Pablo Zabaleta was three years into his Manchester City career the last time they faced Dynamo Kiev. City lost the first leg of the Europa League last 16 tie 2-0 at the Valeriy Lobanovsky Stadium, the ground Dynamo still use for some domestic fixtures, and could only win 1-0 in the return leg.
That was March 2011, a very different time for Kiev and for Ukrainian football, before their great festival of Euro 2012 and before the war that has since torn the country apart. It was a Dynamo team which had Andrei Shevchenko up front – he scored the opening goal – and which should have done better in that competition, being knocked out by Braga on away goals in the quarter-finals.
The construction of the Olympic Stadium for Euro 2012 has given Dynamo Kiev real prominence and cachet, but events off the field have changed the direction of the club. There was a time when Ukrainian football looked to be the next big force in Europe, given the facilities and resources of some of the big clubs.
But while Dynamo have not been as directly affected by the war as Shakhtar Donetsk, it has still changed what they can hope to do. Although they won their league, with Shakhtar shattered and homeless, Dynamo crucially lost the financial backing of the Nadra Bank, owned by Dmytro Firtash, who was close to the old Yanukovych regime.
Losing that sponsorship, as well as the struggles of the Ukrainian economy, has cost Dynamo all but one of their high-profile players. Younès Belhanda has gone on loan to Schalke, Jeremain Lens has been sold to Sunderland and Niko Kranjcar, who never settled in Ukraine, is heading to Major League Soccer.
What their coach, Sergei Rebrov, has built instead is a hard-working team, dominated by Ukrainian players, and with the crucial star talent of Andrei Yarmolenko on the wings. Despite Premier League interest, Yarmolenko signed a long-term deal last year and he is by far the best player in this team. A clever, elusive winger, the 26-year-old is not quite at the same level as his compatriot Yevhen Konoplyanka, now at Seville, but he will cause Gaël Clichy problems this evening.
Yarmolenko is Kiev’s only star but the rest of the team is solid and disciplined. They held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw here at the Olympic Stadium in October, and boast an impressive midfield engine room in Sergei Rybalka and Denys Garmash. Given how easily City are overrun in the middle of the pitch, Fernando and Fernandinho will have to be very aware of those runs from deep.
It will be a noisy night at the Olympic Stadium after Uefa allowed fans back in for this fixture, having initially banned them for two matches because of racist chanting. Manuel Pellegrini said he was pleased that fans would be allowed back into the game, but only if they have learnt their lesson.
“You know my opinion about that,” the City manager said when asked about the ban. “One of the worst things you can do is play in an empty stadium without fans. In this case, fans of Kiev have a lesson about what happened. I know maybe for the home team, it is not advantage to play without fans. But for football it’s important. I hope in this case it will be a lesson for these fans and tomorrow we have a normal game.”Reuse content