Dnipro diminished but not finished

FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk head to AFC Ajax without five players, and their coach, but UEFA.com's Igor Linnyk knows they will be up for a battle regardless.

Yevhen Seleznyov (left) goes shoulder to shoulder with Ajax's Nick Viergever
Yevhen Seleznyov (left) goes shoulder to shoulder with Ajax's Nick Viergever ©AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps the least celebrated side in the UEFA Europa League round of 16, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk head to Amsterdam for the conclusion of their tie against AFC Ajax a goal to the good but several men down.

Coach Myron Markevych has also not flown to Amsterdam because of illness, Ondřej Mazuch and Matheus are injured, while first-leg goalscorer Roman Zozulya, captain Ruslan Rotan and right-back Artem Fedetskiy are all suspended.

Statistics suggest that such a situation is an occupational hazard for the Ukrainian club. Dnipro have committed more fouls (158) and received more bookings (34) than any other team in this season's UEFA Europa League – a measure of the commitment they show. That combative spirit seems to be infectious. Dnipro are also the most fouled side in the competition this term (152 incursions against), with winger Yevhen Konoplyanka having the unusual honour of being the most fouled player, the referee having come to his aid on 33 occasions.

For Markevych, an established figure in the UEFA Europa League due to his sterling work with FC Metalist Kharkiv in past seasons, the yellow cards and fouls are par for the course. "You cannot do much about it," he said. "That's football and there is always the chance that you will receive a booking when you are fighting for the ball. It's only a shame when you get one for talking back to the referee. That's unprofessional."

Dnipro, however, are used to chopping and changing. In their six competitive games in 2015, they have yet to field the same starting lineup twice, most notably making nine changes for last Sunday's 1-0 league win against FC Metalurh Zaporizhya. However, they have remained consistent during that run, registering five clean sheets – the only exception being a 2-2 UEFA Europa League round of 32 draw at Olympiacos FC, which followed up a 2-0 win in the home leg.

Konoplyanka is well aware, however, that so many enforced absences could cause his side problems at the Amsterdam ArenA. "[Five missing players] is a hard blow for our team," said the 25-year-old, who feels his side will miss Rotan most of all. Konoplyanka knows there is resilience in the squad, noting that he himself had been out of action with a knee injury in the days leading up to the 1-0 first-leg win against Ajax. "I was 70% fit for the first match, but I hope I'll be on my best form in Amsterdam."

He should also have an enthusiastic supporting cast. The 19-year-old Valeriy Luchkevych, who scored the winner against Zaporizhya, should deputise for Fedetskiy, while Roman Bezus or Yevgen Seleznov might take Rotan's place, with both having some experience of playing in central midfield. Whoever plays will be skilful, hungry and up for a tussle. Clinging on to that 1-0 advantage might be their most sensible route into the last eight, but do not be surprised if they go for the jugular. There are few things quite so dangerous as a wounded predator.

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