USSR III Division

USSR – ranked 3rd by UEFA. The 50th championship of USSR. There was a bit of repeating 1976 – Dinamo (Kiev) again was in bad shape right after conquering Europe. There was also a failure of restructuring the third level: for years various specialists called for bringing the best teams from the huge league into one new league of 22 teams and that was finally announced before the season, but at the end was not done and Third Division remained as it was: 9 groups of teams. What was objective, but apparently unsolvable problem was economical: in a country stretched on two continents, teams were scattered so far away that there no satisfying formula was found. Travel was expensive and time consuming and all proposals failed, for money were becoming overwhelming issue. The original intent was to increase the quality of the game, to combine the stronger teams in one league – but at the end reform was scrapped and the old formula remained: 9 groups (Zones), with different number of teams (from 27 to 15) and strength (competitive Russian-Ukrainian zones and very weak Far East groups). The winners continued to go to promotion play-offs and the 3 best teams in them were promoted to Second Division.
Here is a taste of the vast third level:
Gastello (Ufa) – actually, the name is ‘Sport Club named after N. Gastello’, weird name, so with time it was popularly shorten.

SKA (Odessa)
Torpedo (Toliatti).
Those three played in solid groups and had no chance to move up, although they played well – Gastello finished 4th in Zone II, Torpedo – 8th in the same Zone II, SKA – 5th in Zone VI. SKA had it very tough: they played in the largest Zone, where the Ukrainian teams played – that was 27 teams! A regular season of 52 games.
The winners went to play for 3 promotions and even here the candidates were uneven: some former First Division members, some former Second Division members, some unknowns. Some currently strong teams, noticed during the regular season, some trying to rebuild and come back, and some coming from weak Zones and thus not much to speak of, unless they quickly hired stronger players for the play-offs. Iskra (Smolensk) – winner of Zone I, Zvezda (Perm) – Zone II, Kuban (Krasnodar) – Zone III, SKA (Khabarovsk) – Zone IV, Nistru (Kishinev) – Zone V, Tavria (Simferopol) – Zone VI, Neftyanik (Fergana) – Zone VII, Meliorator (Chimkent) – Zone VIII, and Lokomotiv (Samtredia) – Zone IX. Iskra, Tavria, Kuban, and Zvezda, which got good press during the season, were the favourites – and at the end, they won, except Iskra.
Kuban (Krasnodar)
Tavria (Simferopol) and

Zvezda (Perm) were promoted.
Tavria and Kuban did not attract much press perhaps because they were well known names, which played top league football – it was somewhat expected from them to recover and come back. Zvezda (Perm) was seemingly the pleasant surprise, yet, observers were cautious. It was critical caution old and tired: a team assembled of relatively good and experienced players from elsewhere, instead of local guys coming from the youth system of the club. As a rule of thumb, such ‘mercenary’ teams were almost immediately relegated back to lower league they came from – Krylya Sovetov (Kuybishev) was the current scary example used, but it could have been a long list of teams from every year and cautions like that did not work so far, so the chances Zvezda (Perm) would suddenly become sensible were nil. After all, if you look around to find players for a team, it is certain you have no productive youth system to depend on. But that was for the next season – for the moment, Zvezda, Tavria, and Kuban enjoyed promotion to Second Division.

Belgium the Cup

The Cup final opposed RFC Liege to KV Mechelen. Both teams had good season and were also short on trophies, but KV Mechelen perhaps was favoured. And they eventually won the final 1-0.
RFC Liege tried their best, but were the weaker team and managed only honorable loss.

KV Mechelen won its very first Cup. It was also their first trophy after very long time – in the distant past they have been Belgian champions, but in the last 50 years hardly anybody expected them to win anything. So, it was great success.
In the last few years quietly and persistently Mechelen built impressive squad and now it was time to get rewards. They fought for the title and they won the Cup, they got noticed and were at their peak. If anything, Mechelen showed that even in increasingly governed by big money football a modest club could compete. It was great story so far – after all, Mechelen was playing Second Division only a few years back – and winning the Belgian Cup was not the end of it.

Belgium I Division

First Division. Two teams fought for the title, leaving the others far behind.
K. Berchem Sport finished last and was relegated.
RFC Seresien – or Seraing – ended 17th with 20 points and was relegated.
KAA Gent – or La Gantoise, or ARA Gantoise – survived. 16th with 23 points.
KV Kortrijk – 15th with 24 points.
Antwerp FC – or Royal Antwerpen – 14th with 26 points.
RWDM – or RWD Molenbeek – 13th with 28 points.
Racing Jet – 12th with 30 points.
Cercle Brugge – 11th with 30 points.
Standard – 10th with 31 points.
K Beerschot VAC – 9th with 33 points.
KSV Waregem – 8th with 34 points.
R Charleroi SC – 7th with 35 points.
RFC Liege – or FC Liegeois – 6th with 38 points.
KSK Beveren – 5th with 44 points.
KSK Lokeren Oost-Vlaanderen – 4th with 44 points.
FC Brugge – or Club Brugge KV – 3rd with 45 points. Top row from left: Yves Audoor, Kurt Hinderyckx, Peter Creve, Alex Querter, Ronnie Rosenthal, Henk Houwaart jr.
Middle row: Eddy Warrinnier (kine), Luc Beyens, René Verheyen, Hugo Broos, Jan Ceulemans, Tew Mamadou, Kenneth Brylle, Raymond Mertens (assistent-coach).
Sitting: Franky Van der Elst, Birger Jensen, Stefan Vereycken, Henk Houwaart (coach), Marc Degryse, Philippe Vande Walle, Leo Van der Elst.
KV Mechelen – 2nd with 55 points. They, rather surprisingly, aimed at the title, but lost it by 2 points.
Anderlecht prevailed and collected one more title: 25 wins, 7 ties, 2 losses, 82-25 goal-difference, 57 points. Even under heavy pressure from KV Mechelen, they were still the best and most deserving team.

Belgium II Division

Belgium – ranked 4th by UEFA. Now, here ranking seems right: Belgian football enjoyed great period, having strong generation of players and strong clubs. For a small country, it was incredible. Spain had all the money and was behind modest Belgians – that speaks volumes.
II Division. Two teams battled for top position, which gave direct promotion.
St. Truiden VV won the championship with 45 points – 17 wins, 11 ties, 2 losses, 51-18 goal-difference.
KFC Winterslag trailed by a point and went to promotion play-offs with the next 3 teams in the final table.
KRC Harelbeke – or FC Harelbeke – 3rd with 39 points.
KSK Tongeren – 4th with 34 points, and FC Assent, 5th with 33 points.
At the promotion tournament FC Harelbeke curiously lost steam and ended last with 3 points. FC Assent was also weak – 3rd with 4 points and KSK Tongeren and KFC Wintereslag fought for the desired first place – Tongeren eventually lost and finished 2nd with 8 points.
Dramatic season for KFC Winterslag – lost direct promotion by a single point and won promotion play-offs by a point. It was well deserved victory, given their performance during the whole season.

Spain the Cup

The Cup final provided great drama. The finalists were well known names of the recent years, both having rathee weak season, but still ambitious. Atletico Madrid vs Real Socieadad. Real Sociedad scored quickly – Lopes Ufarte in the 5th minute, but Atletico came back just as quickly – equalizing in the 24th minute (Da Silva). Then Real Sociedad took the lead again – Txiki Begiristain scored in the 35th minute. Atletico managed to equalize in the 74th minute, thanks to Rubio. No more goals were scored and the final went all the way to penalty shoot-out. And only here Atletico gave up… Real Sociedad scored perfect 4 of 4, but Atletico missed twice and lost 2-4.
Atletico Madrid in a way confirmed its reputation for eternal losers… one can easily make a list of lost finals. Dramatically lost, but lost… second-best never counts.
Important victory for the boys from San Sebastian – they were still winners, not ready to fade away, still having solid squad full of stars and Toshack proved his great coaching abilities. It was difficult to fight against the odds – no matter what Real Sociedad tried, they were going to be robbed by key players from the big clubs, so keeping strong squad was objective impossibility. Take what you can… and they did. Begiristain and Bakero were yet world-wide famous – and they will become playing for Barcelona, so the victory was both sweet and sour: winning the Cup meant more exposure and losing players. With such predicament, the victory almost doubles in value.

Spain I Division

Primera Division. After the first phase the league was divided into three groups of 6 teams each – the championship group, the intermediate group, and the relegation group. The late decision to increase the league to 20 teams affected only the relegation group – originally, the last three were to be directly relegated, but the increase of the league reduced the relegated teams to one and additional phase was added. The last three teams in the relegation group went to decide between themselves which team will go down. Records of the first phase were carried to the second, but the relegation play-offs started with clean sheets of the unfortunate participants.
The Relegation Group. The last 6 teams in the final table of the first phase.
Cadiz – last with 29 points.
Racing Santander – 5th with 33 points.
Osasuna – 4th with 38 points.
Sabadell – 3rd with 38 points. By the rules – ahead of Osasuna because of better head-to-head record.
Las Palmas – 2nd with 41 points.

Athletic Bilbao – 1st with 42 points.
Originally, the last three were to be relegated, but the mid-season to increase the league changed that – now one team was going down and for that the last three in the relegation group proceeded to relegation play-offs. The last tournament ended awkward as everything this season: two teams played 2 matches and one team ended with game played – and was relegated. Why? Who knows…
Osasuna finished first with 1 win and 1 tie – and remained in the league. Standing from left: Sabido, Ibáñez, Lumbreras, De Luis, Castañeda,Vicuña.
First row: Aguirre, Rípodas, Benito, Bustingorri, Martín.
Cadiz also survived – 2nd with 2 ties.
Racing Santander played only one match, which they lost: 1-3 to Osasuna. That relegated them. Too bad, for they played better than Cadiz during the whole season and were ahead of them until this last phase.
Intermediate group – the teams which took 7-12 place in the opening phase. Playing for nothing… the never answered question when championships were organized in such way: what could motivate teams with no chance of going neither up, nor down to play 10 more games after already went through 34 grueling matches? Anyway…
Sevilla – 6th with 39 points.
Real Murcia – 5th with 41 points.
Real Valladolid – 4th with 41 points.
Real Betis – 3rd with 45 points. Top row from left: Cervantes, Rincón, Reyes, Gail, Medina, Hadzibegic, Salva.
Middle row: Soto, Parra, Piriz, Del Sol, Retamero, Calderón, Ito, Pitero, Montiel.
Sitting: Diego, Chano, Alex, Casado, Romo, Quico, Gabino, Ortega.
Real Sociedad – 2nd with 47 points. However, they had nothing to complain of at the end of the season.
Atletico Madrid – 1st with 47 points.
The Championship Group – the top 6 after the first phase.
Mallorca – 6th with 42 points.
Real Zaragoza – 5th with 44 points.
Sporting Gijon – 4th with 45 points.
Espanol – 3rd with 51 points. Excellent season for the smaller team from Barcelona.
Barcelona – 2nd with 63 points. As usual, the rest of the league was left far behind and the dog fight with Real Madrid went to the end, but it was lost by Barcelona. The English approach lost to the Dutch, in a way. Strong squad, but… nothing.
After 44 games played, Real Madrid was once again Spanish champion. They were first after the first phase and first after the second phase, increasing their lead from 1 point to 3. 27 wins, 12 ties, 5 losses, 84-37 goal-difference, 66 points. Leo Beenhakker confirmed he was one of the top coaches in the world at the moment, but his squad was formidable – the addition of Hugo Sanchez proved great. Veteran greats Santillana and Camacho added another title to their illustrious record sheets, which was wonderful in their fading years. Like Barcelona, Real employed more foreigners than actually allowed to play – a long-lasting tactic of both great clubs, which easily afforded to have a great international star sitting on the bench, ready to replace another great star if something did not work right. But at the end of teh day, nothing really needed to be said: Real Madrid was Real Madrid, ever hungry for

Spain II Division

Segunda Division – Second Division. The 18 teams played two-phased championship: after the regular season, the league was divided into three groups in accord with the final table of the first phase. Two groups played for promotion and the third was relegation group. As it turned out later, the relegation group played for nothing, because of newly decided increase of the top two divisions, which eliminated relegation this season. The winners of the each promotional group were promoted up and the third promoted team was going to be the second finisher with better record. The same rule applied for deciding the league champion. Points from the first phase were carried over to the second. Here the final standings after the second phase are given.
Group B – the Relegation Group, consisting of the teams taking 13-18 places at the end of first phase.
Jerez Deportivo – 6th with 22 points.
Castilla CF (Real Madrid B team) – 5th with 33 points.
Real Oviedo – 4th with 40 points.

Cartagena FC – 3rd with 42 points.
UA Figueres – 2nd with 42 points.
Barcelona Athletic (Barcelona B team) – 1st with 42 points.
Promotion groups:
Group A2:
CD Malaga – 6th with 40 points.
Rayo Vallecano – 5th with 41 points.
CD Castellon – 4th with 44 points.
Deportivo La Coruna – 3rd with 51 points.
Sestao – 2nd with 52 points. What a misfortune: rules were against them. They had worse final record than the 2nd placed team in the other group and missed promotion.
Celta (Vigo) won the group with 54 points and earned promotion. But they had worse record than the winners of the other group and did not win the Segunda championship. It was a matter of 3 points.
Group A1.
Bilbao Athletic (Athletic Bilbao B team) – 6th with 39 points.
Hercules – 5th with 41 points.
Elche CF – 4th with 48 points. Standing from left: Escobar, Robi, Nunes, Quesada, Miguel.
Crouching: Juanín, Boria, Pedro-Pablo, Asensio, Blanco-Vila, Claudio.
Recreativo Huelva – 3rd with 50 points.
CD Logrones – 2nd with 54 points and promoted: they finished with 2 points more than Sestao.
Valencia CF – 1st with 57 points. Not only promoted, but also declared champions of Segunda Division, for they finished ahead of Celta, which ended with 54 points.
And that was that: Valencia, Celta, and Logrones were promoted to the top league.

Spain III Division

Spain – ranked 5th by UEFA. This was the longest Spanish championship in history: the structure was changed from standard European format to complicated 2-phase formula. First, there was the usual league schedule and after playing it the league was divided into three groups of 6 teams each – the top 6 proceeded to play for the title, the last 6 were in relegation group – three were going down, and 6 played in the intermediary group – for nothing, so… hard to see reason for motivation to play 10 extra games. But in midseason the Federation decided to increase the two top divisions to 20 teams and the relegation rules changed: after the relegation group ended relegation play-off was hastily included and loser in it was going down. Only one team relegated from La Liga, 3 teams promoted from Segunda Division, which also had complicated two-phase championship. Relegation, however, was not going to materialize, for the newly introduced increase of the top division left Segunda with 16 teams – 4 teams were promoted and none relegated to make the numbers right. Third level – Segunda B – also was changed for the next season, which effectively resulted with 63 teams getting promoted to the new Segunda B of 80 teams divided into 4 groups of 20 teams each. The changes made the season messy – for instance, there were 2 promotion groups in the second phase of Segunda Division, but no final match between the winners of each to decide the second level champion – instead, the team with better record was declared champion. Better record also decided the third promoted team – rather unfair: a play-off between the second-placed teams in the two promotion group should have been played. The teams promoted from Tercera Division to Segunda B were rather loosely based on final standings – seemingly, financial requirements were also involved.
Segunda Division B – Third Division. 22 teams, standard championship formula, the top 4 teams promoted and 1 team relegated to forth level.

Mallorca Atletico – the B team of Mallorca – was relegated. They finished 21st, a point ahead of Poblense, so the relegation may have been for different than performance reason.

Gandia – 16th with 38 points.
Alzira – 10th with 41 points.
Linense – 8th with 44 points.
Salamanca – 5th with 53 points. Close to promotion, but missed it by a single point.

Real Burgos – 4th with 54 points and promoted to Segunda Division.
Granada – 3rd with 56 points and promoted.
Lleida – second with 57 points and promoted.
Tenerife – champion of Segunda Division B with 59 points from 21 wins,17 ties, and 4 losses. 70-33 goal-difference – second best in the league, but no matter. The winners were promoted, of course.