Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Byshovets Returns to Kiev as Enemy

Russian head coach Anatoly Byshovets returns to his native Kiev this week in a role he probably could not have imagined just two months ago.

On Saturday, Ukrainian-born Byshovets will lead Russia against Ukraine in the opening match of qualifiers for the European Championships in front of almost 100,000 screaming fans at Kiev's Olympic Stadium.

The 52-year-old coach said this week from the Russian's training center in Novogorsk that he frequently visits Kiev and has plenty of relatives there, although he prefers to stay in a hotel.

Although Byshovets is quick to dismiss any political aspects to the match, he did say that it will be a very emotional experience for him.

"I'm a Ukrainian, I was born in Kiev and I have a brother and two aunts who still live there," he said. "And the first thing I do when I visit Kiev is go to a local cemetery where both of my parents are buried."

As an unknown skinny 17-year-old in 1963, Byshovets made his professional debut with Dynamo Kiev, where three years later he won his first Soviet league title.

Then, a few years later, the curly- haired center forward starred for the Soviet Union in the World Cup finals in Mexico City in 1970, scoring a team record four goals.

A serious knee injury ended Byshovets playing career in 1973 and after working for a few years at the Dynamo youth soccer school, he began a quick rise through the coaching ranks.

The highlight of his coaching career to date came in 1988 when Byshovets led the Soviets to an Olympic gold medal in Seoul, South Korea, winning 2-1 in a dramatic overtime final against a powerful Brazilian team, that included future stars such as Romario and Bebeto.

That very same year, his counterpart on the Ukrainian squad for Saturday's match, stern-faced Valery Lobanovsky, led the Soviet national team to its last big international success with a second place finish at Euro 88 in Germany.

Although Iosif Sabo, 58, another former Dynamo Kiev star, is the official Ukrainian coach, no one doubts that Dynamo Kiev boss Lobanovsky, 59, who is listed in the team's media guide as the head coach for all of the country's national teams, is the man in charge of all preparations in the Ukrainian camp.

"I once read in one of Lobanovsky's interviews that he calls himself 'the head coach of all the coaches in Ukraine,'" said Byshovets, who according to many mutual friends, has at best a rather tense relationship with Lobanovsky, going back to their playing days.

"And with the current situation on their team [Lobanovsky Dynamo's players make up a bulk of Ukraine's starting lineup] everyone knows who is really in charge," Byshovets added.

While the tensions in both the Russian and Ukrainian camps steadily increase as the Saturday's confrontation between the two former Soviet republics draws near, the coaches have began countering possible espionage on each other.

While Lobanovsky, true to his old Soviet coaching methods, closed the Ukraine's training camp to all media a week in advance, Byshovets accused the Russian press of unintentionally giving away his team's secrets.

"You give out too much information in your newspaper about our team," he told the Sport-Express editor Mikhail Pukshansky on Monday.

"Believe me, they [Ukraine] want to know everything about us, even on which side I sleep at night," Byshovets said. "I can reveal: I like to sleep on my right side."

One only wonders which side Lobanovsky prefers.