FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk: A Bliss Amidst War
“ We don’t have good hospitals, we don’t have good schools, we don’t have a good government but we have Dnipro “
Hans vassilovski, the middle-aged passionate Dnipro fan sobbed down with watery eyes. The country was almost devastated by violent civil war, Russian aggression, one of the most largest economy almost buried under the shield of acute depression, International medias all around the globe made a daily agenda on their crisis.
The entire country was about to be drowned into the cocoon of darkness & pessimism. Just then FC Dnipro’s success emerged as the phoenix from the heap of ashes & worked as the salvation of hopeless citizens. Their incredible success stories brought the wave of optimism among those war infested worn out peoples. It provided them an escape route from all those miserable ordeals,The only ray of light amidst of darkness, The joy among all sorrows.
FK Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, The club from Ukraine had hardly achieved anything significant beyond their domestic level. At the National level, their last successful campaign was almost 15 years ago when they clinched the title of former Soviet Premier league.
They hold the historical importance of being the first professional football club of old Soviet Union(1989). But all this changed on 28th may, 2015 when they played the biggest game in their club’s history- The UEFA Europa League Final, against Spanish side Sevilla.
For being the runner-up of Ukrainian Premier League, Dnipro sailed into 2014-15 UEFA Champions League 3rd qualifying round. But, unfortunately they failed to make it beyond that stage due to the political doldrums. 2014’s Pro-Russian conflict in Ukraine interrupted their pre-season & the qualifying matches were set too early for them in that season. They drew against FC Copenhagen at home but the match set headlines for some furious reasons.
Visiting Danish supporter were brutally attacked by Dnipro Ultras after being intensely provoked when they started waving Russian flag inside the stadium. Tension already grew into a high bar between Pro-Russian separatists & the armed forces deployed by Ukrainian government due to Russia’s controversial annexation of Crimea. consequently, The furious Danish club lodged a complaint to UEFA .
So, to avoid thesekind of violence by agitated hooligans inside the stadiums, UEFA declared that Russian & Ukrainian teams can’t be drawn together in any European tournaments in the next season onwards.
The investigation was not transparent enough to catch the hoodlums but it definitely created a sheer tension among supporters of any nation’s club to visit any hostile troubled match venue. Later, FIFA appreciated this stern approach to deter the miscreants from creating further violence.
Meanwhile, Dnipro lost the away match by 2-0 & entered into the play-off round of Europa League, thus, a memorable journey started. Dnipro conceded early a goal against Croatian side Hajduk Split in the 2nd half at home.
However, they bounced back into the game by winning 2-1 in the first leg & a subsequent goalless away match led them into qualification for the group stages of Europa League.
The Beginning Of The Journey
Europa league has a bit bad reputation among many clubs since the matches are played on Thursday night they get very little time to prepare for the weekend league matches.
Dnipro was set in front of a huge hurdle as their group was filled up by Italian giant Internazionale, French club AS Saint-Etienne & the champion from Azerbaijan. After managing a solitary point midway through the group stage they started the last match day against Saint-Etienne desperate for a win.
Whereas Inter was also held goalless draw against Qarabag & Dnipro secured 1-0 victory, thus the situation favoured them & they qualified to the knockout stage.
Myron Markevych was appointed as the coach of Dnipro before 2014-15 season. He had not so much experience in continental competitions. His success was somehow restricted mostly at home condition throughout his entire professional career of near about 20 years.
But he had shown his composure by keeping the defense rock solid & managed to extract one vital goal through his extensive game-reading skill.
The Beginning Of The Dream
They faced Olympiacos FC form Greece at the round of 32 & registered a comfortable 2-0 win at home & a 2-2 draw at away helped this Ukrainian club to gain the spot at round of 16, their bestever performance in the competition.
In the next stage, they were in front of another tough hurdle , AFC Ajax from Netherlands. Again Dnipro had shown their stubbornness & gained a 1-0 vital win at home.
Then at away, Ajax managed a 1-0 win within 90 minutes that led the match into extra time. However, Dnipro managed to score a very crucial away goal at 97th minute but Ajax fought hard & scored another goal. But Dnipro scraped it though the away goal principle.
After consecutive victories by knocking out other European giants their confidence had been boosted so high. Markevych’s boys faced Club Brugge from Belgium in the Quarter final . They won 1-0 at home & a goalless 0-0 draw at away Dnipro sailed into the Semifinal.
The fans were cherishing the most memorable season in club’s entire history.Dnipro had played most of their home matches in freezing Ukranian cold while away teams found it most difficult to be accustomed to the playing condition.
Domestically, Dnipro also had qualified for the semi-final of the domestic a tournament they had never won. Dnipro were also trying for the second spot in the league which would have given them a shot at the Champions League next year (subsequently they have tailed off a bit and find themselves in third spot, preferring to concentrate on the Europa League matches. Now a direct entry at the Europa league seems the most they can get out of it).So when Dnipro were handed their hardest test so far in the form of Italian club Napoli, Markevych and his boys had nothing to fear.
The first leg was played at Naples & Dnipro managed a 1-1 draw with a vital away goal. Then the home match occurred amidst a heavy downpour. The heavy pitch favoured the defensive minded Dnipro when they almost closed the door (or “ park the bus “) . Rafa Benitez’s dream of winning European trophies with three different clubs after Chelsea & Valencia shattered when Dnipro won the match 1-0
Markevych’s strategy was pretty simple. He knew very well that against any top giant of Europe his team will not last longer if they try to play fascinating. So, He emerged the idea of “playing for each other”, to cover each other’s back, a war cry that symbolizes the players’ hardship in a war infested nation. Dnipro players are trained to press high & try to attack in numbers to seize the utmost opportunities.
Effectively, their opponents couldn’t able to hold ball possession for a bit long as thet always closed down spaces & chased the opponents all over the pitch.
The War Cry
“ We Played for the people, especially for the boys who are now taking part in anti-terror operation”
Markevych stated in a post-match conference after Semi-Final triumph over Napoli. Dnipro didn’t only play for any mere trophy, but their team epitomises the daily hardships of war affected civilians, they resonated those martyr’s sentiments among the entire team.
Their coach said,“ Everyday our people are dying. Today all the boys fighting in the East were probably watching Football & We also played for them.”
FC Dnipro’s memorable success journey was not unnoticed within the Political sphere. President Poroshenko congratulated them through social media, praising them as “ The Glory Of Ukraine “. Their Semifinal triumph over Napoli was tagged “ A present for the whole Ukraine” by the national Media.
Dnipro got the name from the famous & longest river of the nation Dniper, Which both divides & unites the Nation & the most thrilling & emotional story lies here when Markevych told the entire nation to cheer for these brave men.
Dnipro had to play all the home matches about 400 kms away in Kyiv due to prolonged war campaign.
But, local supporters of Dynamo Kyiv preferred to watch the away match on TV rather than shouting in favour of an outsider team. But all these things dramatically changed when Dynamo kyiv was knocked out after the quarterfinal, the nation became united to roar in favor of Dnipro to support the only remaining representative of the country.
Finally the day had been arrived. On 27th may at National stadium of Warsaw (Poland) a whooping 33000 Dnipro fans from all around the Ukraine along with some Ultras arrived to perceive probably the most unforgettable experience of lifetime. Unai Emery’s Sevilla was hot favorite to clinch the title. However, Dnipro ignited the ray of hope & joy by scoring an early goal within 10 mins through a running header from Kalinic , a perfect counter-attacking goal.At around 28th minute local boy Krychowiak equalized.
Within 3 minutes Sevilla took the lead as Reyes bisected the defence with a foxy pass providing a fitting reward for Bacca’s timely run , the Colombian took a fine touch & glided past the outcoming goalkeeper into net !! Just a minute before half time whistle Rotan once again proved the war torn country’s passion & indomitable spirit, he clipped the ball over the wall of Sevilla into the left corner of the goal making sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico’s effort in vain, 2-2 !!
But, The underdogs couldn’t write the most epic story of their football history when Bacca received a sharp through ball from Vitolo & made a exquisite finish from 15 yards . Dnipro’s evergreen fairytale ended through such a fighting folklore!
The Untold Inspiration
Dnipro’s success was not only restricted into club’s gallery , cabinet or within the fan’s photo albums but the club played a pretty significant role to inspire the youth section of the country & helped them to be abstained from unwanted distractions .
“The Most Beautiful Game “ taught them the essence of being tolerant , passionate & loyal & to respect the rival. This “Football Movement “ played a huge role to unite the nation. Whether the fans are from Kharkiv or Kyiv or Donetsk , they all stood togetharly behind Dnipro , one can say “ A small social Revolution .”
A fan from Ukraine put the most important words, “ I am sure that they(the groups of football fans) did a great job for the country that most politician could have never done . Football is much bigger than just a game, it’s a religion that unites people across different age, sex & social status.”