Champions League Preview Part II – BATE Borisov, Dynamo Kyiv, and Zenit Saint Petersburg

Champions League Preview Part II – BATE Borisov, Dynamo Kyiv, and Zenit Saint Petersburg

By Andrew Flint, Vadim Furmanov, and Saul Pope –

Group E: BATE Borisov (Belarus)

Bate Borisov's players pose before the UEFA Champions League Group H football match last season

Bate Borisov’s players pose before the UEFA Champions League Group H football match last season

Stadium:

Borisov Arena (capacity 13,126)

About the Club:

The phenomenal progress of BATE shows no signs of slowing as they appear to be the odds on favourites to stroll to their tenth league title in a row, in addition to entering their 16th consecutive European campaign. Breath taking results in recent years in Champions League against Bayern Munich, Juventus and Athletic Bilbao have set the bar much higher than a club of their stature ought to expect, but it would take a monumental effort to overcome the opponents they have this time around.

They have their own space age €40 million stadium, instead of having to relocate to the capital, Minsk, where their famous victory over Bayern took place. Gracing the pitch will be the experienced Aleksandr Hleb, returning for a third stint at the club, alongside five players who have come through the youth system. Despite this, the average age is over 27, so while the players may not be megastars yet, they are not wet behind the ears.

They also have something of a penchant for young managers promoted from within. Aleksandr Yermakovich has been in charge for over two seasons now, after being appointed at the relatively young age of 38, and has continued the traditional 4-3-3 that his predecessor, Viktor Goncharenko, set in an even more fruitful period. The latter’s shoddy treatment in Russia has tarnished his career path a little, but his legacy in his native Belarus is certainly intact.

BATE’s eight-point advantage over the nearest challengers Dinamo Minsk should mean that by the time they are into the bulk of fixtures in Europe they will be able to focus entirely on continental competition. Mathematically, they could have wrapped up the league by the time Barcelona arrive next month. The season runs from spring to late autumn, so they will also be well accustomed to each other.

Know your Oligarch:

Anatoliy Kapski – the driving force behind the reformation of BATE in 1996, Kapski turns 50 in March having overseen 19 domestic trophies in less than two decades. He is an owner of the Borisov Automobile and Tractor Electronics factory that suffered severe financial difficulties in the mid 1980s during the final years of the Soviet Union, but the business has recovered under his leadership. The factory in turn owns the club that bears its acronym and offers it a solid backing that few other clubs enjoy.

Opponents:

The draw could hardly have been more difficult for Belarus’ champion, who faces the all-conquering Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen and AS Roma.

The romantics will pick out the home match against the Catalan giants as a glamour tie with the potential for another famous upset, but the truth is that they will still start the campaign as considerable underdogs—their market value of €18.2 million is dwarfed by Roma’s €258.6 million, Bayer’s €189.15 million and Barcelona’s €657.5 million.

What to expect:

It would be a beautiful story if they were able to squeeze enough points out of the group stage to progress, but the reality is that they have next to no hope of achieving this. Even a Europa League consolation looks far-fetched, and unfortunately last place in their group looks highly probable. 

You should be reading:

BATE Borisov – Belarus’ Football Factory

 

Group G: Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine)

Dynamo had much to celebrate last season

Dynamo had much to celebrate last season

Stadium:

Olympic National Sports Complex (Capacity 70,050)

About the Club:

Dynamo Kyiv has a rich European history that dates back to the Soviet era. In 1975 they became the first Soviet team to win a European trophy, the Cup Winners’ Cup, and repeated the feat in 1986.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dynamo were far and away the dominant team in the Ukrainian league, winning nine out of the first ten domestic titles, and in 1999 reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League.

But recent years have been disappointing. Shakhtar Donetsk broke Dynamo’s hegemony over the league in 2002 and since then they have overtaken Dynamo as the team to beat in Ukrainian football. Shakhtar won five straight league titles from 2010-14, while Dynamo fell out of the top two for the first time.

Last season was a return to success. In his first full season as manager, Serhiy Rebrov led the club to an undefeated season and a domestic double. Dynamo also displayed some impressive performances in Europe, including a memorable 5-2 victory over Everton, on their way to the quarterfinals of the Europa League.   Dynamo Kyiv’s first league title since 2009, automatically qualified the club to the group stage of the Champions League.

Know your oligarch:

Since the independence of Ukraine, the Surkis brothers, who are very influential in Ukrainian football, have always controlled Dynamo, at least in part. The older brother, Hryhoriy, was president of the club from 1993 until 1998. After officially resigning from the club he took over as president of the Football Federation of Ukraine where he was in charge until 2012, and he is now a Vice-President of UEFA. His younger brother Ihor now runs the club. Their wealth comes mainly from control of various power distribution companies.

Opponents:

Dynamo have been drawn with English champions Chelsea from pot 1, Portuguese runners-up Porto from pot 2, and Israeli champions Maccabi Tel Aviv from pot 4. It could definitely have been much worse – Chelsea’s form has been poor, and some of the other pot 2 teams include Real Madrid and Manchester City. Dynamo also avoided the toughest teams from Pot 4.

What to expect:

Given the relative ease of the draw, Dynamo will be expected to challenge for second place and a spot in the Round of 16, especially given the fact that Andriy Yarmolenko has remained at the club. But this is Serhiy Rebrov’s first-ever campaign in the Champions League, and Dynamo’s performances in the league thus far haven’t been all that impressive.

The loss of Jeremain Lens could also prove costly – Derlis Gonzalez should prove to be a capable replacement in the long run, but he has not had time to adjust to his new role with Dynamo. A third place finish and a trip to the Europa League wouldn’t be a disaster.

You should be reading:

Dynamo Kyiv – The Yarmolenko File

Dynamo Kyiv – A New Golden Generation

Dynamo Kyiv vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – Ukraine’s Football Power Shift

Ukrainian Premier League – Controversy Over Loaned Out Players Continues

Group H: Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russia) 

Zenit are the current Tsars or Russia

Zenit are the current Tsars or Russia

Stadium:

Petrovsky Stadium (21,570)

About the Club:

Zenit are currently enjoying the most successful period in their history: they won the Soviet Supreme League just once but have won the Russian Premier League four times since 2007.

This domestic success hasn’t translated onto the European stage. A 2008 UEFA Cup win promised much, but since then Zenit’s European campaigns have been largely disappointing. Some believe that another under par campaign will spell the end of the road for manager Andre Villas-Boas. Villas-Boas recently revealed that he wanted to resign at the end of last season, and is frustrated by both the lack of new signings at Zenit and the restrictions on foreign players in the Premier League. For the now the club have backed him, but he isn’t winning many friends in Russia with his constant complaining and lack of touchline discipline.

On the pitch much will depend on Brazilian forward Hulk – though his form so far this season has been patchy. Villas-Boas’s Zenit rarely show themselves to be more than a talented bunch of individuals and fail to combine as effectively as fellow Champions League qualifiers CSKA Moscow. This is not usually a problem domestically, but in Europe it is difficult to imagine Zenit rallying when the chips are down against strong opponents.

One player to focus on is attacking midfielder Oleg Shatov. He is perhaps the most improved Russian player over the past few years; Shatov works hard and produces some superb passes for teammates when not getting on the score sheet himself.

Know your Oligarch:

Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas, has bankrolled Zenit’s most successful period. The Russian government holds a majority stake in Gazprom.

Opponents:

Russian champions Zenit received top seeding in their group, meaning they have missed some of the toughest sides (while not being a particularly tough top seed themselves). Their group, though, isn’t easy – both a quality Valencia team and a pacy Lyon side will provide a stiff challenge. Zenit will be confident (and perhaps overly confident) that these sides and Gent are beatable – though whether this actually happens remains to be seen.

What to expect:

Zenit won’t win their group but will come either second or third. Much will depend on their performances against Lyon on match days 3 and 4. Third spot and the Europa League would be considered a failure—and would be the end for Villas Boas.

You should be reading:

Zenit Saint Petersburg – The End of an Era

Zenit Saint Petersburg – The New Tsars of Russia

Dinamo Saint Petersburg – New Ambitions In the Shadow Of Zenit

Russian Premier League – Financial Numbers Reveal A Bottomless Pit

Andrew Flint is a English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football, and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.

Vadim Furmanov is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Originally from Ukraine, Vadim has resided in Chicago since 1994 and is a passionate supporter of both Dynamo Kyiv and the Ukrainian national team. He is also a Chicago Fire season ticket holder and a member of the Fire’s Section 8 supporters group. He writes primarily about Ukrainian football, as well as the intersection between football, politics, and history. You can follow Vadim on Twitter @vfurmanov.

Saul Pope has been following Russian football since the mid nineties, and first saw a live game in 1998 (Zenit St. Petersburg vs Shinnik Yaroslavl’). He has been contributing to When Saturday Comes magazine for over a decade, with a particular focus on social, economic and political issues surrounding the game in Russia and, to a lesser extent, Ukraine. He has a particular passion for teams in and around St. Petersburg. A fluent Russian speaker, he graduated from the University of Surrey with a Master’s degree in the language. He lives in the UK, but travels back to Russia on a regular basis. You can follow Saul on Twitter @SaulPope.

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 0
DISQUS: 0