Voronin faces old favourites

Andriy Voronin can put Bayer 04 Leverkusen into the last 16 at his boyhood team's expense.

By Mark Bennett

When 1. FC Köln held on for a goalless draw against Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the Bundesliga on 7 December 2003, most of the action was forgettable. However, one Köln player left a mark on Leverkusen. After the match former Leverkusen legend Ulf Kirsten said: "Andriy Voronin is a fantastic player - no, he is brilliant."

Free transfer
The UEFA Champions League contenders leaped at the chance to sign the Ukrainian international when he became available on a free transfer in the summer after Köln's relegation. However, the 25-year-old started well below Dimitar Berbatov and França in the striking food chain at the BayArena.

Calm start
Andriy Shevchenko's Ukrainian national team strike partner was not surprised by the situation. "When I joined in the summer I knew that I would have to fight for a place in the starting lineup, because both Dimitar and França were outstanding last season," he said.

Opportunity knocks
To his credit, Voronin refused to give up, especially after Klaus Augenthaler told him to keep up the good work. "The coach said he would give me a chance and that all I had to do was give it my best shot when I got the chance to play," explained Voronin.

Splendid hat-trick
After ten games of the Bundesliga season, the Ukrainian's luck changed. França had to sit out the match against DSC Arminia Bielefeld with an ankle injury and Voronin took the BayArena by storm. He scored all three goals in a 3-2 win and since then has kept França out of the team.

Leading scorer
Voronin has scored eight goals this season in just 14 appearances, making him the club's top scorer. Even Bulgarian international Berbatov has not been able to match his new partner's performance having found the target seven times.

Special match
However, the ultimate test of his striking prowess may come on Matchday 6 as his Leverkusen side face FC Dynamo Kyiv - the team that he has supported since he was a boy. Victory would guarantee Leverkusen a place in the last 16 but could also send Dynamo crashing out of the competition and into the UEFA Cup.

Big occasion
"I may support Dynamo, but I am a professional and I am under contract at Leverkusen," he said. "I would love to get the winning goal to put us through to the next round. Maybe Real [Madrid CF] won't be able to win in Rome, which would mean both Dynamo and us progress."

Madrid position
If Madrid fail to win then a draw alone will send Leverkusen - level on eight points with the Spanish side - through to the last 16 alongside Dynamo. But while that would be an ideal scenario for Voronin, he wants the three points.

Dynamo contribution
Leverkusen may have lost their game at the Valery Lobanovskiy stadium on Matchday 2, but it was not for want of effort on Voronin's part. He levelled the scores at 1-1 in the 59th minute and set up Jens Nowotny for the goal that briefly gave the German side the lead. A similar display at the BayArena tonight would help confirm the free transfer as arguably the best signing of the summer in Germany.