Battling Dnipro bid to pull off a European miracle

A full-scale pitch invasion in a European semi-final is a rare occurrence.

Yet when the fans of Dnipro Dniproprovetsk spilled onto the Olympic Stadium pitch in Kiev after securing their Europa League final berth, it paid visual tribute to the meaning of continental sporting success in the war-torn country.

For fans, it wasn’t only a celebration, but a reunion.

With their team forced to play 16 away games on their path to the final, using a ‘home’ stadium 400 kilometres estranged from the Dnipro Arena, more fans were on the pitch after the Napoli victory than attended some of their earlier games.

Only 2,579 made the trip to the capital for their must-win group stage finale against Saint Etienne.

Indeed as many attended the semi-final (62,344) as passed through turnstiles for their other seven home games (62,671), with the country now united behind their national representatives.

Former manager Juande Ramos departed the club last summer to protect his family from the escalating conflict, so he knows the toll it can take on the players.

“You always keep contact with the players and staff you have worked a long time with,” said the former Tottenham boss.

“The truth is that they are worried because the conflict is lasting too long. The situation inevitably affects them, but they have tried to separate politics from sport and focus on the day-to-day work.”

Ramos’s four years at the club saw them close the gap on the traditional duopoly of Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk.

Now they stand within 90 minutes of their first silverware since winning the Soviet Cup in 1989.

However facing them in tonight’s Europa League final are tournament specialists Sevilla, another former club of Ramos’s, who the Spaniard managed to Uefa Cup success in 2006 and 2007.

Unai Emery’s side are now looking to repeat that achievement, one which has only been otherwise accomplished by Real Madrid.

“They are different teams, although both of them achieved good results and titles,” said Ramos when asked to compare his Sevilla side with the current generation.

He attributes cultural and financial differences for the divide between Sevilla and their necklace of Europa League successes, and the Tottenhams of English football, which rarely prioritise the competition.

“In some cases the economic objectives have priority over sporting matters,” he says of the English side. “The structure and competitiveness of the league could also be an influential factor — perhaps in England the competitiveness is higher, with less difference between big and small clubs.”

But when it comes to a comparison between Sevilla and Dnipro, Ramos sees none. Dnipro are all about the collective.

They are the perfect Mourinho-type team under new coach Myron Markevych, scoring 15 goals in their 16 Europa League games and winning 11 games on a 1-0 scoreline this season.

Sevilla, meanwhile, are La Liga heavyweights. Not on the scale of Barca or Real, but littered with quality nonetheless. They may be a selling club but they have an established place in the Spanish hierarchy, finishing in the La Liga top-half for 14 consecutive seasons.

“Each club will fight with their own weapons,” surmises Ramos.

“Sevilla will probably carry the weight of the game with longer possession of the ball, whereas Dnipro will try to be cohesive in defence and surprise the rival on counterattacks. The budget and squad of Sevilla can’t be compared to Dnipro, so the Ukrainians will have to fight a lot and have a bit of luck.”

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