Football: Lobanovsky the man to make Dynamo dynamic again

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The Independent Online
The task Newcastle United face today could hardly be more daunting. Not only do they tackle a confident Dynamo Kiev side led by Ukraine's equivalent of Alan Shearer, but, as Olaf Rasmussen reveals, a crowd of 100,000 and the will of a nation desperate to make its mark after centuries in Russia's shadow.

Thirty years ago, Dynamo Kiev made their European Cup debut against Celtic, then managed by the legendary Jock Stein. The almost unknown team from the Soviet Union caused a sensation by knocking out the cup holders, beating them 2-1 in Glasgow and drawing 1-1 in Kiev, capital of Ukraine.

Back in the Sixties, Dynamo were on a high as they became not only the first non-Russian team to win the Soviet League title, but also the league and cup double.Winning three league titles in succession, as they did from 1967-69, had been unthinkable in a league dominated by Russian sides.

The victory over Celtic was a glorious moment for a club who had been made famous by tragedy - the "Match of Death", which took place in German- occupied Kiev in 1942. Dynamo players were challenged to play a German Luftwaffe team, and despite threats and the desire of the German airmen to prove themselves the better side, Dynamo won. All the Ukrainian players were executed. Today, at the side of the cosy, 20,000-capacity Dynamo Kiev stadium in the centre of the city, there is a monument to the players who died.

After the war, Dynamo rose again to win 13 Soviet League titles, and the European Cup-Winners' Cup in 1975 and 1986. They have also twice reached the European Cup semi-finals.

Having dominated Ukrainian football since the first independent championships were held in 1992, they are desperate to return to the heady days of European success.

Although there were some moments to savour, namely the 3-1 defeat of visiting Barcelona in 1993 while down to 10 men, this decade saw Dynamo in disgrace.

Their first game in the 1995 Champions' League against Panathinaikos saw two Dynamo officials attempt to bribe the referee. Uefa banned the duo for life and threw Dynamo out of the competition.

Now, however, things seem to be going Dynamo's way. The architect of their success in the Seventies and Eighties was coach Valeri Lobanovski, who won lasting adulation in his homeland as the Ukrainian who fought the big Russian bear on the football pitch.

The 58-year-old Loban ovski, who nevertheless coached the Soviet Union in 1986 World Cup in Mexico, returned home in January after seven years coaching the UAE and Kuwait national teams.

In a twist on a title bestowed on the former Soviet leader Lenin, he was described as "the coach for all times and all nations" during a packed celebration of the club's achievements in Kiev's Independence Square last weekend.

"We dream of victory in the Champions' League - it's within our power to bring the Cup to Kiev," the Dynamo president, Hryhory Surkis, told an ecstatic crowd of 10,000.

Dynamo have a strong presence in the Ukrainian team, who have made their presence felt in Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifying group. Newcastle could find seven home internationals lining up against them in the renamed Olimpiski stadium, which the club hire for big European matches.

Unusually for an eastern European club, Dynamo have managed to keep their best talent. The 21-year-old striker Andriy Shevchenko - who was likened by Brian Hamilton, the Northern Ireland manager to a young Alan Shearer - turned down a pounds 10.8m bid from Milan. Yuri Maximov and Serhiy Rebrov would also not look out of place at a major European club.

They stay because Surkis looks after his players. "They are not deprived of earning big, big money," he said. They are also passionate about winning with a Ukrainian club and thereby putting their proud and recently independent country of 51 million on the map.

"For me," the striker Rebrov, said, "the challenge is to beat the big Western guns while playing for my Ukrainian club."

Shevchenko agreed. "Dynamo have to bring joy and pride back to Ukrainians," he said.

Newcastle kicked off their Champions' League campaign with a 3-2 home win against Barcelona, while Dynamo overcame PSV Eindhoven 3-1. Tonight there is everything to play for and Kiev will be no place for chickens.