FC Metalist Kharkiv may be about to make their UEFA Champions League debut, but with a 100% domestic record so far this season they are in fine shape to make an immediate impression.
Metalist are joint leaders of the Ukrainian Premier League three games into the new campaign and will look to continue their impressive form when they take on PAOK FC on Tuesday. The first leg of their third qualifying round tie, taking place in Salonika, will represent fitting reward for Metalist after they finally managed to achieve a second-place finish last term.
I know that the whole city is waiting for these Champions League matches," said coach Myron Markevich, who arrived in Kharkiv in 2005. "They want to see these matches from the stands, while we want to give them this pleasure.
"We have been trying to achieve this goal for a long time and now that we are very close, we have to put in our best performance and qualify for the group stage. PAOK are very serious opponents. They are already in good shape; they won 6-0 in a recent friendly against OGC Nice, who finished fourth [in France] last season. Of course, we are also top of our league and will do everything to prove our quality."
Metalist's three league victories have not been entirely plain sailing, with all five of their goals coming after half-time. "I have to admit that it has not been easy for us to score goals, but this will not continue for long," added Markevich. "We can play better and, for the moment at least, the result is the most important thing for us – it will be the same in Greece."
Markevich rarely cuts an entirely satisfied figure, but even the 62-year-old must be pleased with the form of Marko Dević, who scored several important goals in the spring to help Metalist finish runners-up to FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Moreover, he has registered three of his team's league strikes this term.
Not everything is rosy for Markevich, however, with Cleiton Xavier out for "at least one more month" because of a muscle problem. Goalkeeper Olexandr Goryainov is also absent for another "three to four weeks" due to an injury sustained during Friday's 2-0 win against FC Illychivets Mariupil.
Goryainov's fellow custodian, Bohdan Shust, is unavailable until the middle of the autumn, meaning Vladimir Dišljenković is likely to be between the posts in Greece. Metalist, though, remain full of confidence that this could be their year.