Captain Dmitri Khokhlov is proud FC Dinamo Moskva "didn't collapse like a house of cards" following the departure of his predecessor Igor Semshov as they look to oust Celtic FC from the UEFA Champions League.
The Russian side have shown some excellent form this season despite losing star midfielder Danny and then captain Semshov to FC Zenit St. Petersburg. They are fifth in the Premier-Liga after 16 games and are unbeaten in four matches including last week's 1-0 win in Glasgow that saw Dinamo deal new Celtic manager Tony Mowbray an improbably tough hand ahead of Wednesday's second leg. "It was disappointing to lose those top players," said 33-year-old midfielder Khokhlov. "The departure of Semshov was a real blow for the team. We have started to play a different kind of game, but we didn't collapse like a house of cards."
That came as a relief for Dinamo fans, who have had their share of disappointments since the days of the Soviet Union. Having played under the aegis of the interior ministry, Dinamo's close association with the police earned them an unflattering nickname among Russian fans. It also helped them become the first Soviet club to tour the west in 1945, when they drew 3-3 at Chelsea FC, beat Cardiff City AFC 10-1, beat an Arsenal FC side 4-3 before drawing 2-2 against Celtic's local rivals Rangers FC, who later beat them 3-2 in the 1971/72 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final.
Only FC Dynamo Kyiv and FC Spartak Moskva could beat their eleven Soviet-era titles, but while the club have never been relegated from the top division, Dinamo's fortunes took a turn for the worse after independence. They have yet to win a Russian title, and since 1997, their history has been punctuated by frequent changes of coach and occasional high profile but ill-fated signings, such as Portuguese stars Costinha and Maniche.
The arrival of former Dinamo star Andrei Kobelev as coach in 2007 brought an upturn in fortunes, and they finished third last season – their best result since 1997. "It is difficult to give just one reason of our success," said Khokhlov, whose side are just four points adrift of Premier-Liga leaders FC Rubin Kazan. "The club works well; we have good choice of players, a clever coach who knows how to change tactics during a match and he is also able to explain everything to us."
The form of Aleksandr Kerzhakov has also been a big bonus this season. The former Sevilla FC and Zenit striker scored just seven times last season, but has already hit nine in 14 league games in 2009 and is back in the Russia team, scoring twice on his comeback game against Finland in June. "Sometimes you just can't score, but this year he is very dangerous," Khokhlov said. "Hopefully, he will continue to be."
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