Rio Ave going with the flow

Boasting the fabulously-named Ukra, Rio Ave FC take on FC Dynamo Kyiv in their first group stage game, with the Portuguese side learning to walk tall on the European stage.

Rio Ave have made it to the group stage in their first European season
Rio Ave have made it to the group stage in their first European season ©AFP

Rio Ave FC take on FC Dynamo Kyiv on matchday one of the UEFA Europa League with their winger – André Filipe Alves Monteiro – getting a chance to meet his supposed countryman.

A somewhat unusual schoolboy nickname has followed the 26-year-old throughout his playing career: Ukra. "When I was a little boy my hair was very blond and my friends used to say that I looked like a Ukrainian, so they started calling me that – Ukrainian. But because the name was too long they shortened it to Ukra. And it stuck."

The Vila do Conde side cannot expect any inside information on Ukrainian football from Ukra, but – in the fifth game of what is their first European season – the club named after their local river will be grateful for his experience, as one of only a handful of Rio Ave players with any kind of continental pedigree. Ukra made a handful of appearances for FC Porto in the group stage during their victorious 2010/11 UEFA Europa League campaign.

Ukra - no longer a blond
Ukra - no longer a blond©AFP

In the last few months, Rio Ave have lost to SL Benfica in three domestic finals – 1-0 in the Portuguese Cup, 2-0 in the League Cup and 3-2 on penalties in this season's Portuguese Super Cup after a 0-0 draw – but unexpectedly top the table after four games of the season, level on ten points with Vitória SC, Porto and Benfica. All of a sudden, facing big opponents like two-time UEFA Cup Winners' Cup holders Dynamo does not seem so intimidating.

Club director Miguel Ribeiro said: "Our group has teams with Champions League experience, but since we've got this far, we want to keep on going. We were confident that we would get to this phase of the competition. Rio Ave are making their first steps in this European adventure, but we hope that it's something we will be doing more in the future. We have done well so far and, since we're here, we want to achieve more."

Europe has certainly captured the imaginations of the club's supporters, who flocked to welcome the team at the airport after the first leg of their play-off tie against IF Elfsborg, even though Pedro Martins' side had lost 2-1 in Sweden. "We are a special family," said president António da Silva Campos. "That reception – late in the evening at the airport, after the result in Boras – is a true measure of how good our fans are and how lucky the club is to have them."