Football Federation of Ukraine president Grigoriy Surkis believes the sport in his country is "returning to the great years of our past" as two Ukrainian clubs prepare to line up in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals for the first time.
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Football Federation of Ukraine president Grigoriy Surkis believes the game in his country is enjoying a "renaissance" as two Ukrainian clubs line up in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals for the first time.
Not since FC Dynamo Kyiv reached the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 1999 has a Ukrainian club got this far in European competition, and as Dynamo and FC Shakhtar Donetsk prepare to meet French sides Paris Saint-Germain FC and Olympique de Marseille, Surkis is in upbeat mood. "This is a great turn of events," he told uefa.com. "We feel like we are returning to the great years of our past – 1975, when Dynamo won their first European trophy [the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup], then 1986 [when they won it again]. These are renaissance times and I think the Ukrainian clubs today – Dynamo, Shakhtar and the unfortunate Metalist who were knocked out by Dynamo [in the Round of 16] – all deserve high praise."
Dynamo were the first team outside Russia to claim the Soviet title in 1961 and under Valeri Lobanovskiy they also became the first side from the former USSR to triumph on the continental stage. Inspired by the brilliant Oleh Blokhin, they defeated Ferencvárosi TC 3-0 to lift the 1974/75 Cup Winners' Cup in Basel, subsequently beating European champions FC Bayern München over two legs to land the UEFA Super Cup. Eleven years later, with Lobanovskiy still in charge and Blokhin still orchestrating play, they turned on the style to overcome Club Atlético de Madrid 3-0 and collect a second Cup Winners' Cup – their passing game winning admirers across Europe.
'Victory for Ukraine'
In his second stint at the helm, Lobanovskiy took Dynamo to the UEFA Champions League semis in 1999, but since then no Ukrainian team has progressed beyond the group stage of that competition, nor got this far in the UEFA Cup. Had FC Metalist Kharkiv not been drawn against Dynamo in the Round of 16, Ukraine might have had three sides in the last eight. Even so, Surkis thinks that achieving what they did "is still a victory" for Ukrainian football in general, and for Metalist in particular.
"They earned respect throughout Europe and deserve the highest praise," Surkis added. "Having three clubs in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup is an achievement Ukrainian clubs have not been able to enjoy for many years, and now – like I mentioned – we are living in a renaissance period. Nobody believed in the chances of the Ukrainian teams before the start of this competition. By having two sides in the last eight, and three in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup, I think we have warranted respect from even the biggest clubs in Europe."
Matching the feats of Lobanovskiy's great sides will not be easy with Hamburger SV facing Manchester City FC and Werder Bremen taking on Udinese Calcio in the other quarter-finals. Shakhtar and Dynamo have been drawn to meet in the last four should they both prevail, an outcome that would guarantee a Ukrainian finalist in Istanbul on 20 May. It is 23 years since the nation was last represented at a major club showpiece and being so again could prove an important boost for football in the country. "At this stage there are no weak sides and no clear favourites," Surkis said. "Everyone has an equal chance and only in the very end, in the final, will we find out who is the best of the best."
To watch parts of this interview in the latest edition of the uefa.com Magazine, click here.