While a UEFA Cup final place means the stakes are high as FC Dynamo Kyiv meet FC Shakhtar Donetsk in the last four, Goran Sabljić insisted his team need to approach it as they would any other match against their rivals.
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While a place in the UEFA Cup final means the stakes are high in his side's last-four tie with FC Shakhtar Donetsk, Goran Sabljić insisted FC Dynamo Kyiv need to approach it as they will the league and Ukrainian Cup games that swiftly follow.
Dynamo and Shakhtar hold something of a duopoly in Ukraine. Although SC Tavriya Simferopol claimed the inaugural league title in 1992, the trophy has been under lock and key in either Kiev or Donetsk ever since. The pair have formed the top two – as they do with five games remaining this term – for the last 12 years yet Sablić dismissed the notion that a European meeting with provide a different proposition. "Shakhtar are still Shakhtar, regardless of where we play them," said the central defender. "It does not matter if it is the league, the [Ukrainian] Cup or UEFA Cup they are the same team."
Not that the two sides' familiarity detracts from the European tie, with little to split the teams, and while the capital club have the edge in terms of head-to-head encounters and silverware, the Pitmen have held sway over the past few seasons. Indeed, the arguments among fans flow one way and then the other. Dynamo are 12 points clear in the league this term but they lost away to Shakhtar in November and they will want no reminding of the so-called 'Golden Match' between the pair at the end of the 2005/06 campaign after the sides finished level at the summit, an extra-time Julius Aghahowa goal sealing a 2-1 victory – and the title – for Shakhtar.
"We are determined to play at our best, to prove our worth," said the 29-year-old Sabljić, who is making up for lost time at Dynamo having spent last term on loan at HNK Hajduk Split, his side still in the running for three trophies. Dynamo need four points from the last five league games to secure the championship, with their last match against Shakhtar, their Ukrainian Cup semi-final opponents. "This is the UEFA Cup semi-finals; it's very important and the rewards are high. Crucially, we are playing at home first up and it will be important that we win on the night, but if not, we must not concede."