A quietly confident Yuri Semin admitted "there is huge expectation around the country" as his FC Dynamo Kyiv charges prepare to play host to FC Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their all-Ukrainian UEFA Cup semi-final.
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Yuri Semin was quietly confident as he looked ahead to FC Dynamo Kyiv's UEFA Cup semi-final meeting with domestic rivals FC Shakhtar Donetsk as expectations mount in Ukraine – but it will not stop him making his usual pre-match pilgrimage to request a little extra help.
Such is the heightened interest in this match that thousands turned up when tickets were made available a fortnight ago, the game selling out within two hours. There is a buzz about Ukrainian football not witnessed, according to local commentators, since Valeriy Lobanovskiy guided a Dynamo team spearheaded by Andriy Shevchenko to the 1999 UEFA Champions League semi-finals. "There is huge expectation around the country," said Semin ahead of what will be the Bilo-Syni's sixth last-four tie in European competition, Shakhtar's first. "It's creating a big clamour. We're at a serious level now."
The smart money is on Dynamo. Sunday's 1-0 victory against FC Kharkiv extended their winning run at home in domestic competition to 12 games, and left them 12 points clear of second-placed Shakhtar at the Premier League summit with just five fixtures to go. Roman Eremenko missed the Kharkiv match, and while Semin said he will be available to face Shakhtar, Guilherme's hopes of a timely UEFA Cup debut have been ruined by a thigh injury. The tactician was less eager to discuss what he does have to hand, however. "I'm not going to talk about our strong points; I want them to be a surprise. That said, both teams know each other so well," said the 61-year-old Russian. "I expect a tough, proper game and we must remain cool, clear our heads."
To gain lucidity himself, Semin will make his usual trip to the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery to pray, even if history suggests his side will not need too much outside assistance. They have traditionally enjoyed the upper hand against Shakhtar, especially at home, though they do not need reminding that one of their three league defeats this season came away to the Pitmen in November. Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu believes that meeting, not the sizeable gulf in points accrued, paints a more accurate picture of the levels the teams are at. "Dynamo's advantage is misleading," he said. "This tie will show the real difference.
"The match will be extraordinary for Ukraine and the whole of Europe will be watching so it's vital for both clubs. We will try to demonstrate the kind of football the UEFA Cup semi-finals deserve," continued the Romanian who, while free of injury concerns, admits he will have to "bear in mind" the five players a yellow card away from a ban. The Ukrainian titleholders claimed a fifth successive victory in all competitions against FC Chornomorets Odesa at the weekend, and with his son, Răzvan, appointed Romania coach on Wednesday, Lucescu has much to celebrate. He hopes for more after next week's second leg, the second of four meetings with Dynamo inside a month, but also has nobler ambitions: "I hope we produce a tie that would befit the Champions League. By the end of it I'd like to see both sets of players shake hands and be happy for each other."