Ukrainian sides start their UEFA ‘proper’ campaigns this week, with Shakhtar Donetsk representing in the Champions League and Dynamo Kyiv, Metalist Kharkiv and FC Dnipro in the Europa League.
Shakhtar are once again Ukraine’s sole representatives in the Champions League as silver medalists FC Dnipro were knocked out in the qualifying rounds by FC Copenhagen.
The Miners had a disappointing Champions League campaign last time out as they failed to recover from the departures of key players Fernandinho, Willian and Henrik Mkhityrian. In all likelihood, the upcoming campaign may be even more difficult for Lucescu’s side as they were unable to significantly strengthen the side during the close season. Olexandr Gladkyi has been in fine form however and who would put it passed him to bring back his glory days as when he lead Shakhtar to their famous victory at the Nou Camp in 2008.
The Russian intervention in the Donbas region has also forced Shakhtar out of their home stadium the Donbas Arena and so will play tier home fixtures at Arena Lviv. This hasn’t hampered them so far in the current UPL campaign with a 100% record. However it will be interesting to see if they can replicate their strong home record they had at the Donbas Arena.
Shakhtars opponents include Athletic Bilbao (with whom they open their campaign) as well as former Champions League winners FC Porto and the less fancied BATE Borisov. It promises to be a difficult campaign for Shakhtar, qualification from the group will be the aim and it will be an excellent achievement if attained. Porto are favourites for the group and Athletic will be Shakhtar’s main opponents to get 2nd place. If Shakhtar can discover their form at home they have every chance of qualifying.
Prediction – 2nd
Dnipro dropped into the Europa League after failing in the Champions League Qualifiers after losing to FC Copenhagen. It proved another bitter blow for new coach Myron Markevych who was denied Champions League action last term with Metalist Kharkiv as they were excluded from the competition for match fixing. Dnipro then overcame Hajduk Split and Artem Milevskyi in the play-off round to reach the group stages.
Dnipro have had a solid start to the UPL campaign and will be hoping that they can replicate this in the Europa League. Inter Milan will provide the toughest opposition in the group stage in what still remains a glamour tie despite Inter not reaching the high levels of the Mourinho era. St-Etienne and Azeri side Qarabag make up the rest of the group.
Dnipro’s home games will be played at the NSC Olympiyskyi in Kyiv due to security concerns in the South and East of the country, but should they prove resolute at home, Dnipro have the quality to get through this section.
Prediction – 2nd
Metalist have been significantly affected by recent events in Ukraine. A change of ownership before the revolution and revelations of the clubs owner, Serhiy Kurchenko, being linked to the corruption of the Yanukovych regime have severely weakened Metalist including losing manager Markevych. They will also be playing their home ties in Lviv as a result of the Russian invasion.
Metalist struggled passed Ruch in the qualifying campaign and the group stages may well prove even more of a challenge. Metalist face Trabzonspor, Legia and Lokeren in the group and will do well to qualify. It is not the Metalist side of the last few years (under Markevych) and qualification from the group must be praised as a serious achievement. Legia should be in the Champions League and will be fancied to get through the group while Trabzonspor will also provide a serious test for Ihor Rakhayev’s side.
Prediction – 3rd
Rebrov has promoted and put trust in several young Ukrainians as attracting foreign talent has been limited due to the crises. Dynamo have made a reasonable start to the season although it once again appears they will be fighting for second place rather than for the title.
Dynamo’s European experience should serve them well however and due to their seeding they have been dealt a winnable group. It is not I say there are no challenges but Dynamo should qualify from the group with relative ease. Rio Ave are Dynamo’s first opponents and the Portugese side are in their first ever European campaign while Aalborg and Steaua Bucaresti will provide Dynamo with more experienced challenges.
Prediction – 1st
Chornomorets Odesa and Zorya Luhansk have already bowed out of the competition at the qualifying stages. Chornomorets were comfortably beaten by Hajduk Split in the third qualifying round while Zorya overcame Zac and Molde in the early qualifying rounds only to agonisingly lose out to Feyenord in the play-offs after coming from 3:0 down to level and lead on away goals, only to lose it all in the last minute.
Article by Peter Chymera, Vice-President of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and co-founder of the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame. Follow Peter on twitter – @PMChymera89