Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 91– The Great Lev Yashin (1966)

The USSR has already been referred to in this countdown as a team spilling over with talent but sadly never making a huge impact in the World Cup with the exception of the odd semi final appearance. They had many great players perhaps having stunted careers because of the iron curtain but if you had to pick one player that was a true legend then you cannot go past the goalkeeper Lev Yashin.

Yashin had originally started playing in a factory team when only a teenager just after World War Two after being pulled out of school when 12 years hold to help with the war effort. Yashin had to choose between football and ice hockey (he had won a Soviet championship in the latter) and chose football with his beloved Spartak Moscow his team of choice.

Yashin was nicknamed ‘The Black Spider’ because of his all black outfit and long limbs that made him a tough unit to score against. Such was his reputation that some players even used to take penalties with their other foot to try and fool him because of his expert knowledge on his opponents. Yashin was an innovator as the sport came in to modern era. He was one of the first keepers to come off his line and punch or kick the ball away from danger rather than stay between the post which seems hard to visualise in today’s modern game. Despite not being captain (keepers were never captain in this era) he virtually led the USSR to their first and only European title in 1960 after also being part of the side that won a gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

He was one of those rare players that played in four world cups with 1966 his standout tournament. 1966 was impressive for Yashin because he had such a horrible time in the 1962 tournament in Chile where he was concussed twice and was the only player to ever concede a goal straight from a corner at a World Cup which had many writing him off. In 1966 he led the USSR all the way to the semi finals where they went down to West Germany with his ability to save any shot getting the team wins instead of draws with only 3 goals conceded in the whole tournament. His efforts gained him cult status around the world.

The Soviet Government was so impressed with Yashin and his efforts in England that they gave him the Order of Lenin, the highest possible honour there was at the time. He would play in one more World Cup in more of a mentor role in 1970 before retiring at 40. To show the respect Yashin had his final match and testimonial in 1971 in Moscow attracted 100,000 people with Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Eusebio all giving their time to play in the match. He was also European Footballer of the Year, the only keeper to ever win the award.

Yashin was also not short of a quote too. He once said that the thrill Yuri Gagarin must have had being the first man in space would only be second to the thrill of saving a penalty while another time he said a quick drink and smoke before a game and at half time always calmed the nerves and relaxed the muscles. He also claimed a goalkeeper wasn’t a true keeper if they weren’t haunted by every goal they’d conceded. All very Tolstoy.

Yashin tragically died in 1990 from cancer only aged 60 after losing a leg a few years previous because of a thrombophlebitis. His memory has lived on though with the big man still seen as probably the greatest keeper of all time and his efforts over a distinguished career proved this. FIFA also named the award for the best keeper for every tournament the Lev Yashin Award. He was a memorable and innovative icon of the game.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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