Ukrainian striker recalls national team's historic first match against Hungary

Ivan Hetsko scores the first goal in the history of the Ukrainian national team
Ivan Hetsko scores the first goal in the history of the Ukrainian national team

Thirty-two years ago, on April 29, 1992, the Ukrainian national football team played its first match in history. The blue-and-yellow team's opponent was neighboring Hungary, which had no intention of giving in to the newly minted team.

The first half of the match, played in the western city of Uzhhorod ended in a scoreless draw. In the second 45 minutes, the Hungarians broke through and scored three goals against Ukrainian goalie Ihor Kutepov.

An incredible free-kick goal scored by Ukraine striker Ivan Hetsko, who came on as a substitute, saved the team from a crushing rout. It was Prokopenko’s team’s first defeat in independent history, but it laid the foundation for future victories.

In an exclusive interview with NV journalist Andriy Pavelko, Hetsko recalls how he was called up to the team, the atmosphere before the match, and explains why the fans were more supportive of the opponents.

NV: Do you remember when you were called up for the game against Hungary?

IH: To be honest, with difficulty. At that time, if I remember correctly, the team manager was Viktor Prokopenko, and the national team consisted mainly of players from FC Chornomorets, most of them were invited from this football club from Odesa. That’s how it started; we went to Kyiv for a training camp, but it didn’t happen because there were no training pitches. At that time we trained at the Bannikov stadium, which is not the same as it used to be; there were only signs of a field, which was in a very neglected state. The training camp was somewhat disrupted, and we also had problems with the weather. We prepared half-heartedly for the game.

NV: How was the atmosphere in the team at your first training camp?

IH: At that time nobody could imagine that this match would mark the beginning of the Ukrainian national team. It was a long way off, because no one could understand that a single unified team was being formed to defend the colors of our country. It was perceived as an ordinary friendly match and nothing more. No one paid much attention to the game.

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NV: Were there any possibilities to play against other teams like Russia instead of Hungary?

IH: I don’t think there was a choice at that time. The Hungarian team was the best option because we didn’t have to travel far. They agreed to play in Uzhhorod, which is about 320-340 kilometers from Budapest, if I remember correctly. It was a walk for them. In my opinion, the Hungarian national team was a great team at the time, many of their players played in Europe, so it was a very good test for us to see what we were capable of. I can repeat that at that time the national team was just being formed and the players who were playing abroad were not invited to the team because of the huge costs involved. What can we talk about when at that time we didn’t even have a proper kit. You know the story: we chose the colors of the Italian team Inter, pasted our emblem over theirs, and went to the game in that kit.

NV: Since the match took place in Uzhhorod, many fans supported Hungary. Was there any noticeable support from the Ukrainian fans?

IH: I grew up in western Ukraine, and Mukachevo, Uzhhorod, Berehove, Vynohradiv - these towns speak Hungarian, more than 60%. For them, the Hungarian national team was like a family. The Ukrainian national team had just been formed, nobody knew the importance of this team. So, to be honest, a lot of fans supported Hungary. But it didn’t matter much, because the Ukrainian national team had just been born, and at that time, we had what we had.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine