With "a chapter in the history of Ukrainian football being written before our eyes", FC Shakhtar Donetsk's ever-dependable captain Darijo Srna, 26, has warned his team-mates that now is not the time to lose their footing.
Article top media content
With "a new chapter in the history of Ukrainian football being written before our eyes", FC Shakhtar Donetsk's ever-dependable captain Darijo Srna has warned his team-mates that now is not the time to lose their footing.
Tension and commitment
Before this season no Ukrainian team had ventured as far as the UEFA Cup quarter-finals but, in its final edition before making way for the UEFA Europe League, they seem intent on making up for lost time. While FC Dynamo Kyiv saw to FC Metalist Kharkiv in the last 16, the Bilo-Syni and Shakhtar have marched on, and as they prepare to meet in the semi-finals, the former Soviet state is guaranteed representation at May's Istanbul showpiece. "These Ukrainian derbies are always special but this time it's even more so as it's the UEFA Cup semi-finals," said Srna. "The tension and commitment will be even bigger than the national championship."
Only last summer, with reported interest from Liverpool FC, Srna underlined his own commitment to the cause in Ukraine, adding that he wanted "to win something great with Shakhtar". He may not have to wait long, though Dynamo provide formidable opposition. Almost home and dry in their attempt to regain a Premier League trophy which has resided in Donetsk for three of the past four years, the Kiev team have been irresistible at times this term, with an obvious strength: they have scored 61 league goals; Shakhtar are joint-second with 38. "My main wish for the game [in Kiev] is for Shakhtar to score and not concede. We must not concede," Srna stressed. "We really like attacking but we're also strong at the back, and don't concede much – we must ensure Dynamo's strikers don't get a sniff."
Even by the high standards Srna has set since arriving in Ukraine from HNK Hajduk Split as a marauding wing-back in 2003, this season has been one to remember. The 26-year-old, whose surname means 'deer' in his native Croatia, has been one of the main beneficiaries of coach Mircea Lucescu's decision to reduce squad rotation, finding a level of consistency that makes any retraction of the ploy almost impossible. "Once I was deliberating whether to include him and Srna told me, in no uncertain terms, he wanted to play," admitted Lucescu. "His presence on the pitch unites the team. He's a real captain." Indeed, like a real captain he did not abandon his ship last summer; he may soon have his reward.