Ukraine, denied a place at the World Cup finals due to a play-off defeat by the eventual semi-finalists Croatia, will carry the hopes of 82,000 passionate fans at Kiev's Olympic stadium, hoping to see their young nation step out of the footballing shadows of their "big brother" neighbours.
But Russia, led by their Kiev-born coach Anatoly Byshovets, are under probably the greater pressure to wipe away the disappointment of failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 20 years and stop a rot in the domestic game that the economic and political crisis risks only exacerbating.
Both countries, created out of the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, face an uphill battle to secure the lone automatic qualifying place ahead of France, and Byshovets has been trying to guard against the emotions attached to what the Ukrainian press has dubbed "The Game of the Century".
He has dropped Alexei Gerasimenko to spare the midfielder the trauma of playing against up to 10 Dynamo Kiev team-mates, and has recalled the veterans Sergei Kiryakov, Igor Dobrovolsky and Dimitri Kharine, the Chelsea goalkeeper. None has played since Euro 96.
Byshovets has stressed experience and cool heads will be vital to fend off a lively Ukrainian outfit spearheaded by the goalscorer Andrei Shevch- enko. "The game could be decided in the first 20 minutes, with the Ukrainians going all out in front of their screaming fans," Byshovets said. "I know from my own playing days it can be very intimidating for any newcomer. I'll rely on experience."
Byshovets, who coached the Soviet side from 1990-92, won four Soviet League titles with Dynamo Kiev in the 1960s.Reuse content