Second in Ukraine and with two wins from two in Group F, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk are riding the crest of a wave – and as SSC Napoli come calling they aim to keep going.
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These are high times for FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. Under Juande Ramos they have successfully weaved youthful promise with imported exuberance to make great strides at home and abroad. The fans cannot get enough – Thursday's UEFA Europa League meeting with SSC Napoli has long been a sell-out.
Dnipro go into the game leading the way in Group F after two wins from two and they have the majority of the Ukrainian Premier League in their rearview mirror too, with only high-flying FC Shakhtar Donetsk streaking into the distance. Their rise has surprised many, but there is no hint of vertigo – the Dnipryani (Dnepr-siders) hope they are here to stay.
Dnipro are no strangers to success, winning the Soviet Top League twice during the 1980s when the likes of Oleh Protasov, Hennadiy Lytovchenko and Oleh Taran all had long spells at the club. They also lifted the 1989 USSR Cup yet tailed off after the break-up of the Soviet Union and a solitary runners-up spot in the league two decades ago remains the closest they have come to breaking the Shakhtar/FC Dynamo Kyiv duopoly.
Former Sevilla FC boss Ramos's arrival in October 2010 has heralded a new dawn and, after two fourth-place finishes, they are threatening to advance further this term. That is despite the distraction of reaching the group stage of a UEFA competition for the first time since 2005/06 – not that Ramos sees it that way. "The Napoli match is really important for Dnipro in many ways," the coach said. "Napoli are one of the strongest clubs in Italy and we can measure ourselves against them."
They have measured up well so far this season, though they suffered a rare setback on Saturday with a 3-2 Premier-Liha loss at FC Zorya Luhansk. "We made a mistake, making our substitutions far too early," admitted Ramos, who will hope Yevhen Konoplyanka passes a late fitness test to face Napoli. "We corrected it, but by then it was too late. There are no excuses: I'm responsible."
Their Italian opponents also go into the match on the back of a defeat, succumbing 2-0 at Juventus, and their 3-0 reverse away to PSV Eindhoven last time out in this competition means they arrive in Ukraine needing a result. Boss Walter Mazzarri, shorn of Hugo Campagnaro, Christian Maggio and the suspended Marek Hamšík, gave his players time off after the weekend and says they have returned "eager to better our position in the Europa League".
Dnipro, orchestrated by Brazilian international Giuliano and academy products Ruslan Rotan and Konoplyanka, will not make it easy.