpin had done it! He had found the inspiration Russia were looking for.  To the delight of the home supporters and Prime Minister Putin, Russia were 1:0 up and heading to Euro 2000 as group winners.

Ukraine were the team now requiring a goal and Szabo made a chance with Moroz replacing Maxymov.  Russia responded as Panov came off for Semak.  With 10 minutes left, Ukraine were running out of ideas and resorting to the long ball more and more often.  Shevchenko was looking increasingly frustrated with the poor quality of service he was receiving.

Despite having the lead, Russia were not willing to rest on their laurels and were looking to push on and attack Ukraine when possible looking to kill the game off.  It was to be a chance for Ukraine to find a leveller next though as Mizin was brought down in the Russian half.  In the 87th minute, this would be one of Ukraine’s final opportunities to get the ball into the box.  Shevchenko would need a good delivery, however his cross evaded his team mates and was heading into the arms of goalkeeper Filimonov.  But the unthinkable happened, Filimonov was off balance and what should have been a routine catch was thumbled and the ball fell into the back of the net.  To the shock of the entire stadium including the Ukrainian players, it was 1:1! Shevchenko had equalised in the dying moments of the game at the Luzhniki, with what was incredibly his first goal of the entire qualifying campaign.  This was to be a career defining moment for Filimonov as he never fully recovered from the set back losing his place at national and club level.

The tied had turned once again thanks to the shocking mistake by the Russian keeper.  Russia were now heading out and needed to find another goal.  With a set piece, Russia looked to get the ball in the box, undeterred by his opposite numbers mistake, Shovkovskyi comfortably claimed the ball and threw it long for Shevchenko, now beaming with confidence, Sheva ran toward goal, but his shot was weak and easy to save for Filimonov.

With 4 minutes of stoppage time added on, Ukraine had another set-piece in an almost identical position to where Sheva had just scored from.  He stepped up once again and tried to catch Filimonov off guard.  This time, despite the free kick being struck arguably better, Filimonov dealt with it knocking it over the bar for a corner.  If only he had done that moments earlier, Russia may have headed to Euro 2000.

Ukraine were now time wasting appearing to have settled for a draw and with news filtering through that France had defeated Iceland, a draw was only good enough for 2nd place and a play-off position for Ukraine.

Russia’s last chance was a pump into the box, not fully dealt with by Mizin, Khoklov fired his effort miles over the bar.  It was now the nudreds of Ukrainian fans who were making the noise and the chant “Ukrayina!” was being heard in the Luzhniki stadium.

This was the last action and Elleray blew his whistle.  Ukraine had snatched a draw in Moscow thanks to Filimonovs howler and Ukraine were heading to the Euro 2000 play-offs and Russia were out of the competition. Ukraine had remained undefeated in the competition and only conceded four goals, but this was not good enough to prevent France from winning the group.

Pld W D L GF GA Pts
France

10

6

3

1

17

10

21

Ukraine

10

5

5

0

14

4

20

Russia

10

6

1

3

22

12

19

Iceland

10

4

3

3

12

7

15

Armenia

10

2

2

6

8

15

7

Andorra

10

0

0

10

3

28

0

Ukraine went on to suffer an agonising defeat to Slovenia in the play-offs.

Varenyky Rating:

Highlights:

Full Match:

Report by Peter Chymera.  Peter is a committee member of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and co-founder of the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame.  Follow Peter on twitter – @PMChymera89

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