For Darijo Srna there is a sense FC Shakhtar Donetsk have been building towards this moment for a long, long time as he geared up for the "most important game of my life" against Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup final.
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For right-back Darijo Srna there is a sense that FC Shakhtar Donetsk have been building towards this moment for a long time.
Along with Răzvan Raţ, Igor Duljaj, Tomáš Hübschman and Mariusz Lewandowski, the 27-year-old Croatian international is one of five remaining players who were first-team regulars with the club when coach Mircea Lucescu arrived in 2004. Since then Shakhtar have made strides in their domestic rivalry with FC Dynamo Kyiv, winning three titles to the capital club's two, but Dynamo have always boasted the greater European pedigree. That could soon change as Shakhtar take on Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup final in Istanbul, their first European showpiece.
'Most important game'
Srna was happy to joke with the Turkish press, who reminded him of their country's last-gasp victory over Croatia in the UEFA EURO 2008™ quarter-finals, but there was no doubting his seriousness as he reflected on the biggest club match of his career. "We have been preparing for a long time and we will try and win it and bring the trophy back to Dontesk," Srna said. "It's the most important game of my life because it is the UEFA Cup final. It's my first final. I'm young, the team is young and I think we deserved to reach this final. It's 50-50. We're playing against a good team, a team with experience who play in a better championship than Ukraine."
Polish international Lewandawski signed for Shakhtar in 2001 and has been with them throughout their rise to the top. Lewandawski, who turned 30 on Monday, was part of the side that first dethroned Dynamo as Ukrainian champions in 2002 and like Srna concedes that after eight years with Shakhtar, there has never been a game like it. "This is perhaps the most prestigious one," he told uefa.com. "Everyone dreams about playing in the final. We don't want to look at it like we have to surpass ourselves. We need to play the way we always do – show the strength Shakhtar has and play our usual game."
For defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy, what Shakhtar have already achieved just getting this far has not quite sunk in. "Our fixture schedule has been so busy lately that it's hard for us to fully understand what we have done to get here," he said. He is fully aware, however, of Bremen's strengths. "Werder have been there or thereabouts for years," he told uefa.com. "They have been consistently strong and played quite spectacular football over the last few years. The team has preserved its image – they've always tried to play attacking football, sometimes perhaps at the expense of their defence.
"In the past they concentrated mainly on their domestic league, but this year they have fallen behind a little and redirected all their efforts towards winning the UEFA Cup. Now they are in the final, one step away." Just like Shakhtar. Sitting alongside Srna at Tuesday's press conference midfielder Fernandinho said simply: "To take part in the last UEFA Cup final and specifically the fact I'm playing for my beloved Shakhtar is really something incredible."