Mircea Lucescu told his FC Shakhtar Donetsk players they were starting from zero in their UEFA Cup semi-final return against FC Dynamo Kyiv even if recent meetings and the 1-1 first-leg draw mark them out as favourites.
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FC Shakhtar Donetsk coach Mircea Lucescu may boast an unbeaten record in competitive meetings with his FC Dynamo Kyiv counterpart Yuri Semin yet he warned that this statistic would count for nothing in their UEFA Cup semi-final second leg on Thursday.
Although Shakhtar have recorded three wins and a draw with Semin's Dynamo side – the only defeat coming on penalties in a friendly tournament in Israel in January 2008 – Lucescu played down the suggestion they might hold a pyschological advantage in addition to the away goal earned in last week's 1-1 draw in Kiev. "I've never thought about this statistic," the Romanian said. "I don't pay much attention to these things. Every game is unique and starts from zero."
Yet it is not the only source of encouragement for the Pitmen, who have won all three of their home games in the UEFA Cup this term, scoring six times and not leaking a single goal at their RSC Olympiyskiy Stadium. The 63-year-old Lucescu said: "We'll try to play our usual football but the result will depend greatly on how my players respond to the instructions I give them. We shouldn't be lulled by the fact we just need to keep another clean sheet to go through. For me, the odds are even still, so we have to play as if it were 0-0 after the first leg."
Lucescu must reorganise his back line due to Olexandr Kucher's suspension, meaning a likely recall for Mykola Ischenko. "Whoever plays tomorrow must show courage and a strong will, and then the success will come," said Lucescu before stressing his satisfaction with the condition of his team as they bid to reach their first European final. Shakhtar defeated FC Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih 1-0 last weekend despite the loss of Jadson to a 44th-minute red card. "I am satisfied with my players, they are in a good condition. We played with ten players for the whole second half of our last league game against Kryvbas and looked very strong physically."
Dynamo were also 1-0 winners away from home in their last outing, beating FC Zorya Luhansk on Sunday. Given their 12-point lead at the Premier League summit, Semin could afford to rest most of his usual starting XI – a luxury Lucescu could not afford with his side embroiled in a battle for second place and UEFA Champions League qualification with FC Metalist Kharkiv. "I had to rotate the squad as my players looked very tired against Shakhtar in Kiev," said the coach, adding that only when the game was under way would it become apparent whether or not Dynamo had gained an advantage.
'We can be winners'
Semin is still without long-term absentees Pape Diakhate, Taras Mikhalik, and Artem Kravets and there is only a small possibility that striker Guilherme will be fit in time. However, Roman Eremenko will return to midfield after missing the first leg and forward Artem Milevskiy should also play despite a minor knocked sustained in the first leg. Semin said: "Milevskiy is well, and he will play for sure. I have to admit that we have been going through a real epidemic of injuries this season although we have always responded superbly and we are going to do the same now." Dynamo are chasing a first European trophy since the 1986 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and their Russian coach added: "We came here to fight, and I believe my players can be winners tomorrow and after that in the UEFA Cup final."