The Death Match was a non-official association football match in 1942 between Soviet POWs — former professional footballers (mostly from Dynamo Kyiv) — and soldiers of the Nazi Germany Wehrmacht. The Soviet players defeated the Germans, despite knowing what the consequences of defying them would have been. Many of the Soviet players were later arrested and sent to a labour camp where some of them died.
The German Luftwaffe team Flakelf asked for a re-match, which was planned on 9 August at Zenit stadium. An SS officer was appointed as referee, and FC Start were aware that he would be biased against them. Some anonymous sources warned FC Start of possible punishment if they did not lose the game to the Germans. Despite this, the team decided to play as always. They also refused to give a Nazi salute to their opponents before the match.
As anticipated by FC Start, the Nazi referee ignored Flakelf fouls. The German team quickly pressured the goalkeeper, Trusevych who, after a repeated physical challenges, was kicked in the head by a Flakelf forward and left groggy. While Trusevych was recovering, Flakelf went one goal up.
The referee continued to ignore FC Start appeals against their opponents' violence. The Flakelf team reputedly continued to attempt to intimidate FC Start, allegedly going for the man not the ball, shirt-holding, and tackling from behind, as well as going over the ball. Despite this FC Start scored with a long shot from a free kick by Kuzmenko. FC Start's Goncharenko, against the run of play, is said to have dribbled the ball around almost the entire Flakelf defense finishing by placing the ball into in the German net to make the score 2-1. At half-time, FC Start were yet another goal up.
The second half was almost an anti-climax. Each side scored twice. Towards the end of the match, with FC Start in an almost unbeatable position at 5-3, Klimenko, a defender, got the ball, beat the entire German rearguard and walked around the German goalkeeper. Then, instead of letting it cross the goal line, he turned around and kicked the ball back towards the centre circle. The SS referee blew the final whistle before the ninety minutes were up.
A week later on 16 August, Start defeated Rukh again, this time 8-0. Soon after that, a number of the FC Start players were arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, allegedly for being NKVD members (as Dynamo was a police-funded club). One of the arrested players Mykola Korotkykh died under torture. The rest were sent to the Syrets labour camp, where Ivan Kuzmenko, Oleksey Klimenko, and the goalkeeper Mykola Trusevich were later killed in February 1943. The few survivors included Fedir Tyutchev, Mikhail Sviridovskiy and Makar Goncharenko who are responsible for the popularisation of this story in Soviet popular culture.
In the movies:
The story also inspired two non-Soviet films: 1961 Hungarian film drama Két félidő a pokolban and 1981 American film Escape to Victory.