Saturday 23 April 2016, 09:47

Byshovets: Brazil's time has come

When will Brazil finally win their first Olympic gold medal in football? This question is becoming more relevant than ever in the build-up to the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 this August.

The five-time FIFA World Cup™ winners have reached the final on three occasions, twice winning bronze, but are yet to become Olympic champions. The country's best chance to date was back at Seoul 1988, when Brazil brought perhaps their strongest-ever squad. A line-up featuring Romario, Bebeto, Claudio Taffarel, Jorginho and other stars made it to the finale but suffered disappointment in the gold medal match, as Anatoly Byshovets' USSR caused a sensation with a 2-1 extra-time triumph.

The mastermind of that unlikely title, one of the finest in the history of USSR football as well as its last, celebrates his 70th birthday on 23 April.

Anatoly Byshovets later had stints in charge of Russia and Korea Republic, Zenit St. Petersburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Lokomotiv Moscow and Portugal's C.S. Maritimo. However, he never managed to return to the heights of the Seoul Olympics and that famous win against Brazil.

"I remember watching the semi-final between Brazil and Germany, it was amazing," Byshovets told "Both sides played such entertaining and quality football. Brazil's attack with Romario and Bebeto impressed me so much that I decided not to show the video of the game to my team. I didn't want their spirits to drop before kick-off."

The demanding coach and renowned disciplinarian made an unexpected and brave decision the day before the final: he moved his team out of the Olympic Village and into the Mikhail Sholokhov cruise ship, named after the well-known Soviet novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature.

"Like it or not, in the Olympic Village you were surrounded by the euphoria of victory or the despair of defeat. It's not quite the appropriate atmosphere for a team preparing for a final. I had a look at the conditions on the cruiser and they weren't bad. There was a volleyball court for example. But the main thing was that we could relax there and take the pressure off. There was Russian cuisine and performers. In general, the time we spent there was very useful and I think it helped us win."

It turned out that he had a fair knowledge of football as well. I believe this meeting helped the team band together.

An audience with the PopeRomario opened the scoring in the final after 20 minutes, seemingly taking Brazil one step closer to the long-awaited gold. In the end, however, that strike only gave him the title of top scorer at the competition. Igor Dobrovolski levelled things up from the penalty spot in the second half, before Yuri Savichev rounded off a wonderful counter-attack from the Soviets in extra time – a golden goal if ever there was one.

"The most important thing was to contain Brazil's incredible attack, although we didn't study Romario and Bebeto individually before the game. We just told the players that they'd have to be solid like never before, depriving the opposition of time and space. However, I think the crucial factor was that the team had built up a winning instinct. Including preparations for the tournament, we played 15 matches together and didn't lose once."

Byshovets adopted some unusual methods in order to bring this instinct to the fore. Unlike many other coaches, he believed improving general knowledge was a key part of success in football and took the team on tours around tourists sites in various cities. He went one step further before the Olympics and landed an audience with Pope John Paul II.

"I have a lot of friends in football, including in Italy,” explained Byshovets, who himself had a successful playing career. He won the Soviet championship four times for Dynamo Kyiv and earned the honour of top scorer for the USSR at the 1970 FIFA World Cup Mexico with four goals.

"These friends helped me set up a meeting with the Pope. He was fluent in Russian and that facilitated communication. It turned out that he had a fair knowledge of football as well. I believe this meeting helped the team band together. In general, I think it's really important for any team to be able to let off steam. If you organise their leisure time in such a way that the players aren't just sitting around playing cards in the evenings, you create a professional yet relaxed environment."

Brazil's time has comeByshovets was back at the Olympics eight years later, this time as Korea Republic coach. The Koreans did not make it out of the group stage at Atlanta 1996, but Byshovets still looks back at this experience as a success: "My biggest achievement was that the players didn't feel inferior. We were confident in our ability to give anybody a tough game. If we lost, at least we'd lose with our heads held high. My teams are never afraid to play."

Seoul 1988 was one of the USSR's last victories and also one of the sweetest, but Byshovets believes that 2016 will be Brazil's year at last.

"It's a shame that Russia won't be able to pit themselves against the hosts on this occasion," he said. "In any case, Brazil are the favourites for the Olympics in Rio. It's about time! Playing at home is always an advantage and Brazil have everything they need to win."