Cyprus Mail
Football Sport

Resourceful Dnipro near end of their marathon journey

A goalless draw, or one-goal win, against Napoli in the second leg of their semi-final in Kiev on Thursday will see the Ukrainians through to the Europa League final in Warsaw after a campaign which started on July 31

By Brian Homewood
Seventeen matches, nearly ten months and eight countries after setting out, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk are tantalising close to reaching their first European final after a campaign which has been resourceful, even if not pretty.

A goalless draw, or one-goal win, against Napoli in the second leg of their semi-final in Kiev on Thursday (10.05pm) will see the Ukrainians through to the Europa League final in Warsaw after a campaign which started against FC Copenhagen on July 31.

Dnipro, who have never won the Ukrainian league but were twice winners of the old Soviet league, have overcome a limited budget and the disadvantage of staging home games in Kiev due to Dnipropetrovsk’s proximity to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Although everyone loves an underdog, Dnipro’s pragmatic style, based on a defence built around Brazilian Douglas and ever-present goalkeeper Denys Boyko, means they are likely to have won grudging respect rather than joyful admiration.

Their performance in last Thursday’s first leg was typical as they set out to frustrate Napoli, clung on grimly in the second half after falling behind and then snatched a late equaliser against the run of play.

According to UEFA statistics, they have committed 226 fouls and suffered 214 in the competition, more than anyone else in both categories, and also top the yellow card charts with 45 received.

They have mustered only 14 goals and have made a habit of muddling through ever since they began by losing 2-0 on aggregate to FC Copenhagen in the third qualifying round of the Champions League.

That defeat allowed them to qualify for the Europa League playoff round where they beat Hajduk Split 2-1 on aggregate.
After that, they snatched a second-placed finish in Group F by beating St Etienne 1-0 at home in their final game to leapfrog both the French side and Qarabag, having managed four goals and conceded five in their six matches.

A sudden goal flurry saw them beat Olympiakos 4-2 on aggregate in the round of 32, before they beat Ajax on away goals and Club Bruges 1-0 on aggregate in the last eight.

This under coach Myron Markevych, who briefly coached Ukraine in 2010 and has earned a reputation for attacking football during a lengthy stint at Metalist Kharkiv.

On the other hand, Napoli, UEFA Cup winners in 1989, are the tournament’s top scorers and will be looking to repeat their impressive quarter-final win at VfL Wolfsburg.

“It will be tough, it will be difficult but we are confident that if we create chances we will score goals,” said coach Rafael Benitez. “We won 4-1 against Wolfsburg away so I think we can do the same.”

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