Viktor Ponedelnik was uncapped until a couple of weeks before the 1960 UEFA European Championship. A fine hat-trick in a pre-finals friendly against Poland sealed a place in the starting XI for the four-team tournament in France, and he was on target again in the 3-0 semi-final win against Czechoslovakia. But it is his fifth international goal that he is best remembered for.
Seven minutes from the end of extra time against Yugoslavia in the Parc des Princes decider, and with the score locked at 1-1, the 23-year-old's header sealed the title. "The final kicked off at 22.00 Moscow time on Sunday, and by the end of extra time it was gone midnight – basically Monday," recalled Ponedelnik. "My surname was a dream for headline writers!"
Drunk clerks and wartime
His surname actually dates back to the 19th century when Emperor Alexander II abolished serfdom in Russia. The names of former serfs were recorded in a ledger but a drunk clerk reputedly mixed up the columns at some point and wrote the day of the week instead of the family name. The Ponedelnik (literally 'Monday') dynasty began.
Viktor Ponedelnik's forefathers settled in Rostov-on-Don, where Viktor was born in 1937. He was four when the town was first invaded during the Second World War. "They were firing all over the place; a lot of people died," he said. "We managed to catch the last train out but had no time to take personal belongings."
Ponedelnik spent the remainder of the war in Tbilisi before returning home. There, he made a prodigious, unprecedented rise after starting his professional career aged 19 at FC Rostselmash, a works team for a combine harvester factory. The club played in the expansive fourth tier of the Soviet league system, but his striking talent nonetheless came to the attention of national selectors.
Shortly before his 21st birthday, in 1958, Ponedelnik became the first lower-league player to be called up by the Soviet Union; he was soon in the top flight too, moving across town to join SKA, the army team. He helped them to finish fourth in his first campaign and was impressing again in the second when he departed for the inaugural UEFA European Championship.
Real Madrid opportunity
The EURO triumph in France brought its reward, with each victorious Soviet Union player in 1960 receiving 200 US dollars. They all ended up at the Eiffel Tower for a reception also attended by Real Madrid president Santiago Bernabéu. "He was ready to buy half of our squad, with no hesitation – [Lev] Yashin, [Valentin] Ivanov, [Igor] Netto, [Slava] Metreveli, myself," Ponedelnik remembered. "We avoided the conversation ..."
Ponedelnik was one of just three survivors – with Netto and Yashin – still in the side four years later as the Soviet Union lost the 1964 final to Spain. Within two years he had retired, though, after failing to recover from an appendix operation – he was 29. He never won a trophy at club level yet 29 goals in 20 internationals secured his legend.
He eventually followed his father's footsteps and became a respected journalist and author. Ponedelnik is 78 now and long retired, though he remains a regular at the Rostov Stadium in Rostov-on-Don, and will soon have a permanent place there with a statue commissioned. The image of him scoring in 1960 is forever etched in Russian minds.
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.